Supercharge your immune system with our Doctor-approved guide
Your immune system is a complex matrix of cells and systems which work cohesively to protect you against illness. How well your immune system can defend itself against viruses often comes down to the state of your body – with stress, tiredness, hormones and nutrition all playing a part.
There is a lot of advice out there at the moment: wash your hands regularly, avoid crowds, wear a mask while you’re out in public. While these simple preventative measures may help to a degree, the ways we can support our immune system isn’t as widely discussed and the information that is available can often leave us with a lot of questions.
While having a healthy immune system won’t stop you from catching bacteria and viruses, it should help you fight them. To support your immune system, there are some things you can be doing. Here are Dr Sophie Shotter and Dr Rebecca Prince’s top tips to boost your body’s natural immunity.
Good gut health
The digestive system has a very important role to play in metabolising the body’s toxins as part of our natural detoxifying system. In fact, over 70% of the immune system cells are located in gut walls, which goes to show how crucial good gut health is when it comes to healthy bodily function.
Maintain a diet rich in protein and fibre to encourage toxins to move quickly through the gut. Fibre, in particular, has a direct impact on improving microbiomes located within the digestive walls. Boost the body’s hydration levels by drinking lots of water which will help to flush virus particles through your pharynx and into your digestive system where the stomach acid will kill it – if they linger for too long in a dry mouth then they are more likely to travel into your respiratory tract. It’s also worth adding a good quality probiotic supplement into your diet. Probiotics boost the good bacteria in your digestive tract, but their benefits go well beyond the gut. They also boost the immune function, improve the digestive function, improve resistance to infections, reduce bloating and improve symptoms of IBS.
Whether you take a brisk walk or practice something a little more strenuous, causing a degree of breathlessness will open up the lungs and stimulate your circulation. Studies have shown that regular walking increases the circulation of white blood cells which kill sickness-causing pathogens. If you’re starting to feel under the weather, don’t push yourself too hard as intense exercise can have the reverse effect and suppress the immune system but do try to keep moving.
A restful night’s sleep
Sleep is very important, and the benefits of a rejuvenating night’s sleep are endless, including its impact on the immune system. If you’ve been struggling to drift off recently there are a few things you can try to help boost your melatonin levels (the sleep hormone). Start by switching off devices a couple of hours before you’re due to go to sleep. Blue light tricks the brain into thinking that it’s daytime and melatonin production is limited. Instead, spend some time before bed reading a book, meditating or enjoying a relaxing, lavender-scented bath. Relaxing activities will do wonders for boosting melatonin levels. Snacking on foods such as goji berries, walnuts, almonds, pineapples and bananas will also give a little pre-bedtime melatonin boost and make a delicious dessert!
A peaceful mind
Stress and anxiety can have a big impact on the body’s ability to fight infection. Taking just ten minutes each day to practice mindfulness can help to anchor the mind, declutter daily stress and reduce anxiety levels. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to the brain and stimulates the nervous system. Use an app such as Headspace or Calm for an easy, guided session.
Spending time outside and in the sunshine, especially at the moment is really important. Research shows that being in nature, even for just 20 minutes a day, can increase immunity and also improve mood and happiness, as well as decrease anxiety by lowering the levels or cortisol.
Cut down on alcohol
Alcohol, when broken down, is essentially just pure sugar. When consumed in excess, alcohol has a big impact in reducing the body’s ability to produce white blood cells, meaning it will become harder for your body to fight infections off. To cut down, try low-alcohol alternatives or alternate every alcoholic drink with a glass of water.
The immune-boosting supplements
Taking good nutritional supplements is just as important as eating well. No matter how good our diet is, it won’t be as nutrient-rich as it would have been once upon a time. Soil has been depleted of nutrients so what we eat doesn’t deliver the levels of vitamins and minerals that our body needs.
Vitamin D is crucial for promoting bone health and strengthening the immune system. Most of the UK population has suboptimal levels of Vitamin D and Dr Sophie recommends that everyone should take at least 2000iu per day, however, some people require more than this.
Zinc, the unsung hero, is key for increasing protein levels and helps in the production of our B cells. Taking a zinc supplement can also help to shorten the lifespan of symptoms of colds and flu. Taking a Vitamin C supplement will replenish vitamin C levels when you’re feeling run-down and is a great way to boost macrophage activity and lymphocyte levels while helping to decrease the symptoms and longevity of viruses. Glutathione is a powerful anti-oxidant which increases your levels of immune cells to help the body to fight infections. Finally, Echinacea provides the immune system with a great level of support. It has potent apoptogenic effects which reduce stress and can strengthen the immune system indirectly.
Disclaimer: Please be aware that results and benefits may vary from patient to patient taking into consideration factors such as age, lifestyle and medical history.