Healthista Collective Expert Doctor Gemma Newman reveals possible coronavirus symptoms you shouldn’t be ignoring plus 6 ways you can optimise your immune system
So far in the UK, there have been around 308,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and over 46,000 deaths.
Unfortunately, we still don’t know all we would like to know about this new virus, and in some people, new effects are emerging even in the months following infection.
What we do know for sure are the main Covid-19 symptoms to look out for:
- A high temperature
- A new or continuous cough
- A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it’s imperative you quarantine for 14 days and aim to get a Covid-19 test swab, which are now easily accessible via the NHS website.
it seems so far that people experience many different symptoms
You don’t need to be worried about bothering anyone or that you are wasting NHS time. It’s actually really important for Public Health England to be able to track trends across the country to inform the advice they are giving us in the coming months.
Other potential coronavirus symptoms are quite varied, it seems so far that people experience many different symptoms, including potential skin or mood changes.
Possible coronavirus symptoms to look out for include:
- Muscle ache/ fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Congested nose/ runny nose
- Nausea/ vomiting
The coronavirus pandemic has caused many individuals to pay greater attention to their health, however doctors like me are noticing that many are shying away from visiting their doctor in case they are exposed to the virus or because they don’t want to overburden the NHS.
Because of this many people are ignoring symptoms that could be coronavirus related. They are also sometimes ignoring symptoms that are not Covid-19 related but still potentially serious. This has huge potential risks for delay in the diagnosis of important conditions such as cancers.
If you need to go to the doctors, then you should go
If you are experiencing any symptoms (even those unrelated to Covid-19) that are concerning you, then you must contact your doctor.
Especially if you are noticing chest pain, bleeding from the back passage, swelling of the legs, unusual skin rashes, severe pain or any new symptom you haven’t experienced before.
I like to let my patients feel no more afraid about going to their doctor than they would about going to a supermarket.
Many GP practices are still doing telephone consults
It’s far better to get these things checked and sorted sooner rather than later, and we do have the ability to do that.
Every GP surgery – ours included – has put a lot of effort into making sure it’s as safe as possible, with one-way systems in place, social distancing measures and cleaning protocols.
Many GP practices are still doing telephone consults as a means of triaging, so that we can safely suggest to people whether they need to come in for a check-up or if they need to be sent elsewhere for testing depending on what symptoms they have.
So, if you do have symptoms that are worrying you, give your GP surgery a ring and find out whether you need a telephone consult or a face to face video consult, or what the next steps need to be. Your GP can guide you through this process.
Why you shouldn’t put off a visit to the doctors…
Heart and lung issues as well as many cancers need to be checked and treated as soon as possible as a delayed diagnosis could lead to problems that could have easily been prevented.
What’s more, putting off a visit to the GP could worsen underlying conditions and serious illnesses, making treatment in the future far more difficult.
If you are someone who was tested positive for Covid-19, then you may be experiencing longer term debility such as chronic fatigue, myalgia and breathlessness symptoms many weeks or months after your initial infection. This could still be a cause for concern, or it could just be part of your recovery, but it’s always best to check with your doctor.
Alarmingly, what we have also noticed in some people, is that those who have experienced Covid-19 symptoms in some cases have also been more susceptible to heart attacks and stroke.
Mental health conditions too have been negatively affected during lockdown and are still on the rise
But remember – it seems that for most people, Covid-19 is still a mild infection that doesn’t seem to lead to complications. Many people have even had antibodies without having experienced symptoms.
What is much less talked about in the news headlines is the psychological toll that lockdown has played in the lives of thousands of people.
Mental health conditions too have been negatively affected during lockdown and are still on the rise, especially given the current situation with the uncertainty and potential for reintroducing further lockdowns in the future.
Many people have found lockdown socially difficult, especially those who have spent their time alone, those who have a difficult relationship with alcohol and addiction, or those in difficult home circumstances and abusive relationships.
Again, if this is you, do not hesitate to visit or contact your doctor. Mental health is just as important as physical health and Covid-19.
Protecting yourself from the virus
Most people are aware that the easiest way to protect yourself from the virus is to avoid prolonged physical contact with potentially affected people, and to wash your hands frequently. Face coverings in public places are suggested in order to protect those around you, if you are unknowingly infected.
Rather than just focusing on face masks, social distancing and hand washing though, I think it’s important that we focus on health creation and optimising our immune system function too.
Health optimisation can prevent and reverse chronic diseases, and in the wake of Covid-19 we are more aware than ever that our short term health choices not only affect our long term health, but also affect the severity of illness we experience should we be exposed to Covid-19.
There are so many unknown factors at play, but there really has never been a better time to focus on health and wellbeing. I believe this is the moment!
Here are 6 ways to boost your immune system:
#1 Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
A poor diet can act as a major stress on the immune system.
Almost two thirds of adults are currently overweight or living with obesity. In this scenario, there is a greater risk of becoming seriously ill from diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes – and now COVID-19.
Due to these observations, Public Health England (PHE) has launched a new adult health campaign, called ‘Better Health’, to encourage adults to kick-start healthier living and helping them to lose weight and keep it off.
With personalised advice on eating better and getting active, a new free NHS Weight Loss Plan app has been made available, helping people make healthier food choices and teaching skills to prevent weight gain.
a new free NHS Weight Loss Plan app has been made available
For example, a diet high in refined foods like white bread and saturated fat like processed meats with not enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans could mean you aren’t getting the immune booting vitamins and minerals you need to stay fit and healthy.
It is also important to look at your intake of refined sugar like biscuits, cakes and other sweet foods if you want to boost immune function as diets that are high in refined sugar can impair immune function.
