Because my bowel can’t accept natural nutrients, my immune system is seriously compromised, which means that if I catch a common cold, it can take weeks, if not months, for me to shake it off. Some patients with my condition have even had to be hospitalised because of what most just think of as a bout of the sneezes. Anything more serious and… well, I’m sure you can imagine.
Because of this, I have to try to do other things that help boost the immune system and when I talk to people about that, I often realise that they don’t know much about this subject; our immune system is something we kind of take for granted.
As well as eating nutritious food, which of course includes getting your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables, reducing alcohol consumption, eating less sugar etc, there are other, non-nutrition based ways of boosting your immune system even further, helping ensure a long and healthy life.
1. Maintain a healthy weight. By keeping your weight at a healthy level the body’s cell development is better balanced and therefore better equipped to fight off infection. Yo-yo dieting, on the other hand, has the opposite effect; the more our weight fluctuates outside of healthy norms, the less likely it is to cope.
2. Make sure you get enough sleep. Even mild sleep deprivation has an adverse effect on the body’s immune system. When we’re tired, the body’s less able to cope with the fight against infections. Unfortunately, fatigue is one of the negative side-effects of the rat-race society we’ve developed, where people are working long hours, coming home to more work, caring for children, and so forth so slowing down and living a simpler lifestyle is definitely better us physically as well as psychologically.
3. Exercise. One of the main benefits of exercise - and we’re talking mild exercise here, not weight lifting or training for a marathon - is that it helps the body produce more bacteria attacking cells as well as helping those that already exist move more quickly around the body. For this to have any long-term effect though, it’s important that mild exercise (walking at least a mile, heavy housework, gardening, swimming etc) is kept up on a daily basis.
4. Don't smoke. I’m pretty much preaching to myself here, being as I was stupid enough to start smoking again after five years of going without, but just as exercise increases the number of bacteria fighting cells, smoking reduces them. Luckily, this is one of the things that change rapidly when we finally ditch the weed.
5. Avoid stress. I was told on leaving hospital that stress would basically knacker my already compromised immune system and several times that information has been proven correct. In fact, the two times that I’ve become seriously ill since developing my condition, stress has been the forerunner to the problems. I don’t know why stress does this, but I know it definitely does.
Unfortunately, my weight is largely determined by hospital doctors and out of my hands but I’ve certainly noticed that after losing more weight than was healthy for my height and build, I became more susceptible to infections. Thankfully, the doctor I have now has accepted that I was forced to lose too much weight and has given me a 70 kilo goal to reach. 5.5 kilos up so far, 17.5 to go!
Sleep can also be a bit of a problem as I’m often up at night to empty out the waste from the 2.5 litres of TPN that’s pumped straight into my blood stream. I’ve learned to sleep when I’m tired though, even if that means going to bed at 8pm or having a couple of hours kip in the afternoons.
Exercise can also be a bit iffy because of my PVD - my legs hurt far too much for any real kind of walking (100 yards and I’m struggling), cycling’s out of the question, and although I could swim, I can’t get in and out of the pool because of the weakness in my legs and the kind of ladder steps they have at our local bathes. I do try to push myself just that little bit extra when I do walk though, and doing the housework is good for me. And dancing has always been something I’ve enjoyed so I often put on some music and dance for as long as my legs and stamina will let me.
As for smoking….well, you know the score.
Unfortunately, even though I tell them how bad stress can be for me, a lot of people really don’t understand it. I suppose that’s natural because they only have their own reactions to stress to judge by but as a consequence, in order to maintain my own health, I’ve had to seriously cut back on the amount of time I spend around people who stress me. I don’t like it, I can’t deal with it, and I won’t compromise my health because of it.
Anyway, if you’re one of those people who seem to easily pick up infections, maybe one of the above could be part of your problem.