Your immune system is a complex matrix of cells and systems that works cohesively to protect against illness. Whether you succumb to viruses often comes down to the state of your body — with stress, tiredness and nutrition all playing a part.
Here’s your essential guide to priming your immune system.
Supplement Wisely And As Needed
Over 70 per cent of the body’s immune cells are located in the gut walls, which explains why good gut health is key to healthy bodily function. The digestive system plays an important role in metabolising the body’s toxins as part of our natural detoxifying system.
An increase in fibre and roughage will help to keep moving any build up of toxins through the gut swiftly. The fibre in particular has a direct impact on improving microbiomes located within the digestive walls.
Nourish The Gut Microbiome. Antioxidant-rich Diet
While vitamin C is high on the list when it comes to staving off colds and viruses, antioxidants in general offer huge support to the immune system, reducing cell death and promoting the development of white blood cells, which are key to destroying harmful bacteria.
Antioxidants also play a key role in repairing damaged DNA and boosting the body’s ability to repair itself. Free radicals essentially prompt an inflammatory response in the cells, while antioxidants work to neutralise them and reduce this response.
Food is the best possible source of antioxidants, so add some of the following to your shopping list: berries, cocoa, artichoke, kidney beans, green tea, apples, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, extra virgin olive oil and almonds.
Manage Stress Levels + Daily Movement
A study by the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal has shown that regular brisk walking increases the circulation of white blood cells. The main purpose of these immune cells is to kill any sickness-causing pathogens. The same benefits can be harnessed with regular weight (resistance) training too, which increases the heart rate and the body temperature (another factor that contributes to killing bacteria). This study, however, also came with a caveat: any exercise done for 75 minutes or longer at a high intensity causes a spike in hormones, which can compromise the immune system. So, a balance of low and high intensity is key – and if you’re starting to feel under the weather, don’t go all out, but do keep moving.
If you're like me and have enjoyed doing more yoga from home this year, do it properly and get yourself an eco friendly yoga mat for your practice.
Eat More Fruits & Vegetables + Healthy Fats
Vegetables - First up is dark-green vegetables such as kale, chard, spinach, rocket, Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli. They all provide a variety of beneficial phytonutrients, fibre, vitamin A, magnesium, folate and more. If there is one thing to add to your diet, it is this group of vegetables. Aim for at least 3 portions per day (remembering that when cooked, they tend to shrink considerably in terms of volume, making it easier to achieve this target).
Healthy Fats - such as brazil nuts are a
key source of the micronutrient selenium, which is an important mineral for optimal immune response. Just four or five Brazil nuts per week can meet our selenium requirements. It is, however, one of the few whole food nutrients that we can over-consume, so it’s best to mix things up and eat just a few each week alongside a variety of other nuts and seeds, too.
Fruits - Citrus fruits are a good source of vitamin C and perfect for the coldest winter months — a little bit of concentrated sunshine just when we need it most. I particularly love the month or two that blood oranges are available [around December to April] — I have one almost every day when I can!
The benefits of good, restful, rejuvenating sleep are endless, including its impact on the immune system. Research by the Pflügers Archiv – European Journal of Physiology has shown that ample sleep and a balanced circadian system (the body and brain’s sleep/wake cycle) will improve the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines (substances secreted by the immune system) and killer cells, improving the body’s ability to fight off infections.
Want to read more on how the gut is closely connected to the skin?
Check out this fascinating post with top tips you can implement right now to improve your skin and gut health!