Remember, brightly coloured foods from nature such as berries, dark green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, sweetcorn, oranges, sweet potato, beetroot, watermelon, aubergines and turmeric to name a few all contain key vitamins and minerals to help the immune system fight off infection.
Colourful foods also contain phytonutrients. These are natural chemicals found in plants that can help maintain immune function and research suggests that they may also have a part to play in helping to prevent lifestyle related diseases such as heart disease and even cancer.
Oh, and don’t forget about herbs and spices as these boost your immune system too. Try eating more fresh garlic, turmeric, sage, cumin and oregano as these are well-known for their immune-boosting benefits.
Read More: 17 ways to get a more nutrient rich diet
#2 Get enough sleep
You have probably heard about the importance of getting enough sleep a million times before but that’s because it really is that important.
Sleep is our body’s opportunity to rest and repair, and poor sleep is a common cause for a weakened immune system.
T cells are a type of white blood cell (part of your innate immune system) that helps you to fight infection when it comes into the body.
Your T cells and microbiome respond directly to the amount of sleep you get, even one day of poor sleep can have a big impact on your immune system.
In a fascinating study published in the journal Sleep, researchers took blood samples from 11 pairs of identical twins with different sleep patterns and discovered that the twin with shorter sleep duration had a depressed immune system, compared with his or her sibling.
So whether you have to turn off all screens after 9pm, count sheep or quit the caffeine – do what you need to do to get enough sleep.
#3 Breathe through you nose as much as possible
Many people don’t realise that breathing through your nose can help us ward off infections. I often say ‘The nose is for breathing, the mouth is for eating’.
Nasal hairs are there for a reason as they act as a small but relevant defense to airborne pollution and viruses.
Nasal breathing also helps to prevent the drying out of the airways, which much like dehydration can reduce the antibodies in the mucus layer of your respiratory tract.
#4 Up your Vitamin D levels
Vitamin D is integral to a healthy immune system.
The sunshine vitamin, as it is known, is anti-inflammatory with deficiency being associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.
Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased susceptibility to infection according to a study published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine.
Vitamin D also enhances the natural immune response, against various infections including the flu and upper respiratory tract infections. Many clinical trials to show that people taking vitamin D reduce the risk of contracting a respiratory infection by up to a third.
Just 5-10 minutes of sun exposure on the arms, legs or hands and face, two-three times per week, alongside an increased dietary and supplemental vitamin D intake will give the body sufficient vitamin D levels as reported by the National Centre of Biotechnology.
As well as getting out in the sunshine, you can also keep your vitamin D levels topped up with food, although only ten percent of our vitamin requirements are absorbed this way, so supplements and sunshine are far more efficient.
Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, liver, cheese and eggs yolks. I advocate for a predominately plant based diet for health, and if you are fully plant based like myself, you can also enjoy brown mushrooms and foods fortified with vitamin D such as orange juice, soy milk and cereals.
#5 Keep active
Exercise is the key to keeping fighting fit.
Not only is increased activity great for weight management and overall health, but keeping active helps decrease your chances of developing heart disease, keeps your bones healthy and helps to circulate bacteria out of the lungs, which may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
What’s more, exercise is important for keeping the lymphatic system moving, which encourages the body’s natural detoxification process through the lungs and skin through increased breath capacity and sweat.
the brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing
Simply put, this means that getting your body moving allows the lymph (the fluid that flows through the lymphatic system) to flow through your body, which moves your immune cells around the body to fight possible infections.
According to Harvard Medical School, ‘For now, even though a direct beneficial link hasn’t been established, it’s reasonable to consider moderate regular exercise to be a beneficial arrow in the quiver of healthy living, a potentially important means for keeping your immune system healthy along with the rest of your body’.
Plus, the brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing and may help the body fight infection better.
Read More: 8 proven ways exercise makes you happier
#7 Save yourself from stress
The World Health Organisation calls stress the health epidemic of the 21st century, add Covid-19 into the mix and well the odds are against us.
Whether your stress comes from your job, your family, illness or Covid-19, it can be detrimental to living a healthy, happy life. No thanks to lockdown, many are now more stressed out than ever, not to mention fearful and anxious.
Reducing your stress levels is one of the main points of healthcare I like to emphasise when I give advice on boosting the resilience of the immune system.
When our cortisol is too high for too long it can lead to physical and mental health problems
When your body senses danger it triggers a stress response that starts in your brain’s hypothalamus, that sends signals to the adrenals (two kidney shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys) to release stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.
This raises your blood pressure and gives your body a hit of glucose so you can outrun or fight the immediate danger – but how can you outrun or fight off stress? You can’t.
When our cortisol is too high for too long it can lead to physical and mental health problems in many areas of our bodies because cortisol is an immune suppressant hormone.
Not only that, but stress has a knock-on-effect on many other factors that influence your immune system. For example, if you are in an anxious state, you’re less likely to sleep well or eat healthily.
That’s why it’s important to stress less – maybe start by simply switching off the news.
Whether you decide to take a relaxing bath, switch off your phone notifictions or just do something you love – making a conscious effort to prioritise your needs, will be an important tool to help strengthen your immune system.
Dr Gemma Newman has worked in medicine for 16 years and is the Senior Partner at a family medical practice where she has worked for 11 years.
She studied at the University of Wales College of Medicine and has worked in many specialities as a doctor including elderly care, endocrinology, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychiatry, general surgery, urology, vascular surgery, rehabilitation medicine and General Practice.
Her new book, The Plant Power Doctor will be in bookshops in January.