Supporting your immune system
As we enter the colder months of the year our immune systems often have a heavier workload as they defend our bodies against infection. So let's take a closer look at what we can do to work with our bodies to support our immune systems and avoid all those nasty winter bugs.
What is the main function of the immune system?
Our immune system is made up of special organs, cells and chemicals that protect our bodes from germs, harmful substances and cell changes that can create illness. Interestingly, we each carry multiple viruses (5 on average) in and on our bodies and do not get sick from them. This means our immune systems are doing their job. It’s only when our immune systems are compromised, (or come into contact with an unknown virus or bacteria) that we experience all those unpleasant symptoms!
In Western medicine we often treat these symptoms by masking them, for instance using Paracetamol to ease pain and reduce fever. While there are certainly times where medical intervention is necessary, unpleasant symptoms are actually a good sign that your immune system is fighting to protect you. Fevers and mucous for example are a really important part of making your body an uncomfortable place for a virus to live in. Mucous, for example helps to flush a virus out of your system.
Benjamin Franklin once famously said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. This is so true for our bodies and there are a number of ways in which we can help support our immune systems.
So, how can I make my immune system strong?
Exercising 3 times or more a week increases circulation of blood and lymph fluid. This provides more oxygen and nutrients to all parts of your body while also clearing away toxins. Try to mix it up with cardio, weight bearing exercise and stretching - like yoga.
The benefits of meditation are numerous and I can honestly say I feel much healthier during the weeks where I fit meditation into my schedule. Benefits include better focus and concentration, improved self-awareness, lower levels of stress and anxiety (this is a big one for our immune system).
According to a UW-Madison study ‘Meditation and exercise can reduce the incidence, duration and severity of colds and flu by about 30%-60%’. How amazing is that?!
80% of our immune system cells are in the gut
That’s right folks, this means that our gut health is really important. Gut health is a huge topic that I’ll go into in another post, but simply eating the rainbow of fresh whole foods, reducing refined foods and sugars and being aware of which foods cause you sensitivity (and avoiding these) is a great place to start.While incredibly common these days, symptoms such as nausea, bloating, belching, flatulence, loose stools, constipation, ulcers and heart burn are all signs that your digestive system is not working properly.
This is a real term. Doctors in Japan actually prescribe ‘Forest therapy’ to their patients. Being in nature has so many benefits including lowering stress and strengthening the immune system.
Who doesn’t love a good belly laugh?! It feels so cleansing doesn’t it – like you’ve shaken off the stresses of life and for a moment you feel lighter. Laughter has been proven to reduce stress and increase natural killer cell levels (which are a type of white blood cell), so next time you find yourself browsing hilarious cat videos on YouTube you can reassure yourself that you’re improving your immune health!
I recently read an interesting article in Science Daily that addresses the link between stress and immune system function. Here’s an excerpt:
"The immune system's ability to regulate inflammation predicts who will develop a cold, but more importantly it provides an explanation of how stress can promote disease," Cohen said. "When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease. Because inflammation plays a role in many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders, this model suggests why stress impacts them as well."
To put it simply, when we are stressed, our immune system cannot do its job properly. So it's worth putting daily measures in place to help you reduce stress.
You can read the full article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402162546.htm
We are chronically low on sleep in our society. We need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night for our bodies to fully recharge. Our bodies are regenerating between the hours of 10pm – 2am so try to get to bed before 10pm for the best quality sleep.
Keeping hydrated is important for immune system health in that it keeps our skin and mucous membranes healthy, which is often our first defence against viruses. Sipping small amounts frequently throughout the day is best. It doesn’t have to be plain water either. Add some fresh lemon, mint or ginger, or brew yourself a herbal tea and enjoy both the benefits of water and the additional nutrients that fruits, herbs and spices can offer you throughout your day.
A couple of tips:
- Sip frequently rather than a drinking a lot of water at once
- Avoid drinking ice water as this reduces digestive function
- Avoid drinking at meal times as this too reduces digestive function
- Drink filtered water if possible and avoid drinking from plastic
Last but certainly not least is Vitamin D. This is one of the most critical nutrients to support your immune system. It is like a watchdog. When we have adequate levels of Vitamin D3 the watchdog sits diligently at the door. And when a pathogen comes a knocking the watchdog is right on it!
The best way to get Vitamin D3 is sunshine. Supplementing is fine when your time outside is limited (or if your body has trouble making it) but receiving it straight from the source is by far the most effective method. Keep in mind that the sun needs to be higher than 45 degrees (sorry folks - you won't get adequate levels watching the sunrise).
You also need to have lots of skin exposed for about 20 minutes. So wear a swim suit or shorts and t-shirt. Also bare in mind that frequent washing with soap also inhibits Vitamin D3 absorption.
And finally, some herbal tea blends to support your immune system
I'm often asked about which herbal teas are best for your immune system, especially with the dreaded C-bug going around! These are my top recommendations:
Tummy Tea is calming for all kinds of digestive upsets, particularly where stress and anxiety affect digestion. These herbs are also used to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Ensuring that your gut is in good condition will in turn support your immune system.
Healthy Self contains herbs which support you during illness and recovery & helps bolster your immune system if you drink it regularly. It's great for those of us who work hard and play and experience ongoing mental or physical stress.
Cold + Flu Armour is a wonderful tea to take at the onset of feeling unwell. It contains Elderberry and Echinacea which assist in shortening the duration of illness and reducing your symptoms.
The information presented in this blog post is meant as a guide and in no way is intended as specific advice. For your individual needs please seek professional medical care.