Our immune system is designed to protect us from environmental agents such as pathogens and chemicals in order to preserve the integrity of our body. Keeping our immune system in check and firing at optimal levels is important for preventing and avoiding illness. Diet, lifestyle and environmental factors can greatly influence the functionality of our immune systems. Here are some useful ways to support and maintain a healthy immune system.
Diet plays a crucial role in our overall health, not just our immune system. Processed foods such as cakes, chips, chocolates, and sugary beverages are very low in valuable nutrients, they do not benefit the body and actually place an extra burden on the body. These types of foods should be crowded out with nutrient dense options. Nutrients from proteins, healthy fats and good carbohydrates should make up the bulk of our daily diet. Examples include;
Proteins - lean red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds. Proteins are made up of amino acids which are building blocks for protein carriers. Protein carriers transport and deliver nutrients to the required cells, which is important for immune function.
Carbohydrates - fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains such as brown rice, oats, buckwheat and wholemeal wheats such as spelt and rye. Carbohydrates are nutrient dense, maintaining our recommended daily intakes of vitamins and minerals is beneficial for immune function and health. Carbohydrates provide nutrients for the beneficial bacteria that inhabit our digestive tract. Beneficial bacteria can assist in immune health by overcrowding unhealthy strains of bacteria.
Fats - full fat Greek yoghurt, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, olives, oily fish such as salmon and trout and nuts and seeds. Research suggests that the effects of dietary fatty acids can influence the activity of immune cells. Human epidemiological studies suggest essential fatty acids are required for the growth and maintenance of immune cells.
Our lifestyles greatly influence our immune status. Smoking, well we all know it has negative effects on our health, including terminal ones. Quit smoking to improve immunity, it’s a no brainer. Excessive alcohol consumption can impair overall health and wellbeing by depleting the body of beneficial nutrients such as B vitamins. Our body requires certain enzymes to break down alcohol. B vitamins play an important role in creating these enzymes and are therefore utilised for enzymatic production, rather than playing other beneficial roles in the body.
Exercise benefits the lymphatic system which feeds directly into your immune system. It can also help clear bacteria from the lungs and airways, and help your body circulate antibodies that fight disease. Fresh air, sunlight, nature and the oceans also do wonders for your overall health and wellbeing.
The environment we live in and certain jobs we do can have a significant impact on the health of our immune system and general wellbeing. Heavily polluted areas that are high in chemicals and toxic fumes can be irritating to our airways and skin, which can produce a negative immune response. Fresh air and sunshine can go a long way in strengthening your immune system. Opening up your house to let fresh air in can be very cleansing, and sunshine can help kill off bacteria and will give you a dose of vitamin D which can also help boost your immunity. Also fill your home with indoor plants and Himalayan salt lamps, not only do they help to cleanse the air they both have a multitude of other health benefits!
Echinacea is a herb traditionally used by Native American tribes. Their use of this herb was adopted by the Eclectics, a group of practitioners who were prominent in the late 19th century. Echinacea is an immune enhancing and modulating herb. Echinacea exerts numerous actions on the immune system and is commonly used to provide resistance to infections, particularly in the upper respiratory tract. Echinacea has been associated with significantly increasing circulating white blood cells, particularly monocytes, neutrophils and natural killer cells in humans.
A large portion of our immune system lies and operates within the gut. Our digestive tract houses trillions of beneficial bacterial strains which are imperative for optimal health. Probiotics play a role in maintaining the balance between necessary and excessive defence mechanisms that occur during an immune response. They are capable of increasing the population of existing beneficial bacteria and outnumbering the unsavoury types, which cause illness. Probiotics have been shown to be beneficial in reducing the occurrence of colds and flus.
Fresh herbs are a tasty addition to any dish. Herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, peppermint, ginger, garlic and chilli all exert an antimicrobial effect due to the volatile oils they contain. Try adding these ingredients to cooking, and to your drinking water for some extra flavour.
Teas are a great way to support your immune system, particularly during illness. Warming your body is ideal during sickness, especially when a cold or flu is present as microbes do not enjoy an elevation in temperature. Choose herbal teas that have a positive influence on the immune system and that support cold and flu symptoms. Herbs include Echinacea, ginger, lemongrass, liquorice, sage, YEP tea, and marshmallow. Don’t forget to check out our flu brew recipe!
1 brown onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 cm of ginger
2 cinnamon quills
¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of Manuka honey
- Fill the kettle up and put it on
- While the kettle is boiling, peel and finely chop the garlic, onion and ginger
- Add the onion, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper and cinnamon quills to a mug and pour boiling water over them. Cover the top of the mug and let it steep for 5 minutes
- While the ingredients are brewing, juice the lemon
- After 5 minutes is up, uncover the mug and strain
- Add the lemon juice and manuka honey, stir through
- Rug up, sit back and relax, sip away and let the flu brew work its wonders!
It is well-established that mushrooms are proficient at modulating the immune system as they affect many of our immune cells and help them fight off infections. The top immune boosting mushrooms are reishi, shiitake, cordyceps, turkey tail, chaga, lion’s mane and maitake.
Rest & sleep:
When looking at how to improve immune system function, there is no doubt that rest and sleep go a long way to helping us stay healthy. Sleep deprivation suppresses the immune system which is why many people report getting sick when they aren’t getting enough shut eye. Try and get the recommended 8 hours sleep every night and it’s even better if you can be in bed before 10pm.
Stress has the ability to weaken the immune system. Often when you become stressed you start to feel run down, so this is really not surprising. The fact is stress has a negative impact on our health overall. As our lives are becoming more and more stressful it’s really important to take extra care of yourself have self-care as one of your top priorities.
Nutrients to consider:
There are several essential nutrients that play a role in our immune health. Vitamin C, zinc, essential fatty acids, vitamin D, bioflavonoids, beta-carotene all play a role in supporting the immune system to prevent illness or reduce the severity.
Prevention is always better than cure, by following our top tips on how to boost your immune system you can help support and keep your immune health in check!