Diabetes is often considered an autoimmune disease, especially type 1. The body is unable to produce any insulin. In type 2, the body either does not produce enough insulin or does not use it correctly. Either kind of diabetes can lower the actions of the immune system. People with diabetes are more prone to sickness and infection due to reduced action of white blood cells. Discover ways to boost your immunity with either type of diabetes and combat attacks from invaders such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
Portion Size and Carbohydrates Make a Difference
The foods we eat can boost our immune system and may help people with diabetes control blood sugar levels. Conversely, the wrong foods can be unhealthy and cause our blood sugar levels to rise which ends up decreasing our immunity. Portion control is crucial as weight gain can harm the immune system by increasing inflammation and make it more difficult to control blood sugar levels. Consider using portion plates to determine the proper amount of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables to serve during each meal. Never skip meals and always test your blood sugars as suggested. If snacks are recommended (depending on your medication regimen) eat them when scheduled.
It may also be helpful to count calories. Too many calories can lead to weight gain which causes the immune system to slack. Instead of actual counting of calories, use a small kitchen scale or cup measurements to help you visualize portion size. After a while you will understand what a true portion is. You can also use common objects such as a fist, thumb, tennis ball or deck of cards to realize what a reasonable portion really looks like. Counting carbohydrates is critical to keeping blood sugars controlled and immune systems working properly. Schedule an appointment with a diabetes educator or dietitian who specializes in diabetes to learn about counting carbohydrates. Make wise choices by selecting leafy greens, rolled oats, and whole grains over packaged cakes, bars, cookies, and cereals. Choose whole grains over white processed ones.
Nutrients Can Make a Difference
Certain nutrients can help enhance your immune system. Vitamin C helps combat colds and is found in broccoli, citrus fruit and tomatoes. Vitamin E boosts the immune system and is found in whole grains and nuts. Nuts are high in calories so even though they are healthful watch your portion. Omega-3 fatty acids are heart-healthy and can be found in flaxseed oil, mackerel, anchovies, tuna, and salmon. Antioxidants help eliminate toxins to improve your immune system. For example, bioflavonoids are found in vegetables and fruit. Foods that are rich in immune-boosting zinc include beans and lean turkey. Eat red, black, navy, cannellini, and garbanzo beans to boost your immunity. Add selenium to your diet with sunflower seeds, brown rice, and chicken. Try immune-boosting herbs and flavorings such as garlic, turmeric, curcumin, ginger, and onions.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can stimulate the immune system. Yogurt has probiotics which are live and active cultures that are good for you. Consider taking a probiotic capsule or tablet if you do not eat yogurt. Hot tea has flavonoids, catechins, and polyphenols to destroy damaging free radicals and improve your body’s immune response. Drink a variety of white, black and green tea for different benefits. Herbal tea is delicious but may not have all the benefits for our immune system. Talk to your doctor about taking supplements to ensure you get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. Consider taking a nutrition workshop to learn to help support your immune system.
Keep on Moving and Don’t Stop
A regular exercise program can reduce your risk of getting sick. Exercise does build immunity and reduce your chances of developing a cold or virus. Exercise also helps you maintain a healthier weight, a key factor for people with diabetes. It can reduce stress and produces endorphins that make you feel happier. Aerobic activity improves your cardiovascular health to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. The goal is to keep moving every day and don’t stop your routine. Start with moderate exercise, based on the advice of your doctor. Strenuous activity and overdoing it can have the opposite effect and make you more susceptible to illness.
Your goal is to exercise a little longer and more frequently each week. It is a building process which is why it is important to exercise every day. If you miss a day, don’t get discouraged. Start again the next day and keep building on your routine. If you have a busy schedule, try exercising in 10 or 15-minute segments, 3 times a day. For example, you can take a brisk walk after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try mixing up your routine to keep it fun. Use resistance bands or free weights to improve your strength and muscle tone and boost your immune system. Consider working with a personal fitness trainer if you have physical limitations or need motivation. Some insurance policies cover these costs, and may even pay for joining a gym. Contact your insurance provider to learn more.
