This is the season where the temperature starts to drop and flu season starts to well and truly kick in. Colds, runny noses, sore throats are par for the course so during this time it is important to try and keep our health and improve our immunity. The Corona virus outbreak had us all googling ways in which we could ‘boost our immunity’.
So what exactly is ‘your immunity?’
Your immune system is made up of your bodies defence against infection and illness. It basically operates like a defence system that fights off an unfamiliar germs, bacteria or parasites. These cells operate best when they are in balance and harmony!
Can we boost our immunity?
Whilst this is an enticing idea there has been no scientific evidence to suggest we can improve the number of immune cells (white blood cells) in our body (lymphocytes and phagocytes). We can rather bolster our protection against harmful viruses and bacteria by adopting some healthy living strategies such as:
– Eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables
– Not smoking
– Maintaining a healthy weight
– Exercising regularly
– Drinking alcohol in moderation
– Practicing proper hygiene such as hand washing and cooking meats thoroughly
– Getting enough sleep
– Trying to minimise stress
1. Fresh fruits and Vegetables:
What we do know is that the greater our intake of brightly coloured fresh fruits and vegetables, the better our health, weight and immune function. Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed full of vitamins and minerals, many of which play crucial roles in our daily immune functioning. Some nutrients such as vitamin C, have specific roles in fighting off bugs and keeping our cells healthy.
To optimise our immune system we need at least 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit each day for good health, but when it comes to optimal immune function, 10 serves a day is a good target. Ten is the magic number of 80 gram serves of fruit and vegetables you should eat every day to most dramatically lower your risk of disease and death, says the Imperial College of London. That adds up to 800 grams per day of the healthy stuff!
When it comes to our meals and snacks every main meal should contain a palm size amount of whole protein (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans or lentils), a healthy fat (nuts, olive oil or avocado) and a variety of colourful vegetables . Mix up your colours as well as enjoying both fresh and cooked options to ensure you get a range of different nutrients from different foods. Try to incorporate a range of salads or fresh juices and grab a piece of fruit as a snack. Eating at regular times throughout the day will also support your adrenal health and balance your hormones.
Broccoli: is packed full of phenolic compounds, powerful anti-oxidants and anti inflammatories that reduce the risk or coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and asthma and keeps your cells young.
Vitamin D: you get from the sun, fatty fish, eggs or supplements. Studies have found that it does everything from improving strength in muscle and cognitive function to benefiting gut flora and preventing respiratory infections.
Fish Oil/Omega 3: can reduce the effects of a high fat diet by fighting the inflammation this causes by, spread the clearance of waste from the brain and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Magnesium: great for heart health like arrhythmias and hypertension to atherosclerosis and endothelial dysfunction.
Tumeric: an anti inflammatory and anti-oxidant that makes it a potent protector against cancers and ageing free radicals. It also improves brain function and lowers the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and depression.
Walnuts: high in vitamin B, fibre and omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are packed with phenolic acids, tannins and flavonoids. They boost brain power, reduce cardio vascular problems and help prevent Type 2 diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin C: foods which are packed full of vitamin C include oranges, kiwi fruits, berries, tomatoes and red capsicums. They are full of anti-oxidants which offer positive nutritional benefits.
Garlic: helps to stimulate the production of macrophages (immune cells) in conjunction with vitamin D.
Iron and Zinc: are required to support proper immune function, and a deficiency may impair the ability of the immune system to ward off illness. Iron regulates cell growth and differentiation and is a structural component of many proteins and enzymes.
2. Exercise Regularly:
Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. According to ‘Harvard Health Publishing’ (2014)
“it may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently’.
Studies have also been conducted into whether there is a link between elite athletes undergoing intense physical exertion and whether they are susceptible to a weakened immune system. For now, even though a direct link has not been established, it’s important to recognise that moderate regular exercise is the best course of action of healthy living and keeping your immune system in check.
Australia’s physical activity guidelines according to “The Australian Government Dept. of Health’ website states that adults between the ages of 18 to 64 should be active on most days preferably everyday of the week. Accumulate 150-300 minutes (2 ½ hours to 5 hours) of moderate physical activity and or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intense activity, or an equivalent combination of both vigorous or moderate activities each week. Try to incorporate muscle strengthening activities at least 2 times per week.
Try to include incidental exercise like taking the stairs, walking to work, getting up from your desk every 30minutes and walking around. This makes a big difference to our health and wellbeing.
3. Stress and Immune Function:
Chronic stress or long term stress has been proven to depress the immune system and increases the risk of several types of illnesses such as digestive problems, increased heart rate, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol levels. Chronic stress raises the level of catecholamines. According to Everydayhealth.com (2015):
“These hormones are released in response to physical or emotional stress. Catecholamines are hormones produced by the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys. … Catecholamines are released into the bloodstream when you’re physically or emotionally stressed”.
Being stressed out leads to increased levels of suppressor T cells, which suppress the immune system. When this branch of the immune system is impaired, you are more susceptible to viral illnesses including respiratory conditions like colds, flu, and the novel coronavirus infection. Stress leads to the release of histamine, a molecule involved in allergies. In order to manage our stress mindfulness techniques need to be practiced everyday even if it is just for 10 minutes. Try things such as yoga, meditation, breath work, stretching or if you are having trouble switching off download an app on your phone that can take you thru a guided meditation.
We all feel the benefits of a good nights sleep we wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world. Whilst more sleep won’t necessarily stop you from getting sick, skimping on it could adversely affect your immune system, leaving you susceptible to a bad cold or case of the flu.
Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. According to ‘The Sleep Foundation.org’,
“Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you skimp on shut-eye. Chronic sleep loss even makes the flu vaccine less effective by reducing your bodies ability to respond’.
To stay healthy during the influenza season get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night. This will help keep your immune system operating at it’s optimum and also protect you from other health issues such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
5. Personal Hygiene
It goes without saying that practicing good personal hygiene is one of the most effective ways to protect ourselves and others against nasty viruses and bacteria. Ensure you wash your hands before and after preparing food and going to the toilet. Sanitise your hands after going to public places or gyms and cook meat thoroughly before eating.