How to be healthy this festive season

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xmas spirits sxc sxc.hu When alcohol enters the bloodstream, the liver releases an enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase, to break down the toxin.

London - As the Christmas party season gets into swing, when we want to look and feel our best, we need to look after ourselves to avoid burn-out and bugs.

Summer colds, tummy bugs and odd viruses are all doing the rounds.

There are steps you can take, starting now, to make sure your immunity is at an optimum for the party season.

The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs that defends the body from antigens – harmful bacteria, microbes, viruses, toxins and parasites.

Leukocytes (white blood cells), produced mainly in the bone marrow, are the body’s first defence. They patrol the bloodstream and lymphatic system and when an antigen is found they destroy and remove it. If they cannot, they alert more specialised immune cells to destroy the invader. If an immune cell does not recognise an antigen, it is allowed to circulate freely and multiply, which leads to a person becoming ill.

However, the immune system remembers an antigen after it attacks the body, ensuring a person cannot get ill from the same infection twice. This is how vaccinations work.

‘When you’re younger, unless your immune system is compromised through long-term illness, pregnancy or being overweight, it will be pretty strong,’ says Janet Lord, professor of immune cell biology at Birmingham University. However, from about 55, the network becomes less effective. Whatever your age, there are lifestyle changes you can make now to ensure your party season goes with a bang.

KEEP MOVING – ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE UNDER THE WEATHER

DO THREE 30-MINUTE EXERCISE SESSIONS A WEEK

A US study found this doubled the body’s response to flu vaccine, suggesting exercise has an immune-stimulating effect. Swimming, running or brisk walking are all recommended.

‘Exercise boosts circulation, flushing the immune system’s white blood cells around the body,’ says Professor Ronald Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University. ‘Exercise also alters levels of certain hormones in the blood which further improves immunity.’

Muscle-building exercise may help. ‘Research showed 50 bicep curls before a vaccination greatly increased the amount of immune cells in reaction to a flu jab. This is very important for older people,’ adds Professor Lord.

DON’T TAKE TO YOUR BED, IF YOU CAN HELP IT

Gentle exercise will speed up recovery.

‘Getting circulation going when you’re ill ensures your immune system fights on all fronts because it is more evenly distributed,’ says Professor Lord. ‘If you’re not in the mood for a workout, a brisk walk will do.’

But if you feel sleepy, don’t fight it, says Professor Eccles: ‘White blood cells produce substances called cytokines, which can induce sleep. Your body’s telling you to rest so it can direct energy towards fighting the bug.’

FIND INNER PEACE – BUT THERE’S NO NEED TO AVOID COMPANY

DO TRY MEDITATION AND YOGA

‘Ensure you don’t get too stressed. Being panicked increases the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system,’ explains Professor Eccles. Recent Oxford University studies show meditation (in particular a type called Mindfulness) and yoga bring about changes in the brain that mean we worry less.

DON’T AVOID FRIENDS AND FAMILY

There is a common misconception that contact with lots of people will give you more infections and wear out your immune system.This makes it tempting to hunker down and avoid company but, according to Professor Lord, this is wrong: ‘Your immune system memorises each bug it comes into contact with, so in reality you improve your defences in the long term by meeting people regularly. The party season is a great time to come into contact with people, so don’t be tempted to hide away.’

STOCK UP ON SUNSHINE VITAMIN – AND DIG INTO CHOCOLATE FOR ZINC

DO TAKE A DAILY DOSE OF 400IU VITAMIN D AND 15MG ZINC

Vitamin D plays a vital role in the production of immune cells. It is found in foods like oily fish and eggs but we get most from exposure to the sun: UV rays encourage the skin to produce it.

A zinc supplement reduces the chances of catching infections by two thirds. The nutrient is found in most meats – particularly liver and oysters, peanuts and dark chocolate. Professor Eccles says: ‘Zinc is important for the production and the performance of immune cells called T-cells and lymphocytes.’

DON’T BOTHER WITH MEGA-DOSE VITAMIN C

‘Guzzling super-high doses of Vitamin C as a cold preventative is a myth that took hold thanks to the research of Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling,’ explains Professor Lord. ‘He claimed Vitamin C could help fight cancer and the common cold, but since then many studies have proven that it plays no role in doing this.’

