Our immune system has a thankless job: when all is well we barely think of it, only to curse when it falters! But immune health is closely linked to every aspect of our lifestyle. Just a few tweaks to our daily routines can support our immune system in the struggle against infection so that we can enjoy good health all year round!
As the name suggests, the immune system is a system, as opposed to an isolated element. This means it's symbiotically linked to many processes throughout our bodies. The best way to support it is to respect the balance between them all: if all our biological systems are functioning effectively, chances are our immunity is too! This involves thinking about what we're ingesting, how we're sleeping, how we're moving and how everything interacts with each other.
If you want to boost your immunity, start with the habits you develop when you're healthy. These can help to support you in the face of pathogenic invasion!
Stress Less, Sleep More
Chronic stress and lack of sleep result in increased levels of cortisol, our 'stress hormone.' Other than making us constantly feel like we're in 'fight-or-flight' mode and unable to focus, it also suppresses our immune system. Cortisol interferes with the ability of T-cells, one of our white blood cells, to send and receive signals. It also suppresses an antibody called Secretory IgA, which lines our gut and respiratory tract and forms our first line of defence against pathogens. Managing and reducing stress through meditation, yoga, girl's nights out, laughter and sleep is, therefore, an essential element in your Immunity Arsenal.
However, short-term stressors can actually give us a little boost, so don't use this as an excuse to stay home and watch Netflix all day!
Remember your ABCs
Eating a balanced diet which guarantees that you're receiving all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals your body needs is the best way to help your immune system. Vitamins A, B6, C and E have all been linked with immune cells or antioxidants, while zinc, selenium, iron, copper, and folic acid are essential components in our physical strength and immune response. If your diet is rich in veggies, fruits, seeds and nuts, you should be fine! If not, grab some organic, natural supplements from a chemist you trust.
- Vitamin C: citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, papaya, kiwi
- Vitamin B6: poultry, sunflower seeds, fish, wholegrain cereals
- Vitamin A: spinach, sweet potato, carrots
- Vitamin E: almonds, sunflower seeds, avocado, leafy vegetables, vegetable oils
- Zinc: shellfish, meat, legumes, nuts, seeds
- Antioxidants: berry fruits, green tea, spinach
Some foods just pack an extra punch when it comes to fighting pathogens and strengthening your immunity.
- Raw garlic: raw garlic is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial and antiviral agent, meaning it literally fights pathogens as it's working its way through your digestive system. Include it in your diet as much as possible, and swallow one crushed clove daily when you feel yourself getting sick!
- Oregano oil: this oil's antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties have made it an essential part of our first-aid kits since time immemorial. Add one drop (it has a powerful taste) to a drink daily when you start feeling ill. You can also apply it topically to antibiotic-resistant infections, or ingest it to fight yeast infections.
- Manuka honey: honey has long been known as a natural immune booster, anti-inflammatory agent and antimicrobial agent, but Manuka Honey packs an extra punch. It's registered as a wound-care product in Australia and New Zealand and aggressively fights off pathogens.
- Mushrooms: Fungi are powerful antiviral substances, and are hyper-rich in essential nutrients and minerals.
- Bone broth: Bone broth naturally contains gelatin, collagen and amino acids, which promote gut health and lymphocyte cells
Good Gut Guys
It's well known that a healthy gut means a healthy body. When your gut lining is in good health, vital nutrients and minerals are easily absorbed while pathogens can't drift through into your bloodstream. To maintain this effective immune function, enjoy a diet rich in probiotics and prebiotics by eating fermented foods with live cultures, drinking kombucha and kefir water and cooking with lots of fruits and veggies. This has the added benefit of supporting hormone regulation, digestive health and weight.
Get That Vitamin D
Vitamin D promotes the production of antibodies, supporting a healthy immune response to invading pathogens. Just 10-15 minutes out in the sun is enough to boost your Vitamin D synthesis to beneficial levels. What better excuse to sit out in that hammock with a book, or go for a gentle stroll?
I Like to Move It, Move It
Get your boogie on! Studies have shown that regular moderate exercise mobilises your T-cells, strengthening your body's response to infection. No need to become an instant exercise fanatic though, because continuous rigorous exertion can actually lead to a weakened immune response and leave you vulnerable to viral infections.