Your immune system is designed to protect your body from viruses and bacteria, and is our most important line of defence against illnesses. It works by recognizing foreign cells and destroying any that could be potentially harmful. In fact, (you may not know this) your immune system is working 24/7 to protect you against viruses and bacteria, so it’s important to keep yours working the best it can. If it’s working efficiently you probably won’t notice it, but if it’s not, you will definitely know it!
Finding ways to boost our immune system has been a key topic as of late due to obvious reasons (*coughs*, COVID, *coughs*). But even in our increasingly health conscious world, can we really ‘boost’ our immunity? I would say yes, but a multifaceted approach is needed. Below are just some ways you can do this.
Sleep is one of the fundamental things that affect our immunity, as it’s during sleep that the body recuperates and our immune system repairs itself. Other than the obvious cognitive side effects of lack of sleep, including – feeling low, irritable, and lacking focus, did you know that sleep deprivation can also have profound effects on your physical health?
Associations between sleep and ill physical health have been reported in a range of studies, with several studies suggesting that regular poor sleep lowers our immune system drastically, and may put you at risk of serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, and has even been shown to shorten life expectancy. For instance, a study conducted in 2010 on sleep deprivation in humans found that people who had slept for less than 7 hours a night had a higher risk of early death. Similarly, researchers studying the effects of sleep in healthy adults aged between 18-85 found positive correlations between sleeping less than 8 hours a night and the rise in obesity, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease in 76% of individuals. These findings strongly suggest that getting 7-8 hours sleep can directly and indirectly reduce the risk of developing physical chronic diseases.
As your body repairs itself during sleep, this is also a vital time when your body gets to work on fighting infections that you may already have. Recent studies suggest that your chances of actually getting infections that you may be in contact with from your immediate environment (such as from people with colds) is dependent on how much sleep you get. An analysis conducted in 2009 on the sleeping habits of 153 adults found that those who slept less than 7 hours per night had an increased chance of developing a cold after exposure to the virus, compared to those who slept 8 hours a night. These findings strongly suggest that for optimum health, having 7-8 hours sleep is a must! So think again about binge-watching on Netflix at night, as it may shorten your life expectancy!
Reduce Your stress!
Stress is another major contributing factor that weakens your immunity, as high levels of stress for long periods of time may increase your susceptibility to illnesses. Whilst under stress, the body releases a stress hormone called cortisol (think of this hormone as your body’s built-in alarm system) that is responsible for boosting your energy (aka fight or flight response) so you can handle the stressor, and restores your body’s balance afterward. It’s very important that your cortisol levels go back down after the stressful situation has passed because if your body is in a constant state of stress, it can not only lower immunity, but cause some serious bodily damage.
During lockdown, some ways you can boost your immunity is by avoiding stressful activities and not overworking yourself (especially during this home-working life we got going on..). Relaxing activities like yoga, meditation, and even listening to music are good ways to reduce stress and boost immunity. Also, staying in touch with friends and family is another way to keep your mood up and boost the immune system. Doing these activities such as these are proven to produce chemicals in the brain such as dopamine that helps with boosting mood and make you feel happy! A happy mood means a happy immune system!
Move Your Body!
Moving your body and performing regular exercise helps your immune cells to circulate around your body. The more immune cells around the body, the more protection your body receives! Studies have also shown that the amount of exercise you do has an impact on your recovery period when you do get sick. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that people who exercised five times a week spent 46% fewer days recuperating from a cold compared to those who did not exercise at all. Moreover, people who are fit are less likely to experience severe symptoms when they develop colds, as well as recover from the illness quicker.
I know right now exercising is easier said than done due to quarantine, but there is always a way! Home workouts, or even light exercises like dancing in your room can get those immune cells dancing around your body! If that’s not a good reason to practise your Cha-cha-cha, then I don’t know what is! 😉
Feed your immune system
There appears to be a positive connection between nutrition and immunity. Scientists have highlighted that a healthy immune system needs good healthy nourishment, and those who lack proper nourishment have lowered immunity. Other than the obvious fruits and vegetables, these foods in particular are thought to have an impact on immunity:
- Vitamin D
Clinical evidence exists to suggest that low vitamin D levels is associated with an increased risk of susceptibility to infections — more specifically, respiratory tract infections. In addition, having sufficient amounts of vitamin D can improve immune health, prevent autoimmunity, and help regulate immune function. Foods high in vitamin D include eggs, yogurt, fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, and oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel.
- Vitamin C:
Vitamin C is important as it produces the white blood cells that form your immune system. The more white blood cells you have, the stronger your immune system will be as your body will be able to find viruses and bacteria quicker and kill them. Foods high in vitamin C include oranges, limes, lemons, clementines, bell peppers, broccoli, and berries.
- Vitamin E:
The way that vitamin E works to improve immune function is that it protects the body from damage due to free radicals (free radicals stop cells growing and surviving, and can also damage DNA). Foods high in vitamin E include nuts and seeds, soya, and plant oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, and rapeseed oil.
Moringa is one of the most nutrient-rich plants in the world, and is so nutritious that it is used to treat people who are malnourished as well as treat some illnesses. You can purchase Moringa in the form of powder, tea, or capsules.
Drinking water (at least 2 litres) helps to maintain your body functions, and helps to flush out toxins out of the body.
Garlic contains the powerful compound allicin, an antioxidant that reduces inflammation and helps to fight bacteria. Garlic enhances the functioning of the immune system by reducing inflammation and shortening recovery time, and has also been shown to be able to prevent infection caused by certain bacteria and yeast. Like vitamin C, research shows that garlic also stimulates and activates your white blood cells.
There is also some evidence to suggest that a deficiency in micronutrients (such as zinc, iron, copper, folic acid, and selenium), can alter your immunity.
Get Immunity Boosting Results
I know what you’re thinking – so, what’s the solution? If you think that you aren’t getting the right amounts of nutrients, incorporating some of the foods listed into your diet is key. It is also important to note that you can’t ‘boost’ your immune system through one specific food, and this is why maintaining a healthy balanced diet is the best way to support immune function. To give you some ideas on how to incorporate these foods, I have created a FREE 7-day meal plan based on nutritious recipes. You can download the meal plan by clicking here. Alternatively, taking vitamin and mineral supplements may also help. However, before you take any supplements, it’s best to speak to your doctor and go for a blood test to make sure that these supplements are needed, and are right for you.
The COVID pandemic has made us realize that now more than ever we need to boost our immune system and protect ourselves. Other than good hygiene practises, it is also vital that your immune system is in good working order if you want to stay as protected as possible. It’s easy to take the immune system for granted because it does such an amazing job at keeping us free from infection, so we hardly notice it’s there. However, look after it and it will look after you.