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Diabetes and Covid-19: Keeping your Immune System Strong


Some people with diabetes are at risk for developing more severe symptoms if they contract Covid-19. This is especially true for people with diabetes who are elderly, or have lung or heart conditions, or whose blood sugar levels are consistently high. For more information about Covid-19, how to reduce your exposure to the virus, and how to respond if you do become exposed, please read Diabetes Canada’s FAQ about COVID-19 and Diabetes.

In addition to the information above, it is really important to maintain or enhance your immune system. A strong immune system is what helps you fight an infection. Here is some information adapted from the flu section on pages 292-293 of our 2020 edition of Complete Diabetes Guide (book to be released once Covid-19 work closures end):

  • Keep your blood sugar at a healthy level. When your blood sugar is high your immunity is reduced. This means that during the Covid-19 pandemic it is very important to exercise every day and eat well and take all your diabetes medications as prescribed.

  • Exercise every day to boost your immunity. Exercise helps white blood cells – the special cells that fight infection – flow throughout your body. Walking, while maintaining social distance, is the best exercise. If you have home exercise equipment, work this into your day. Mark it on your calendar how many minutes you’ve been on the treadmill or exercise bike. If you are isolated at home, do home exercises, see Leslie Sansome walking videos or Jane Fonda walking videos or chair exercises. Men and women can do these exercises. There are also lots of dance videos on youtube.com that you can follow along with.

  • Drink lots of water, about 6 to 8 cups. This helps flush germs out of your body. This also helps prevent dehydration, which can happen if your blood sugar is high. When you’re dehydrated, tiny cracks can form inside your nose. Viruses now have an easy way of getting in your body.

  • Eat a healthy diet to help keep your immune system strong. Restaurants are closed, you are home more, this is a time to have some fun with healthy home cooking. Cook soups and stews and vegetable stir-fries. Choose foods rich in vitamin C and A and antioxidants (like oranges, sweet peppers, broccoli, garlic and onions). Vitamin D may also have a role in a healthy immune system. Good dietary sources of Vitamin D are milk, fish and margarine. Sunlight is our best source of vitamin D, so if you are able to get out for a walk, while maintaining social distance, this is ideal. If you are isolated in an apartment or house, open a window or sit on a balcony to get sunlight.

  • Try to get a good night’s sleep. This reduces stress hormones and improves your immune system.

  • Limit or avoid alcohol and smoking. These make you more susceptible to illness. Also, when you are smoking or drinking, you recover more slowly. Smoking and vaping have direct negative effects on the lungs and Covid-19 also affects the lungs. If you are a smoker or vaper, now is the time to try and cut back or reach out to your pharmacist by phone to get nicotine replacement products to start on a quit journey.

  • Manage your stress. If watching the news about Covid all day long is stressing you out, turn the news off and just watch the highlights at the end of the day. For some people, business shut-downs have meant things have actually slowed down a bit. Make yourself a cup of tea and since spring is approaching, sit outside and listen to the birds. Go for that walk. We’re so used to always moving and being connected on the internet that this might be a time to relearn how to really relax. Get out Monopoly, Trivia, playing cards or other games to play with your own family, or online with friends. You still want to leave some time to keep up the connections with family and friends by phone and internet platforms. Talk with others about your concerns and how you are feeling. We are all in this together.

  • Special note if you have been diagnosed with tuberculosis: Tuberculosis affects the lungs. Take your antibiotics and medications exactly as prescribed and you must take the full prescription, even if symptoms go away.

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