Immunity has never been under the glare of so much publicity. Populations across the world are now acutely aware of how reliant we actually are on this amazing internal military that constantly defend our bodies against the invasion of viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. However we do need to care for it!
Have some of us been complacent, taking our immune system for granted? Have we abused it a little too much by not nourishing it enough? Indulging in excesses and not resting enough? Probably! In recent weeks and months, fear has crept in and we have all wondered if our immune systems are robust and armed for battle.
Stay calm! Now is the time to empower our immune system and take steps to ensure it is in peak condition. So what action do we need to take?
Stress and anxiety levels have hit record levels for many of us since the arrival of Covid19. This is understandable and natural but not particularly helpful to our immune systems. When stress levels are too high the release of the hormone cortisol and cytokines rocket which effectively depress your immune system. They can trigger inflammation and a reduction in the production of important white blood cells responsible for fighting off damaging viruses and bacteria. So protect those immune cells and relax. Play some music, go for a walk in the fresh air or burn some mood lifting essential oils such as Bergamot.
Look after your gut!
We now know there is a lot of interaction between the body’s immune system and bacteria in the gut. Approximately 70% of immune cells (approximately 100 trillion!) reside in the gut. Maintaining the delicate balance between good and bad gut flora is vital. Focus on eating a range of fresh, unprocessed and a diverse range of foods. Limit your intake of processed food high in salt, sugar and artificial additives. Consume plenty of prebiotic rich foods such as onions, leeks and garlic which feed the good flora and incorporate good quality fermented foods containing natural probiotics such as yoghurt and sauerkraut into your diet. Again watch your stress levels – prolonged high stress levels triggers inflammation in the gut wall. This results in a weakening of the physical defences of the gut wall, allowing invaders easy access to the body.
Fuel your immune system with nutrient dense foods!
Eat as much fresh and raw food as you can, maximising the intake of important nutrients such as Vitamin C, A, Zinc and Selenium. Choose Vitamin C rich leafy green vegetables and fresh fruits, especially berries. Keep it colourful! Immune protecting antioxidants such as bioflavonoids are plentiful in colourful fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, mango, tomatoes and beetroot. Nibble on nuts on seeds which will boost your intake of minerals such as Zinc and Magnesium. Zinc is needed for immune cell production and plays an important role in moderating inflammation.
Vitamin D deserves a special mention!
As sunshine is the main provider, we tend to be at a disadvantage in this part of the world! The TILDA report released recently by Trinity college Dublin finds that Vitamin D performs a critical role in preventing respiratory tract infections, reducing antibiotic use and boosting the immune response to infections. They are recommending that the elderly in particular who tend to be Vitamin D deficient, take a daily supplement. It is worth getting your Vitamin D levels checked but the truth is most of us would benefit from topping up with a supplement over the Winter months.
Sleep deprivation impairs immunity and studies show a 70% reduction in natural immune cells after 4-5 hours sleep. Prioritise getting sufficient good quality sleep to reboot the immune system. Research shows that immune cells are replenished between the hours of 1am to 3am so it is critical to be sound asleep well in advance of this time to avoid compromising this activity. If sleep evades you taking some Magnesium or the herb Valerian may be beneficial.
Exercise and stay active!
Moderate exercise boosts blood flow around the body ensuring that the antibodies and white blood cells needed to fight infection are circulating rapidly as a first defence against invading viruses and bacteria. Studies also indicate that regular exercise may also help the lungs expel airborne viruses and bacteria associated with respiratory tract infections.
Finally have a laugh!
Laughter really is the best medicine as it will boost immune cell production and antibodies that fight off those nasty infections!