Secrets to a strong immune system
Oh the irony.
Just as I’m writing this post a couple of days ago I was sat in my pj’s feeling cold, achy and very sorry for myself. I hadn’t been implementing points one and two from my below tips, and it came back to bite me!
Our body has an amazing well of telling us when we need to slow down and on this occasion, my body was definitely telling me that I should practice what I preach, and for that I thank it.
Today I’m sharing some realistic and simple ways to keep your immune system topped up, so you don’t feel run down or come down with a cough, cold or any other winter bugs going around.
The good news?
I implemented all of the following recommendations, and within a couple of days I’m feeling back on track again and feeling very grateful I knew what to do to nourish myself back to a healthy body again.
Below are three (typical) reasons why we get ill in the first place. Avoid these, and you reduce your likelihood to be sick in the first place.
- Burning the candle at both ends and sacrificing sleep for work/play – when you eat into your sleep window, you automatically cut the number of hours that your body is able to go into deep repair and healing mode.
- Taking on too much – our stress hormones signal to the body that it is not safe, so it de-prioritises rest and repair work – which includes proper immune function.
- Opting for easy and quick food on the go with caffeine and sugar pick-me-ups versus more considered, homemade nourishing options – sugar is a stress on the body, as is a lack of vital nutrients which is more common when food is bought on the hoof. Making rushed food choices for a prolonged period and not prioritising your personal health needs will eventually result in your body giving you a warning sign…queue, feeling run down.
Onto the tips…
Really think about this next statement: what we eat becomes part of us.
The protein in foods you eat are broken down into their sub-units, amino acids, which go on to then create all of the cells of your immune system, which helps to defend your body from infection. As well as supplying the building blocks for our immune cells, the food we eat also provides the vitamins and minerals that our immune cells is reliant upon to function correctly. It really does matter what we eat. Your food becomes part of YOU, and it’s one of the main determining factors as to whether you feel great or you feel mediochre.
Here are some vital building blocks that your body needs to function:
One of the first places to start is to ensure you are getting enough vitamin C through our food choices. Vitamin C helps not only helps to reduce inflammation but it also stimulates the immune system to help fight off bugs.
Broccoli, kale, spinach,peppers, citrus fruit, kiwifruit and asparagus are all great dietary-sources of vitamin C so plan your meals around including those foods in every meal, as this is not a nutrient the body can store so it’s best trickled in throughout the day.
An example of a vitamin-C rich day might look something like this:
Breakfast – Frittata/omelette with spinach, baby tomatoes, garlic, onions and diced peppers
Snack – Half an avocado with lemon/lime juice squeezed on top
Lunch – Roasted veggies (peppers, asparagus, sweet potato) with grilled chicken
Snack – Apple/pear with 2 teaspoons of cashew butter
Dinner – Spinach and pea soup with garlic, onion and fresh mint
[Tom and I both supplement our bodies with additional vitamin C when we’re feeling run down].
B vitamins are found in dark-green leafy vegetables as well as whole grains like brown rice, oats, quinoa and millet.
B vitamins help to regulate the amount of antibodies produced to fight an infection as well as our body’s immune response. Supplemeting with a vitamin B complex or a good quality multi-vitamin could be worthwhile, particularly if you follow a gluten-free or grain-free diet.
For umpteen different reasons sleep is one of the best remedies for everything. I set an alarm to remind me to head to bed so I don’t get sucked into Netflix and this always works a treat.
Echinacae has been used as an immune system supporting herb for centuries so this may be worth including. It helps to modulate the number of white blood cells present, which are what fight infection in the body and it’s best used over a long-term period.
I advise that you consult with a medical herbalist for guidance with dosage and use of echinacea; personally, I take my echinacea combined with vitamin C, zinc and elderberry extract in a sachet which I mix into water and drink altogether and it’s a tasty way to get all this nutrients into my body to supplement everything I do on the dietary front.
REDUCE STRESS AND FACTOR IN ‘ME TIME’
Stress is one of the most common immune suppressants, yet reducing it is critical to helping your body repair. Schedule time to diaphragmatically breathe each day which can help lower stress hormone production, specifically cortisol and adrenaline which both signal to the body that it is not safe and your body is in danger. When these stress hormones are kept at bay, your body can focus on rest and repair work – which includes proper immune function.
5 foods to include:
Lemons are an easily accessble source of vitamin C, an essential nutrient when it comes to an immune system that is fighting fit.
Vitamin C supports immune system function by destroying histamine as well as promoting white blood cell proliferation.
It’s also present in the fluid lining in our mucous membranes and our lungs, where the antioxidant activity helps prevent damage by bacteria and viruses as well as inflammation.
Absorption of iron, a mineral that is critical for a healthy immune system function, is enhanced in the presence of vitamin C, too.
Top tip: Enjoy the juice of half a lemon in warm water (sipping through a straw to protect your teeth) before a meal – it can help to stimulate stomach acid production in the stomach, which supports an optimal pH gradient in the digestive tract. This can positively impact how well we digest our food and can enhance the absorption of nutrients that are required for a strong immune system such as zinc.
Garlic is superb for boosting the immune system, it is a prebiotic which means it contains fibres that nourishes the gut and it also has anti-infective properties.
Around 70 per cent of our body’s immune system is located in the gut, and the gut microbiome helps to modulate our immune responses so introducing foods to support the gut function can directly impact our body’s ability to ward of infection or disease.
Top tip: crush or chop the garlic and wait 10 minutes before cooking it to enhance the amount of allicin, the main bioactive compound in garlic.
Brazil nuts are THE most abundant dietary source of selenium – an antioxidant that helps to regulate inflammation and immune function.
With our soils so depleted in minerals today, particularly selenium, it can be a nutrient that is hard to obtain from our diet as if a nutrient isn’t in the soil, it can’t be in our food.
Just two to four brazil nuts per day depending on the size, are enough to meet your daily selenium requirement.
You might like to consider using Echinacea for the reasons I mention above.
For guidance with dosage and the use of Echinacea, please consult a medical herbalist.
GOOD QUALITY BEEF
Beef is one of the best dietary sources of zinc and iron, both of which are critical for protecting against infection and immune system function. It’s also a source of high-quality protein, which means it supplies vital amino acids that can go on to create our immune cells.
As with all red meat, quality trumps quantity. Chooe organic and grass-fed meat and stick to your recommended 500g or less of red meat per week as recommended by The World Cancer Research Fund to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.