Health has always been a much-debated topic and your immune system is no different. It has never been more important than right now as we are bombarded with health claims and the supposed tips from experts. We turn to our trusted source Healthy Mays, Naturopathic Nutritionist and Nutritional Therapist, MSc BSc PgDipNT, for advice.
The immune system is our defence system protecting us from diseases. In order to function properly, it must detect a wide variety of pathogens, from viruses to parasitic worms, and distinguish them from our own healthy tissue.
Triggers to the immune system can be anything from the common cold to your household cleaning products. Therefore a constant exposure to pathogens, toxins and chemical substances can bring your immune system into overdrive leading to allergic reactions, irritations, headaches, gut issues and lack of immune resilience.
Proactively managing and supporting your immune system can help to improve both your physical and mental health and wellbeing placing your body in an overall stronger position to respond to triggers or attacks. Staying well and supporting a healthy immune system is one of our best defences against viruses.
Move it but don’t overdo it
To be immunologically fit, you need to be physically fit. White blood cells can be quite sedentary, but moderate exercise mobilises your T-cells by increasing blood flow, so they can get to work in guarding the body against infection. However, if you overdo it, then too much exercise depletes your immune system as exercise stimulates cortisol our stress hormone which can dampen immunity in large amounts. So try to find the perfect balance for your body that includes at least 1 rest day a week.
I love starting my day with ashtanga yoga as it’s a very dynamic yoga that promotes strength and flexibility but also meditation as it involves cultivating a self practise.
I also love inversions, my favourite is handstands which I love to do in the mornings, it’s so good to be upside down and allow the prana and energy to flow to the higher chakras, something that never happens in day to day life which helps to improve circulation allowing fluid to circulate through your lymphatic system and filtering out toxins. But don’t fret, if you can’t do a handstand or even a headstand, then a shoulder stand does wonders or just simply lying on the floor with bum against the wall and legs in the air is super.
Support Gut Health
The gut houses over 70% of our immune system cells – more than anywhere else in the body – which protects us from external disruptors like pollution and chemicals, and internal disruptors like pathogens, emotions and stress. The gut microbiota interacts with immune cells and stimulates our immune system as needed but this communication can be damaged by disruptors such as stress, poor diet and overuse of antibiotics.
Keeping your gut in optimal health allows it to absorb adequate nutrients from the food and drink you’re consuming to keep your body healthy and provide the immune support you need.
In order to support gut function, include prebiotic foods (that feed probiotics in the colon) in the diet. These include garlic, onion, oats, bananas, leeks, asparagus, inulin, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes and high beta-carotene foods like carrots, sweet potatoes and leafy greens. Bone broths can help to repair the gut and multiple-strain probiotic supplements can help to improve the variety of microbes in the gut. As well as that things like kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, fermented tofu all have natural probiotics in them to keep our gut happy.
Healthy Mays eating tips:
Filling your diet with immune-boosting nutrient-dense food is a key way to increase vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients into your body
Michael Pollan a famous food writer quoted for optimum health you need 3 simple things: 1. Eat real food, 2. Mostly plants, 3. Not too much. This I believe is the fundamental basis of health!
- Aim to eat a least 10 portions of fruits and veggies a day. Ideally 2 fruit and 8 different vegetables (including dark green leafy veg as well as cruciferous veg).
- Increase fruits and veggies high in Vitamin C – e.g. Red pepper (did you know it contains more VitC than an orange?), Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, Kiwi, Strawberries, Oranges, Cherries. Vitamin C is water-soluble and not stored by the body so it’s important to eat vegetables and fruit every day and regularly throughout the day.
- Limiting processed sugars and caffeine. Studies show that refined sugars can suppress your immune system for hours after ingesting. Limiting refined processed carbs and sugar will help your immune system function better, and your overall health improves. I’m also limiting caffeine and alcohol right now, too, to really protect my system.
- Eat enough protein. Protein is critical for immune function, and protein malnutrition is a big risk factor for death from infections. Approx 1g of protein per kilo of bodyweight.
- Spice it up! Foods containing antimicrobial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties such as garlic, ginger, turmeric & chilli have been used for thousands of years for immune support. Allicin the compound in garlic especially has been found to fight viruses and encourage faster recovery from viral infections boosting the white blood cell’s response to illness.
- Eat the rainbow! The more colourful your plates with fruits and veggies the more vitamins and minerals your immune system gets. Try not to eat tomorrow what you ate today, the more variety of rainbow veggies you can eat the better. Ensure you’re getting enough nutrients from a diverse range of food sources including vegetables, legumes, whole grains, proteins, nuts and seeds with a focus on rainbow plants. Eat organic fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes as they contain higher levels of antioxidants compared to conventionally grown crops and are more nutrient-dense, plus they have lower concentrations of pesticides, which can have a negative impact on gut health.