With Covid-19 continuing to loom large in our lives, immunity and our ability to fight illness remains firmly in the spotlight. Vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc and the microbiome have all made the headlines as being key to fending off coronavirus, but do they really help? And how can we improve the function of our immune systems?
Even when Covid-19 is no longer a concern, there’s a whole range of benefits to be had from an optimally functioning immune system. Recovery from colds and viruses can be speedier and the severity of allergies and autoimmune illnesses reduced.
So what steps can we take to balance our immune systems?
Making just a few small lifestyle changes can make a big difference to improving immune function. Often in as little as six weeks. Maintain these healthy habits every day and you’ll soon be reaping the rewards of increased immunity and good health for years to come.
Here are our tips to make the change:
1. Eat the rainbow:
A varied diet is essential if you want to boost your immunity. The latest research shows that having a healthy gut is key to maintaining good health. And people who eat a wide range of food have the best gut health, because we need the bacteria in our guts to be as diverse as possible. So make sure you mix up your menu each week.
Citrus fruits such as grapefruit, oranges and tangerines are great for immunity. They contain plenty of vitamin C, which has been proven to support immune cell function. Vegetables like broccoli, garlic and spinach – and spices including ginger and turmeric – will also give your immune system a lift.
B vitamins give our immune cells energy. So you’ll want to add peas, yoghurt and seafood to your shopping list – all rich in these vitamins. Zinc is essential for helping the body produce new immune cells and can be found in meats, cheese and a wide range of seeds and kernels.
2. Nourish your microbiome:
The human microbiome is the thousands of tiny bacteria who live on and inside our bodies. These bacteria are crucial to the functioning of the immune system. In particular gut bacteria, which research has shown train our immune cells how to spot pathogens.
If you want to power up your microbiome, fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut and miso are your go-to. They are all bursting with complex microorganisms that boost the diversity of the good bacteria, yeasts and fungi living in our guts.
Want to learn how the microbiome works in more detail? Professor Tim Spector, a microbiome expert, has written an excellent book, The Diet Myth. It’s well worth checking out if you want to better understand what you’re eating. If you want a real microbiome boosting super food, he recommends kefir. It has five times as many microbes as normal yoghurt and fungi. So drinking it once a week could make a real difference to your gut health.
Another game changer in helping to promote good bacteria growth in our guts and improving our immune cell functionality is fibre. We need at least 30g of fibre a day to ensure a healthy gut.
You can increase your fibre intake by switching white bread and pasta for wholemeal alternatives. Eat plenty of pulses like lentils and munch on nuts as a snack. It goes without saying that lots of fruit and vegetables are a MUST. You can double their gut-boosting effect by opting for veg which is also prebiotic – such as artichokes, leeks, celery, chicory, onions and garlic.
3. Supplement every day
These diet tips will provide more of the nutrients your immune system needs, but you can still benefit from topping up with supplements. Especially vitamin D, which we should all take between October and April, when our skin isn’t exposed to enough strong sunlight to produce sufficient levels of it.
Vitamin D enhances the function of immune cells and has anti-inflammatory properties – so you don’t want your D levels to dip. Especially at the moment, because studies have shown that adequate levels of vitamin D result in better outcomes for those who fall ill with Covid-19.
Supplementation is also advised if you have any kind of gut absorption issue (common if you suffer from IBS). Mal-absorption means even if you have an exemplary diet, much of the good stuff won’t make it to the cells that require it. Our patches bypass the gut, so the vitamins will go straight into your bloodstream and can be transported where they are needed.
You can find everything you need to support your immune system in our every day essentials section. We recommend our Multivitamin Patch which contains C, B and D vitamins, as well as minerals like zinc.
4. Mind the booze
We all know that overindulging in alcohol isn’t good for our health. But in times of stress (hello homeschooling!) many of us reach for a glass of wine to decompress. However, even a small tipple can have a negative effect on our immune systems. Alcohol has been shown to dramatically decrease the levels of lymphocytes (specialist white blood cells) in our blood, making us more prone to infection.
The good news is, levels quickly return to normal if you take a break from the booze. To give your immune system the chance to recover, you should spread out the days you drink alcohol on.
That said, studies have shown that red wine in moderation is actively gut-friendly. So in theory, it could help improve gut health and thus immune function. Red wine contains polyphenols, antioxidants which also actively increase the number of good bacteria in the gut. The odd glass of red, evenly spaced out across the week, could be just what the Doctor ordered.
5. Say no to the sweet stuff
We totally understand the temptation to reach for the sugary treats right now. However, it’s not just weight gain you need to be wary of when over indulging on high sugar foods.
Research has shown that sugar also wreaks havoc on the immune system, by triggering low-grade inflammation in the body. Just 75g of sugar a day is enough to suppress your immune system. On the positive side, if you ditch the sugar, the inflammation will retreat quickly.
We suggest snacking on nuts, seeds and fresh fruit. A small amount of dark chocolate (opt for a higher percentage of cacao and low sugar content) also has some health benefits, including a boost to T-cells, a crucial part of the immune system.
6. Get active 5 times a week
Taking some form of light exercise each day is great for your general health and your immune system is no exception.
Research has shown that moderate exercise can increase the number of lymphocytes in the body six-fold. If you can slot a 30-minute exercise session into your routine 5 times a week, it’s estimated you’ll cut the duration of a cold or flu by half – score!
Don’t overdo it though. Exercise needs to be moderate intensity, or the immune system can be compromised. 150 minutes of exercise a week is the maximum recommended amount. Otherwise you risk triggering inflammation in your body.