KEEP YOUR WEIGHT DOWN – BUT DON’T RISK A CRASH DIET

DO KEEP YOUR WEIGHT WITHIN THE HEALTHY WAIST MEASUREMENT RANGE

Fat tissue produces hormones called adipokines that inhibit immune cell function. ‘Women’s bodies naturally store more fat, so they have to be extra-careful,’ says Professor Lord. A healthy waistline should be below 37in for men, 31in for women.

DON’T CRASH DIET OR ‘DETOX’

A US study found rodents on a calorie-controlled diet were more likely to get ill than those eating normally. ‘When food is severely restricted, the body becomes stressed and the adrenal glands produce steroids, lowering the immune system’s performance,’ explains Professor Eccles. ‘On top of this, the body isn’t getting essential nutrients needed to maintain immunity.’

GET SOME FRIENDLY BACTERIA – BUT GO EASY ON THE FLUIDS

DO ADD A DAILY PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENT TO YOUR DIET

A Danish trial found adding a probiotic to the diet reduced the length of a cold by 48 percent and a recent Thai study showed probiotics actually prevented a cold. ‘Much of our immune system is found in the gut, so it makes sense,’ says Professor Eccles. ‘A supplement needs to be taken long-term for the bacteria to establish themselves.’

DON’T GUZZLE WATER

Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent or treat a cold is an old stand-by, but experts are unconvinced. ‘Hydration is essential,’ says Professor Eccles. ‘But there is no evidence that dehydration increases your susceptibility to infection, except in extreme cases, which you are unlikely to ever encounter in normal life.’

GET ENOUGH SLEEP – WITHOUT LYING IN

DO GET EIGHT HOURS SLEEP

‘Lack of sleep has a negative effect on the immune system, although we’re not sure why,’ says Professor Lord. ‘Shift workers with reduced sleep are more prone to infections.’ It is recommended everyone gets seven to eight hours’ sleep – if you regularly get just an hour less you become more prone to more infection.

DON’T STAY IN BED

Professor Lord says: ‘We’re not entirely sure why, but too much sleep weakens the immune system. I imagine it is because when we are in bed, our circulation is sluggish, meaning we don’t move the immune system around the body effectively.’

HERE’S THE BAD NEWS – YOU CAN’T CURE A HANGOVER

A pounding head, dry mouth and nausea – anyone who has enjoyed a few too many will also have experienced at least some symptoms of a hangover the morning after. Most people have a tried-and-tested way to cope, if not cure a hangover. But can science help? The answer seems to be there is no quick fix.

REHYDRATE IN THE MORNING

‘Hangover symptoms are the result of dehydration,’ says Dr Roger Henderson, a GP for netdoctors.co.uk. ‘Alcohol decreases the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) produced by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and you lose more water through urine, leading to dehydration.’ Dioralyte sachets, mixed with water – designed to combat severe gastric upset – or even a half-water, half-fruit juice mix will be more rehydrating, as the balance of salts and sugars makes the liquid more readily absorbed. Guzzling water before bed is an oft-cited remedy – but the effects of ADH suppression continue for two hours after the last drink (whether we are awake or not), so wait until morning.

PAINKILLERS AND PATIENCE

‘Alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and enters the bloodstream, where it causes the pH of all bodily fluids to become more acidic,’ Dr Henderson says. ‘The change is tiny but enough to disturb normal cellular reactions, causing aches, pains, nausea and sweating. The more you drink, the worse the acidosis and the worse the hangover. It takes the body 18 to 24 hours to recover completely.’ Painkillers should help ease some of these symptoms – while you wait for your body to process the toxins.

THE DARKER THE BOOZE, THE WORSE THE HEADACHE

When alcohol enters the bloodstream, the liver releases an enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase, to break down the toxin. By-products of this process are acetaldehyde, which causes headaches and vomiting, and congeners – found in high concentrations in darker alcoholic drinks such as red wine, whisky and port – which cause tremors and low mood.

THE GOOD NEWS... FEELING IT MEANS YOU’RE HEALTHY

Those who don’t drink regularly feel hangovers because the organs are healthy and working hard to eliminate the toxins. A heavy drinker’s liver and kidneys may not function well, so they won’t be as dehydrated, or break down as much alcohol, meaning they feel the effects less.- Mail On Sunday

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