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by Dara Winters on September 10, 2021

With over 70% of the UKs population having at least the first dose of the vaccine, we seem to breathe a sigh of relief. However, there may be another challenge that lies ahead this winter cold & flu season. 

Whilst we were all isolating and keeping safe from C***d 19 (for censorship reasons we’re not allowed to say the C word) we were also isolated from other viruses and bacteria. Because viral and bacterial infections weren’t circulating in the winter of 2020, people weren’t developing immunity which we will eventually end up paying for later down the line. This has led to the phenomenon we now know as “immunity debt”. 

French doctors wrote in a study published in May 2021 on immunity debt said “The lack of immune stimulation due to the reduced circulation of microbial agents and to the related reduced vaccine uptake induced an ‘immunity debt’ which could have negative consequences when the pandemic is under control and NPIs are lifted. The longer these periods of ‘viral or bacterial low-exposure’ are, the greater the likelihood of future epidemics.” 

This idea of immunity debt has been seen in New Zealand where hospitals are seeing a flood of babies being admitted that are sick with a potentially deadly respiratory virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV is a common respiratory illness and adults generally only experience mild symptoms when sick, however, it can be fatal in young children and the elderly. In New Zealand, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research has reported over 1,000 cases of RSV in the past 5 weeks where normally they would on average see 1,743 over the full 29 week winter season. 

It’s important as we come to the end of summer that we are mindful of the approaching winter season as this idea of immunity debt is going to affect us all. However, our immune systems are a powerful force of nature so we shouldn’t be afraid to live our lives because missing out sucks and let's be honest, we’ve missed out enough this past year and a half. As long as we take care of our immune systems and fuel it with what it needs, it will take care of us. 

So what can do to help pay back our immunity debt? Here are 8 things you can start doing today...

  • Get out in nature. Taking a walk surrounded by greenery helps get your body moving and is great for your mental health as well. Getting out also helps train your immune system as it needs to encounter regular bacteria and viruses to build up its defence system. If it’s cold just make sure to wrap up warm!
  • Doing some gardening. This will get you safely interacting with the microbes in the soil.
  • Eat organic fruit & veg. The skin of organic fruit and vegetables have a microbiome layer which is a great way of incorporating good bacteria and not to mention great for your gut health too.
  • Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep. Sacrificing on sleep time may also mean sacrificing the days you’re not living your life! Sleep is essential for your body’s rest and recovery so much so that your natural killer cells drop by 70% after less than 6 hours of sleep.
  • Eating fermented foods. Eating fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, yoghurt and tempeh contain probiotics which is an easy and tasty way of introducing yourself to beneficial bacteria.
  • Make sure to take your daily vitamins. Your immune cells are dependent on vitamins and minerals so it is essential to give your immune cells the fuel it needs as it works round the clock to fight off all the viruses and bacteria you come into contact with every day.
  • Do something social at least once a week. Whether its going into the office once a week (if you can), or meeting up with friends and giving them a big hug, slowly meeting up with people again will help build up your immunity to the outside world again.
  • Reduce the impact of stress. Sometimes, there is no avoiding the stress of having a demanding job but there are things we can do to counteract it. Incorporating habits such as meditation or simply winding down at the end of the day can help reduce the negative impact stress has on our bodies.

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