It’s officially the start of flu season. I was reminded of that with an email to get my flu shot. A healthy immune system is important to prevent the flu and other germs that can make you sick. People with diabetes may have a weakened immune system due high blood glucose levels. Having diabetes increases the risk of flu-related complications such as pneumonia. People with diabetes are three times more likely to be hospitalized from the flu compared to people who don’t have diabetes.
Because of this, ADA recommends that people with diabetes get a flu vaccine annually and a pneumonia vaccine once per lifetime (people age 65 and older may need a second vaccine). The flu vaccine reduces your risk of getting the flu, but it’s not a guarantee that you won’t get sick. If you do get sick, the hormones that fight infection cause glucose to go up. So, you may not be feeling good, not eating as much, but still have high glucose levels. Take some of these additional steps to help protect yourself this flu season.
Many things we do every day affect our immune system. Think about lack of sleep, high stress level, poor diet choices, increased alcohol intake, tobacco use, or lack of exercise. Making a small change in any one of these areas would increase your immunity. A recent illness or injury can also make you more susceptible to getting sick.
Did you know that 70-80% of your immune system is in your gut? That means that healthy eating can have a big impact on your immune function. Look for foods with protein and include plenty of vegetables and some fruit.
- Protein contains amino acids that are used to make antibodies to fight illness. Many protein-containing foods also contain zinc and selenium which help to increase immunity. Protein-rich foods are poultry, beef, pork, seafood, eggs, yogurt, and legumes. Oysters contain more zinc than any other food per serving.
- Probiotics are the good bacteria in your gut which help your immunity. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and miso contain probiotics and help to grow healthy gut bacteria to fight off infections.
- Fiber helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut. Oats, barley, legumes, nuts, seeds, and of course fruits and vegetables are all good choices to increase fiber intake.
- Omega-3 fatty acids help to support immune cells. Try eating salmon, sardines, walnuts, and flaxseeds to increase your omega-3 intake.
- Vitamins A, B6, C, D, E all help to build immune response. To increase intake of these vitamins, eat citrus fruits, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, pumpkin, chickpeas, salmon or other fatty fish, almonds, and sunflower seeds.
- Green and black tea contain polyphenols which are antioxidants that help with immunity. If you aren’t a tea drinker, try cooking with tea.
It’s important for people with diabetes to have a plan in place if you do get sick. If you don’t have a sick day plan, talk with your healthcare team. If you have an egg allergy, talk with your healthcare team before getting a flu shot. Think about one change you could make with your diet or lifestyle to increase your immunity this flu season.
by Christine McKinney, RD LDN CDE