Supporting Your Immune System Naturally

Immune Support Blog

We are still deep in the depths of the cold weather and waiting patiently for the lighter warmer days to emerge, so it is vital for us to be on top of our immune health.  Mid-winter, coupled with a modern life filled with stress, pollution, potential digestive issues and perhaps less exercise can leave us more vulnerable to attack.  However, a few simple steps to optimise immune function and improve your resiliency could make all the difference in preventing illness in helping you bounce back quicker.

Super Important Factors to optimise;

  1. Gut Health – a good balance of bacteria is vital to help keep the immune system happy functioning as 70-80% of our immune tissue is found in the gut. Some easy ways to support your gut health;
  • Take a daily probiotic with about 10 billion CFU.
  • Eat fermented food daily like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso or tempeh.
  • Fermented drinks like kefir or kombucha.

2. Stress Management –chronic long-term stress can suppress the immune system and cause low level ongoing inflammation. It is a modern-day necessity to have a self-care plan that includes relaxation, deep breathing, slowing down, walking in nature, positive self-talk, daily movement and social contact.

What do you do each day?

3. Sleep – lack of sleep is stressful to the body. It can increase risk of heart disease, diabetes and leaves you vulnerable to illness and infection. Lack of sleep creates a stress response in the body that elevates inflammation, suppresses immunity increases likelihood of more frequent illness. Do you have a sleep routine? Some top tips to support better sleep;

  • Evening wind down time
  • Go to bed and rise at the same time (the body loves a rhythm)
  • Aim to sleep before 11pm to avoid the adrenal ‘second wind’
  • Try some sleep stories if you have trouble dropping off
  • Magnesium can be really helpful to relax muscles and calm the nervous system
  • Make sure your room is dark, quiet and comfortable and your pillow is supportive.
  • Avoid eating late (try for 2-3 hours before sleep time)
  • Avoid blue light technology for 1 hour before bed or use blue light blocking glasses
  • Use an old-fashioned alarm clock instead of your mobile phone for an alarm.

4. Nutrient Levels – the immune system needs certain nutrients to function well in order to prevent illness and to recover more effectively when we do become unwell. Here are the top nutrients to support the immune system;

  • Vitamin C
    Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant; it helps reduce inflammation and helps the body to fight infections by telling the immune system to fight invaders. High levels of vitamin C can reduce the length of time you have a cold.  You can find it in most fruits, particularly berries like blackcurrants and strawberries and papaya and vegetables particularly raw red pepper and dark leafy greens like kale, broccoli and Brussel Sprouts.  Cooking can reduce vitamin C content so have some raw food daily.

  • Vitamin D
    Often referred to as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin, vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients needed to support optimal immune function and maintaining healthy levels is vital for supporting the body’s ability to fight infection. In fact, it has recently been studied for its ability to reduce the risk of respiratory infections. Unlike most essential nutrients, however, the main source of vitamin D isn’t food, but sunshine. Your bare skin produces vitamin D when it meets the sun’s rays, so the risk of deficiency is increased during the winter months and when spending prolonged time indoors.

    It can be difficult to get enough from the diet; vitamin D is found in oily fish, butter and eggs. So, this is why it is best to supplement in the winter. It is always best to get your levels measured but generally in the winter take 2,000 IU daily.

  • Vitamin A
    Also plays a key role in supporting the immune system directly influencing the cells that are part of the immune response and also supporting the gut barrier to protect innate immunity

    Vitamin A is found in the diet in two forms: beta-carotene (found in plant foods) which needs to be converted into the active form. This can be found in all orange, red and dark green vegetables. The highest sources are carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato, red pepper mango, watercress and cantaloupe melon.

    Animal sources are already in the active form of vitamin A with the highest sources being oily fish, egg yolk and liver.

  • Zinc
    Zinc is vital for immune functioning. Even a mild to moderate deficiency in zinc can have a negative impact on the immune system’s ability to deal with infection. The body doesn’t have much ability to store zinc so it’s important you eat plenty of zinc-rich foods. Zinc can be found in eggs, oysters, beef, tofu, lentils, shitake mushrooms and pumpkin seeds.

  • Selenium
    If you are low in selenium then viruses are more likely to replicate at a higher rate. Selenium is vital for general immune health. Sources of selenium depend on the selenium content of soil and food but can be found in Brazil nuts, oily fish, eggs and seaweed.

  • Beta Glucans are naturally occurring molecules found in the cell walls of plants such as oats, yeast, seaweed and mushrooms, particularly shitake and Reishi. The healing properties of mushrooms in Eastern medicine are attributed in part to their beta-glucan content. Beta-glucans have immune-modulating abilities; therefore, they stimulate the immune system’s resistance to infection whilst preventing overactivity of immune function and inflammation which is crucial for anyone with autoimmune disease.

  • Probiotics (see gut health above)
    As we know, these good guys can help support natural immunity and promote good health. It is vital to feed these bacteria a fibre-rich diet (prebiotics) and probiotic foods so they can thrive. It may be during times of illness, stress or antibiotic use that a supplement containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium would be beneficial.
  • Prebiotic foods – chicory, artichoke, onions, garlic, leeks asparagus, green banana, apples, cold brown rice and cold sweet potato.
  • Probiotic foods – sauerkraut, kimchi, miso or tempeh, kefir or kombucha.

GAYLE MERCHANT

It is my passion to support people in understanding what is at the root of the health conditions that they are facing. Functional medicine hand in hand with nutritional therapy helps me unearth the reasons for ill health and the obstacles that have been preventing recovery.

I wholeheartedly believe we are a blend of our histories; our food and lifestyle choices and our genetics – in fact, we are unique walking recipes ourselves. Finding the ingredients to help you make the best version of yourself is part of my work, so you can establish a loving friendship with your body and find balance in your life.