Freshers’ Week and Freshers’ Flu. For many new students, it seems almost impossible to avoid the illness crash that follows the partying and excitement of those first seven days. It’s not always immediate though. Pretty much any illness during the first year is lumped under the Freshers’ Flu heading.
First of all, make sure it is just the flu and nothing more serious. Always check with the GP as university halls are easy places for all sorts of infectious diseases to circulate, including mumps and meningitis, which can be a lot more serious than regular flu.
There’s no way we want students to miss out on all the social opportunities and events during Freshers’ week, so it’s more about adding in a few things that can help protect your immune system or at least damage it less!
How to support your immune system through Freshers' Week
1. Get some quality sleep
The first thing to do is prioritise some good sleep. It’s thought that when we are asleep the immunity T cells travel around the body to the lymph nodes where they’re primed and become ready for action. If we’re not sleeping well, the immune system will suffer, leaving us more exposed to catching colds, coughs or other infections. So making sure you get a few nights a week of proper rest can help shore up your defences against any circulating viruses.
2. Look after your nutrition
Next comes junk food. Your immune system functions best when it receives the myriad of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that come with a varied diet of fresh vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and of course proteins. We know eating healthily is hard, especially in the first year of uni when you’re most likely in halls, or struggling to learn to cook for yourself for the first time and on a limited budget. Even if you can’t achieve your recommended ‘Five a Day’ portions of fruit and vegetables every day, try to make a good meal a priority a few days a week in the same way as sleep to try and boost your immune defences and nutrient stores.
3. Don't let alcohol be the only thing you drink!
Hydration is something we talk about a lot and at least this one is free. Just drinking the recommended 2 litres or more of water a day is thought to help immune system communication and facilitate its biochemical pathways. Water is also needed to keep the bloodstream flowing which carries oxygen and the immune cells around the body to where they’re needed most.
4. Hit the student gym
It may seem counterintuitive, but exercise, especially outside in the fresh air, can support a healthy immune system. It’s not completely known why this link is there, but exercise is known to increase the speed at which the white blood cells and antibodies travel around the body, perhaps allowing them to respond to invaders more rapidly.
5. Don't forget about supplements
We know everything we’ve mentioned so far won’t always gel easily with the first year student experience. So one thing you can do to enhance your immune system is to add in a few supplements to supply some of the key nutrients that can support immunity. The main pair to concentrate on are vitamin C and vitamin D. Both of these staples are well researched and proven immune supporters. Numerous studies have shown that people deficient in vitamin C are far more susceptible to infections. In turn, having an infection will draw down significantly on your vitamin C levels, so increasing the dose at the first sign of any infection can help alleviate the illness and reduce the length of infection.
Vitamin D helps boost the production of the proteins that protect and fight off damaging microbes. Working on both the innate and adaptive immune system, we should get what we need from sunlight - but students are notoriously deficient in vitamin D because of their long working (or sleeping) hours and of course the lack of sun during our winters in the UK.
With any luck, putting a bit of effort into looking after your diet and lifestyle alongside a few targeted additions will help fend off the worst infectious risks and keep you firing on all cylinders to enjoy everything that uni life throws at you.