Much-loved Instagram doctor Doireann offers expert advice on family health & immunity

In this second article by Dr. Doireann O'Leary, GP based in Cork City, she shares her expertise on maintaining family health and immunity.  With a focus on general practice and women’s health, Dr. Doireann is not only a LARC provider and registered cervical smear taker but also a lecturer at The University College Cork School of Medicine.

Her regular contributions to the media, including slots on The Last Word on Today FM and The Today Show on RTE 1, highlight her dedication to sharing insights on health and wellbeing. Through her social media channels and podcast, "Dr. Doireann’s Podcast," she continues to advocate for holistic healthcare.

How can families support and strengthen their immune systems naturally - what dietary or lifestyle recommendations you would suggest?

  • There’s a lot we can do to support immune function. Don’t forget the basics which are most important. Regular hand washing with soap and water for 30 seconds, especially before eating is key. Cough and sneeze etiquette stop the spread of illness too. Don’t visit family and friends and don’t go to work or mix with other people if you or a family member is sick.
  • Sleep is vital for immune function. People who sleep for 8 hours a night are less likely to get coughs, colds and flu than those who get 6 hours or less.
  • Exercise supports immune function too. Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week really helps; this will help sleep too. With that said, too much exercise can cause immunosenescence or a weakened immune system so we must not overdo it either in terms of supplements the best ones for immune function are Vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid.
  • Stress management is important for immunity too. Stress weakens our immunity so things like exercise, mindfulness and yoga can support a healthy immune system too
  • Don’t forget vaccines. Childhood vaccines as per the childhood immunisation program are most important. It’s never too late to catch up. Then there’s the seasonal ones like the covid and flu vaccines which are well worth considering each winter.

Are there any specific age groups within a family that require extra attention regarding immunity and health?

The youngest and oldest in society tend to be most vulnerable so be mindful of new babies and older adults. Also remember that younger people and adults may have underlying conditions that weaken their immune system or may be on immune suppressing medicines which make them vulnerable. We can’t see most illnesses and conditions so be cautious that we may be in the presence of a vulnerable person even if it’s not immediately obvious. People with cancer and patients on chemotherapy are also more vulnerable to infection.

What’s the best way to support a child’s developing immune system?

  • Vaccines as per the immunisation schedule
  • Hand washing, cough and sneeze etiquette
  • Vitamin D from Halloween to St. Patrick’s Day
  • Exercise regularly
  • Plenty of love and hugs to reduce stress!
  • Good sleep (as good as you can achieve- not always easy with toddlers and younger children).

What role do vaccinations play in maintaining family health and immunity? Are there any recent developments or recommendations regarding vaccinations that families should be aware of?

vaccines play a vital role for family health. The most recent vaccine to become available is the RSV vaccine which protects against RSV which can cause chest infection, pneumonia and hospitalisation. The chicken pox vaccine is also worth looking into but this is unfortunately not yet covered by The State; parents must pay. Older adults should consider the Pneumococal and The Shingles vaccines.

In your experience, what are some of the most effective strategies for motivating family members to prioritise their health and well-being?

I like the 4 R’s approach (risk, rewards, roadblocks, repeat). I ask patients to consider the risks of not making healthier choices, the rewards associated with healthier living, the roadblocks they’ll need to tackle to make change and then have them repeat these to themselves at home or write them down. This method helps me when I need to tackle bad habits creeping in.

In times of illness or recovery, what are some supportive measures families can take to promote a speedy recovery and strengthen immunity?

The single most important thing is rest. Don’t go to work or force your body to keep going when you’re sick. Your body needs your energy to fit the illness. You’ll delay recovery if you keep forcing your body to work and keep going. Do the bare minimum. I know this is easier said than done. But do try to rest as much as you can. Remember also that even after you start to become asymptomatic, your body is still recovering. It takes about 3 months to fully recover from a pneumonia. Give your body time. Be gentle with yourself and your body as you recover eat healthy whole foods and avoid processed foods as much as you can. Get early nights and plenty of rest to support your recovery.

How can families effectively navigate conflicting health advice or recommendations online?

Go to trusted sources like HSE, CDC, WHO, NICE, and Mayo Clinic. There’s so much conflicting information online which can be really overwhelming. In terms of my favourite source for children’s health online, I love Dr. Niamh Lynch on Instagram and Tik Tok. As a new mom, her page has been a wonderful source of info. All families should follow her!

Supplements Made Simple

Dr. Doireann has also developed a hugely popular range of supplements under her brand 'Supplements Made Simple'. With the brand development, Dr. Doireann simplifies supplements for real health benefits. With so much online information, confusion reigns. She recommends four key supplements: Vitamin D, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12, and Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Her range, "Supplements Made Simple," prioritizes scientifically proven supplements for optimal health. Passionate about educating and empowering people, she ensures her range only includes evidence-based supplements. With 16 years of frontline experience, she understands patients' confusion and aims to provide clarity. Dr. O'Leary's personal daily routine includes these supplements, ensuring their efficacy. She has also recently added Marine Collagen to the range which sold out in record time. For more information or to purchase visit Supplements Made Simple here.

For more great advice follow Dr. Doireann on Instagram here or on TikTok here.