Boost Your Immunity With Less Stress in Your Life
Some stress in your life is inevitable, such as deadlines at work, long lines at the airport or getting into an accident. The important thing is to develop good strategies to cope with the existing stress. Stress wears us down along with blunting our immune system. Look for stress factors that can be easily eliminated such as a negative friend or trying to rush through too many things at one time. Anger or pretending problems do not exist can increase your stress levels, leading to heightened blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Hormones associated with stress, such as adrenalin and cortisol can increase your risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, obesity, cancer, and other health issues. “Stress hormones” can make your immune system hyperactive and reduce white blood cells, making you susceptible to blood sugar irregularities and illness.
Since some stress is inevitable, it is essential to find ways to unwind. Exercising can help minimize stress and manage your weight. Include classes such as yoga and Tai chi which are focused on positions that help lower your stress levels and boost your immunity. Deep breathing and meditation can minimize stress and lower your blood pressure. These are often added to yoga classes. Socialization with positive people can help you to de-stress. Call a friend or volunteer for a cause you support. It can help to have a pet to take care of and spend time with. Engage in hobbies you enjoy, such as reading, hiking, swimming, music or arts and crafts. Meet with a therapist if you can not figure out ways to lower your stress response. You may require medications. Anything you can do to lower stress will boost your immune system.
Get to Sleep Each Night
Your body needs sleep every night to stimulate your immune system. The average adult should get 7 to 8 hours of daily sleep. A lack of sleep, insomnia and sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on how your immune system functions. Research has shown a connection between insomnia and the development of type 2 diabetes. A recent study showed a lack of sleep can elevate the fatty acids and cortisol levels in your blood. This means getting enough sleep could reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes. Esra Tasali, M.D., a senior author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, said, “At the population level, multiple studies have reported connections between restricted sleep, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes”.
Deep sleep can energize your immune system, which is why it is important to sleep for several hours each night. Try to avoid stimulants, caffeine, decongestants, tobacco, and alcohol before bed. While drinking alcohol might make some people fall into a light sleep, it interferes with the restorative REM stages of sleep. Regular exercise can also make you feel tired and get better sleep. Consider a cup of warm herbal tea or low-fat milk to help you get to sleep. Ask your health care team about melatonin, a hormone that is produced in your body that helps regulate your sleep and wake cycles. They may recommend other supplements but be aware of reactions between the supplement and your prescription medications. If your sleeplessness persists, your doctor may recommend going to a sleep clinic to determine the cause. People with diabetes are more likely to develop certain conditions that interrupt their sleeping patterns, such as sleep apnea.
Quit Bad Habits
Bad habits such as smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can have a negative impact on your immune system. Smoking can lead to an array of health problems including heart disease, stroke, and respiratory conditions. People with diabetes already have an increased risk of developing these problems and smoking can further increase these risks. Women with diabetes should limit themselves to one drink per day, and two for men. Alcohol abuse is linked to an increased risk of communicable disease, bacterial pneumonia, and more as it can suppress the response of your immune system.
Quit smoking and limit your intake of alcohol to give your immune system a boost. Talk to your health care team about ways to quit, such as smoking cessation programs, hypnosis, counseling, or joining a support group for people who are trying to quit smoking and/or drinking alcohol. Consult with your doctor about getting a flu shot to help protect your body against the flu while you are working to quit bad habits. Ask about pneumonia and shingle shot as well. Check your feet daily for sores, bruises, cuts, and other irregularities that could make you more susceptible to infection.
As you get older, your immune system naturally weakens. Take steps now to boost your immune system by following your diabetes management plan, eating a balanced diet, sleeping each night, exercising daily, reducing stress, and quitting bad habits. These healthy choices can help you maintain better blood sugar control, combat illnesses, and lead a longer and healthier life.