At this moment in time, we are all looking for ways to improve our immune system.
We all know that improving our resilience makes us less of a target to environmental triggers and infections.
What kind of things affect my immune system?
Our immune systems can be affected by many factors other than our genes – such as diet, exercise, stress, sleep quality and our environment.
Five ways to improve your natural immunity.
- Healthy, nourishing diet with plenty of immune-boosting foods
- Minimise your exposure to toxins
- Reduce stress
- Get enough good quality sleep at night and enough sunshine during the day.
- Immune-boosting supplements and herbs
- Look after your Microbiome
1. Healthy, nourishing diet with plenty of immune-boosting foods
A whole food diet, consisting of a large variety of colourful ingredients is the most important step you can take in this regard. When thinking about improving our immunity, we need to focus on preventing inflammation in the body – this is where the ‘anti-inflammatory diet’ comes into play.
Anti-inflammatory foods have inbuilt (the way nature intended) vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidant capabilities which have been proven to optimise immunity.
These include green leafy and colourful veggies and herbs/spices (including turmeric, garlic, onions, ginger); whole fruits and berries; all nuts and seeds; grains and good quality protein sources such as wild-caught fish, organic/ pasture-fed animals.
Foods that have been proven to decrease resilience and hence interfere negatively with your immune system include sugar, alcohol, pre-packaged/processed foods which tend to contain trans (bad) fats, preservatives and other unpronounceable chemicals.
And please don’t forget to keep your body’s cells well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water i.e. 2-3 litres a day – preferably filtered.
2. Minimise your exposure to toxins
We all know that smoking affects our immune system, but many of us don’t realise that there are other chemicals in the environment that are known to interfere with the healthy/normal functioning of our bodies, especially our hormonal system. These chemicals are called ‘endocrine disruptors ’. They are found in plastic containers (including drink bottles), non-stick cookware, pesticides, herbicides and weed killers that are sprayed on conventional foods.
Try to bear this information in mind when you’re wanting to improve your immune system.
3. Reduce stress
The effects of stress can spill over into many areas of life, causing tension within our relationships which can lead to anxiety, exhaustion, reduced libido and depression. Continuous high levels of stress can cause our cortisol levels to be reduced and this will end up suppressing our immune system.
Regular exercise (150 – 200 minutes a week), yoga, Thai Chi, meditation, visualisation are all useful options that help to reduce stress levels.
4. Get enough good quality sleep at night and enough sunshine during the day.
Our circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock that determines our natural sleeping and waking pattern. It influences our immune system, hormone production, cell regeneration and many other important biological processes that keep us healthy. Any disruption in this cycle will have repercussions on our reproductive, digestive, immune systems. So, getting a good night’s sleep (7-8 hrs uninterrupted sleep a night) is necessary for good health and vitality. This is known as ‘good sleep hygiene ’. Getting to bed at least 1-2 hrs before midnight every night (and turning off all electronic equipment in the bedroom) will help you get into a good sleeping routine.
During the day, it’s also important to spend some time outside in the sunshine. Besides helping our circadian rhythm, vitamin D from the sun is known to improve our immune system.
5. Immune boosting supplements and herbs
Besides doing all of the above, supplementing with additional immune-boosting herbs, vitamins and minerals can be very beneficial at this time. There are many evidence-based naturopathic options available that have immune enhancement properties.
My suggestions would include Zinc – which is known to be helpful for improving egg and sperm quality as well as stimulating our white blood cells which are an important part of our defence system and hence protects our cells from foreign invading organisms.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that also plays a role in the mobilisation of key players in our defence system.
As mentioned before, Vitamin D is extremely helpful in supporting the immune system. It might be useful to take a vitamin D supplement during the winter months when we aren’t exposed to as much sunshine as is necessary for our wellbeing.
Herbs such as echinacea, green tea, mushrooms and ginger are known to support the body’s natural immune response.
6. Look after your Microbiome
The community of microorganisms that live in and on our body is called the Human Microbiome. This includes trillions of beneficial bacteria, fungi, viruses and archaea that have co-evolved with us (humans) over millions of years. The majority of these beneficial organisms live in our guts and are essential for fighting off threats, including viruses and other pathogenic bacteria causing infection anywhere in our body.
Our microbiome does this by ordering specialized immune cells to produce potent substances that ultimately eliminate the infection. And the body of a person lacking these beneficial gut bacteria won’t have as strong an immune response to invading viruses and bacteria. As a result, infections might go unchecked, making you sick.
In order to stay healthy and keep your immune system strong, you need to improve the amount and diversity of these organisms.
The best way to do this is by eating a wide variety of real, unprocessed colourful plant-based foods such as veggies, fruits, seeds, nuts, legumes – organic if possible.
Also eating a variety of foods that provide a diverse range of essential microorganisms (Probiotics) e.g. fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and tempeh is most helpful for increasing the population of those ‘good’ bugs.
With all this information, I hope I have helped you feel more equipped with everything you need to boost your immune system and improve your resilience and wellbeing.
Stay well and keep safe
Joanne Lipinski – The Integrative Naturopath