Your immune system is a complex combination of cells and organs that work together to stave off infection and illness. It also helps fight cancer. Keeping your immune system in good shape is always important, especially during cold weather months or when you’re immunocompromised from cancer treatment. Here’s what to know about your immune system – and how to give it the boost it needs.
Why a Healthy Immune System Matters
Looking after your immune system is important for people with cancer because cancer itself and your cancer treatments can both affect your immune system. Your immune system consists of a number of different mechanisms designed to protect your body, including your skin, white blood cells, gut bacteria, and systems designed to “flush” bacteria from the body.
But cancer and its treatments can affect how well these mechanisms work, increasing the likelihood of infection or illness. Bacterial and fungal infections not only become more likely, but they can also be more severe in immunosuppressed people. Flu and contagious diseases such as COVID can also pose a greater threat to people being treated for cancer.
Keeping your immune system in its best possible shape can help you reduce the risks of serious illness. It can also be beneficial when undergoing some types of cancer treatment, such as immunotherapy, a treatment that leverages the immune system to find and kill cancer cells.
Supporting Your Immune System
Your immune system works best when you look after it. Here are some steps to take to keep your immune system in fighting shape:
- Take Flu and COVID precautions. Wash your hands, wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid high-risk social situations, and talk to your physician about vaccinations. This will decrease the likelihood of contracting the Flu, COVID, or other contagious illnesses while you’re immunosuppressed.
- Eat well. While some cancer treatments can affect your appetite, try to eat a well-rounded, balanced diet that’s high in protein, fruit, and vegetables. Ensure you’re taking inadequate levels of Vitamin C, iron, zinc, folate, and other key vitamins. Real food is better than supplements, but talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about nutrient levels. Staying hydrated is also essential. Sip on water throughout the day to stay on top of your fluids.
- Move your body. Physical activity improves the function of your heart, lungs, and respiratory system, providing an immune system boost. Move slowly and often in ways that moderately raise your heart rate – walking, taking the stairs, or cycling are all good options. Listen to your body and take things day by day.
- Rest up. Sleep plays a vital restorative function. Getting enough quality sleep helps your body produce proteins that fight infection. Aim for at least 8 hours a night and take naps during the day if you feel tired. Yoga, meditation, bedtime reading, reducing caffeine intake, and avoiding screens before bed can improve the quality of your sleep.
- Cut out tobacco and alcohol. Avoiding tobacco can reduce your risk of complications and infection and positively change your respiratory system. Reducing alcohol consumption can also improve your health through better sleep and improved nutrition and hydration.
- Minimize stress. Stress creates a strain on your immune system, so explore ways to limit stress and anxiety. Making lists, planning ahead, meditating, journaling, walking the dog, and yoga or Pilates are all good ways to reduce stress – along with reducing your responsibilities where possible.
SWWO Is Here to Help
At SWWO, we take a whole-person approach to cancer treatment. We work with our patients to provide holistic treatment plans that treat not only your cancer but help manage the side effects of treatment. We’re always available to discuss nutrition plans, exercise recommendations, and day-to-day approaches for maintaining your health and wellbeing during treatment. If you’ve received a cancer diagnosis or seeking a gynecologic oncologist in Albuquerque, get in touch today.