Some diseases are more prominent in certain seasons than others. While winter brings a slew of diseases like cold and cough, with summer comes a host of health problems like headache, flu, measles, jaundice and skin rashes.
However, averting sickness — even while people around you may be sniffing and sneezing — depends on how strong your immune system is. Dr SG Harish, head of the internal medicine department at BR Life SSNMC Hospital, Bengaluru, said the immune system is the most important factor in the body to avoid any kind of disease.
Including nutrient-rich foods, getting exercise and being mindful of hygiene can do a lot of good to your immune system and, thus, prevent infectious diseases in any part of the year.
Harish said: “Change in weather during summer leads to a shift in temperature that leads to the growth of certain viruses and bacteria. This affects the immune system. However, a strong immune system can help in having good health. Maintaining a good diet like consuming food rich in vitamins C, D, folic acid, vegetables, cereals and pulses will help in boosting the immunity.”
WHEN IMMUNITY IS COMPROMISED
Each one of us has a different kind of immune system and our daily activities also determine its strength. There are some reasons which can make your immune system low, such as stress, poor diet, inadequate sleep, obesity, lack of physical activity and neglecting protein-rich food.
Extremes of age and pregnancy are stages in life when immunity can be compromised, said Dr Shweta Singhai, senior consultant, department of rheumatology, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru. Medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, cancer, HIV and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus result in altered immunity. Treatments such as chemotherapy and immunosuppressive medication also alter the immunity.
Dr Rohan Sequeira, senior cardio-metabolic and obesity consultant physician at Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai, said: “Diet, nutrition, exercise, and emotional and mental strength are very important for the immune system. If any of these is compromised, the immune system has a chance to get lowered. There is a direct relationship between exercise and the immune system.
Individuals who exercise have much stronger immunity and a healthy lifestyle than those who don’t. Moreover, having foods high in antioxidants and nutrients is important for having good immunity.”
FOOD CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
What we eat matters in deciding how good our immune system is. According to Harish, “excess consumption of red meat, sugar, saturated fat and low-fibre foods is a major factor which affects our immune system. These food items lead to inflammation in the body, thereby causing several health issues. Consuming too much sugar curbs the immune system cells that attack bacteria.”
Gut is one of the barriers of our body which is constantly exposed to new and different foreign materials in the form of food. Intestinal immune system encounters more antigens than any other part of the body. Hence, a robust gut is the sign of good health, Singhai explained.
BOOST YOUR IMMUNITY
There are many ways you can do this. Doctors say that something as simple as eating more fruits and vegetables can increase your immunity.
Include foods which are rich in nutrients like vitamins C and E, plus beta carotene and zinc, said Harish. Go for a wide variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, including berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apple, red grape, onion, spinach, sweet potato and carrot. Fresh garlic is particularly good for your immune system as it may help fight viruses and bacteria, he said.
Mixed fruit juice and mixed vegetable juice, especially with bitter gourd, will help increase immunity. Zinc and chromium, which are abundant in shell fish and vegetables, also improve a person’s immunity, said Sequeira.
According to Dr Jyothsna Krishnappa, senior consultant-internal medicine at Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru, “the food we eat modifies the immune responses to some extent. There is a lot of interest in the gut microbiome — the microbial environment in the gut. With the concept of prebiotics and probiotics as gut modifiers, these foods also help maintain the immune system. Foods rich in vitamins and micronutrients including seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains, sprouts and dairy products (mainly curd-based) are essential to keep the immune system functioning optimally.”
As the temperature is on the rise, it is wise to do a check of what’s good for you. Harish said: “Maintain good hygiene — lack of proper hygiene can lead to growth of germs, thus leading to a weak immune system. Keeping the surroundings clean, bathing every day and washing hands at regular intervals can control the developments of virus and bacteria; prepare fresh food, and refrigerate leftover food and reheat it before eating; drink clean water; avoid water/cold beverages available on the roadside; use antifungal talc, which absorbs sweat and reduces skin fungal infections.”
Adequate and regular hydration is a must. Hygienic food must be consumed at all times. It is important to be cautious while eating out in summer, especially raw, uncooked food such as salads, chats, chutneys, juices and cut fruits as they might be contaminated, added Singhai. Diet and exercise are the key that help keep summer diseases at bay. For individuals with blood pressure and diabetes, it is important to keep away from sweets and control the blood sugar and BP levels, Sequeira added.
Avoid activities outside the home during peak sun hours, Krishnappa advised. Increase water or liquid intake so as to prevent dehydration. Use sunscreen with a higher SPF to prevent skin damage. Avoid roadside food or contaminated water. Wear wide-brimmed hats to avoid direct exposure to the sun.