It’s flu season and this year is no exception. With the cold weather, wet and damp it’s difficult to avoid picking up some sort of cold or flu. However, there is still a lot of things to help boost immune system to either prevent or fight infection. This article aims to provide some tips and ideas to incorporate into your daily diet. While this isn’t a direct replacement for medical treatment (so please if you’re sick, go and speak with your doctor), the ideas can really help to boost your immunity to ensure you make a speedy recovery or avoid getting sick altogether.
What is your immune system?
The immune system is a complication network of organs and other biological components designed to defend and protect your body from external pathogens. It comprises things like the lymphatic network, spleen, thymus gland and even bone marrow. This system as a whole is made of two arms or branches: Innate and Adaptive Immunity.
The innate system is what we are born with and consists of more general reactions to antigens. Examples include the mucous membrane of the gut, gastric juice and the physical barrier, the skin. This arm also contains a large but general immune response armed force of chemicals like phagocytes, macrophages and neutrophils and much more. In sum, innate immunity is developed at birth and does not improve or change with ageing. This system works to fight pathogens before they start an active infection.
The adaptive immune system, however, is much more specialised and continues to develop as you go through life and get exposed to various antigens. This system has a memory meaning if the invader attacks again, it can mount a better response to deal with it quicker. This also means this system is slower to respond. Adaptive immunity relies on fewer types of cells, specifically B & T cells. Again the key is that this system can learn and develop and provide long lasting protection against antigen attack.
Boosting the Immune System
Certain nutrient and lifestyle factors can impact the health of your immune system. Not only does the food you eat provide micronutrients that help with chemical reactions and cell renewal, but the health of your gut as a whole has a major role to play. Why? Because food is external to the body meaning it can also be a potential threat. We extract nutrients from food, but we may also extract antigens and there needs to be an effective way to prevent this from happening. Did you know that 70-80% of your immune system actually resides in the gut for this very reason? It sits there to provide an immediate line of defence at the barrier where nutrients pass from your intestine into the bloodstream. So let’s look at how exactly we can support all of this running properly.
How to Boost Your Immune System:
As put by the philosopher Socrates ‘Let food be thy medicine’. And indeed, it’s true. You can gain a lot of powerful nutrients from the food you eat. These are groups as micronutrients and can be broken down into various terms like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Let’s take a look at two points to note when it comes to looking at how to better your immune system:
Load up on the immune boosting micros! There is a whole list of vitamins and minerals that can help support your immunity and you can get them all from food. These include vitamin C, selenium, iodine, zinc, B complex, folic acid and iron. To ensure you’re getting the full spectrum, look to adding plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet of various colours. You can do this quite simply with a vegetable juice, smoothies, soup or stew. Try to buy organic and local where possible to maximise nutrient bioavailability.
Antimicrobial herbs and spices: Probably one of the easiest things you can do is add more fresh spices into your diet. Herbs like oregano, garlic, turmeric, ginger, rosemary….they all possess antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties to help fight off any nasties.
The health of your immune system stretches beyond just food alone. Lifestyle too has a key role to play. Have you ever gone on holiday and immediately fallen sick? Or are you maybe the type of person who is never sick but when you do catch something, you’re down for weeks and weeks trying to recover? These are all little hints that maybe you’re body is just a little burnt out and in need of some love and care. To avoid getting to that point, consider the following ideas.
Sleep & Rest: Sleep is a vital aspect of human life. Without sleep, we would die within a matter of days (I believe the world record is 11 days). Sleep is a time for your body to rest, reset and synthesise new cells. This is also why when you’re sick, you tend to sleep more! Not getting adequate sleep affects a host of functions in the body and immunity is just one of them. Sadly, not enough of us prioritise sleep and rest given that today’s society is all about that ‘work hard play hard attitude’
Stress: This is a big topic. Stress is unavoidable and at times can be good to elicit change in the body (e.g. HIIT). However, chronic ongoing stress like worrying about bills/meetings/problems at home 24/7 can be bad news for many reasons. When your body is stressed or in perceived stress. Certain hormones are released in order to stimulate a ‘fight or flight’ response. This is fine short term but long term it can cause havoc. Stress can weaken the immune system by creating chronic inflammation that harms tissues or by suppressing immune cells needed to fight infection. In addition, stress can indirectly affect our health due to bad habits it can cause like drinking and smoking.
What to do: Make these lifestyle factors a priority in the week by first giving them the time they deserve on the calendar. The reality is that most of the time, our bedtime is a choice that can be pushed back, we just don’t want to. Similarly with stress management, there’s this stigma that we should just deal with it. Instead, why not:
- try to go to bed 30 minutes earlier every weekday next week.
- dedicate five minutes a day to ‘me time’. Use an app like ‘Headspace’ or ‘My Daily Mindfulness’ and dedicate just five minutes to try it everyday, anytime that suits you.
- add a 10 minute walk at some point in the day to clear your head.
There you have it! Things to help boost immune system.