The primary way to keep the deadly coronavirus away from our body is to maintain social distancing, as we all know (or should know) well by now. But keeping our own immune system up and running, ready to fight any infection that comes its way is also crucial. A weakened immune system not only makes us more vulnerable to respiratory diseases like COVID-19, caused by SARS-CoV-2, but also a flurry of other health problems and microbial diseases that will only worsen the situation, leading to possibly lethal outcomes.
Internal medicine specialist Tevfik Rıfkı Evrenkaya says the building blocks to strong defenses are eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting adequate and quality sleep, learning to manage stress, avoiding smoking and alcohol, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and paying attention to food hygiene as well as personal hygiene. However, without a strong foundation, even if you follow every health rule in the book, your body won't be able to fight off infections and diseases, he warns. Here, the key is to listen to your body.
"It is possible to understand if your immune system has started to weaken by paying attention to some signals in your body,” says Evrenkaya, adding that there are four apparent signs you should watch out for to spot a faltering immune system.
It is quite normal for adults to have a cold once or twice a year. However, getting frequent colds or other viral infections, having more than four ear infections or two cases of pneumonia or more than three bacterial sinusitis episodes a year should be ringing alarm bells. Using antibiotics long-term twice a year may also indicate that the body may not be equipped to combat the microbes it has been exposed to.
Recurrent canker sores
Our skin usually checks for damage after burns, cuts and bruises. The body starts repairing the wound by sending nutrient-rich blood to the wound to help regenerate the skin. This healing process depends on healthy immune cells. When there is a deficiency in the immune system, skin healing slows down. Constantly dealing with small, painful sores inside the mouth (called canker sores or aphthous ulcers) as well as noticing other skin infections such as abscesses and cold sores could be signs of an inadequate immune system.
Our digestive system represents almost 70% of the entire immune system. In addition, the beneficial bacteria and microorganisms (flora) that live there protect our intestines from infection and support our immune system. Disruptions to gut and intestinal flora can increase the risk of contracting viruses, cause chronic inflammation and may even lead to autoimmune disorders such as Crohn's. More and more scientific research is showing us how important our intestinal health is and with each passing day, we learn more about the link between immunity and intestinal flora. Bloating, gas or constipation can often be a sign that something is not right in your gut.
Your body may be trying to tell you something if you just can't seem to find the energy to do anything anymore.
"If you still suffer from fatigue despite getting enough sleep, there may be a problem with your immune system. Our body saves energy to support the immune system, so it can fight microbes. There may be dozens of reasons you feel tired. Indeterminate symptoms, especially joint pain, nausea and decreased appetite, may in some cases make us think there is a problem with the immune system. Especially in autoimmune diseases, the immune system stops fighting external factors and starts treating its own tissues as if they are enemies,” Evrenkaya says.
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