How to Boost your Immune System

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As the temperatures change once again, our immune system can sometimes take a bit of a bashing so it is SUPER important that you look after your immune system to prevent yourself from getting sick. There are plenty of dietary and lifestyle measures that you can take to ensure that you keep the dreaded lurgy at bay!

What is the Immune System?

The Immune System comprises of organs, cells and chemical messengers that help protect you against viruses, bacteria and disease-causing microbes. Every single day, your body is ‘assaulted’ by hundreds of toxins, parasites and infections, and it is your immune system’s job to keep things in check – think of it as the fortress protecting your castle! We have three lines of defence against microbes and these include:

  1. First line of defence: our nose, throat and lungs which are made up of mucous membranes and provide a ‘barrier’ so that germs and bugs can’t get in. Our skin, oil, sweat and tears as well as tiny hairs and bacteria in our gastrointestinal system provide us with essential protection from foreign bodies.
  2. Second line of defence: if the bugs get through the barriers, then our immune cells take over and try to get the situation under control. Our immune cells are made up of white blood cells (mainly macrophages and neutrophils), natural killer cells and certain proteins that help fight bacteria, viruses and tumour cells. Inflammation and Fever are also part of our second line of defence and are the body’s way of dealing with infection.
  3. Third line of defence: this refers to the body’s immune system response to identify and eliminate foreign bodies. There are two types of response: one that involves producing certain antibodies against viruses, bacteria and toxins and one that involves the stimulation of certain immune cells (Natural Killer cells and T Cells) that primarily aim to kill tumour cells.

Our bodies do the best that they can to protect us, although sometimes our immune systems can become compromised in some way and need some extra TLC to get back in tip-top condition. Here are some ways that you can do this.

10 ways to strengthen your immune system

  1. Sleep lots as when we sleep we secrete a hormone call Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which promotes the growth and repair of tissues and cells. Lack of sleep can also activate the stress response, promote inflammation in the body and depress immune function.
  2. Eat plenty to fresh vegetables and fruits as they contain lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which provide essential nutrients for your immune system.
  3. Keep hydrated as your cells need water to survive and without it your immune system will not function properly.
  4. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates: sugar in any form (including cakes, biscuits, bread etc) has the ability to incapacitate your immune system for up to 5 hours. It literally prevents your phagocytes (the little pac-men who munch up the bad bugs) from working.
  5. Don’t eat too many grains as they are a carbohydrate and break down to blood sugars quickly, and therefore have the ability to spike your blood sugar levels which can have an adverse effect on your immune system.
  6. Reduce stress: when we are stressed we release certain chemicals into the bloodstream that affect the way we function. The ‘fight or flight’ stress response stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol which increase certain functions in body such as heart and breathing rates; however it simultaneously ‘turns down’ other systems such as the immune system and digestion as these are not considered important in a crisis situation. If you are stressed for a long period of time, then your immune system will begin to suffer.
  7. Avoid toxins and exposure to chemicals such as caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, heavy metals and recreational drugs as these will only put extra strain on your body.
  8. Exercise regularly as exercise promotes an overall feeling of wellbeing, can help reduce stress and enhance immune function.
  9. Improve your gut health as approx. 70% of our immune system resides in the gut so if things are not going well with your digestive system then that will impact your immunity. There are millions of bacteria in the gut, both beneficial and harmful, and sometimes the amount of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria can become imbalanced and therefore compromise your immune response.
  10. Emotional health is super important as negative emotions can suppress immune function. Having fun and relaxing regularly on the other hand has a very positive effect on our immunity.

Immune Boosters

  • Vitamin C has antioxidant, immune stimulant and anti-histamine properties. It is involved in the production of antibodies and also helps to modulate white blood cells and Natural Killer cells in the body.
  • Echinacea, Andrographis, Thyme, Propolis and Golden Seal: these are amazing herbs that support the immune system by stimulating white blood cell production, clearing up excess mucous and healing mucous membranes. They have anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-viral and immune stimulant properties.
  • Vitamin A is essential for your first line of defence as it helps to maintain your mucous membranes (the barrier to prevent bugs from getting in). It also activates certain white blood cells and antibodies to help protect you against future infection.
  • Vitamin D is important for numerous functions in the body. Within the immune system, it facilitates the production of white blood cells, helps induce death of tumour cells and can assist in preventing autoimmune conditions.
  • Zinc is essential for the normal development and function of immune cells, for antibody production and healing of tissues. It also exerts antioxidant and anti-viral properties.
  • Medicinal Mushrooms such as Reishi, Enoki, Shiitake, Cordyceps and Maitake all have immune-boosting, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-cancer actions.
  • Probiotics: these are the ‘good’ bacteria for the gut which help to repopulate the micro-flora of your gastrointestinal system. There are numerous different strains of probiotics and certain strains are more effective for treating immune-related disorders so ensure that you choose the correct strain by talking to your naturopath or healthcare provider.
  • Iron is needed for both immune cell and antibody production. Iron deficiency does tend to make people more susceptible to infection and potentially autoimmune conditions.

Immune Boosting Foods

  • Garlic: contains a constituent called Allicin which has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic and antioxidant properties. Garlic is also amazing for improving the balance of bacteria in the gut.
  • Ginger: is anti-inflammatory and also exerts anti-parasitic, anti-viral and anti-fungal actions. It helps to modulate the immune system and has anti-nausea and anti-histamine properties.
  • Lemons and oranges as they contain vitamin C and other important antioxidants such as Quercetin and Bioflavonoids.
  • Green juices help to alkalise the body and provide essential nutrients in a form that the body can digest easily.
  • Kale, broccoli, spinach and cabbage provide a great source of vitamin C, iron and vitamin A, as well as B vitamins and other essential nutrients.
  • Berries (all kinds) and red grapes: they contain plenty of vitamin C and a group of antioxidants called Anthocyanidins which help prevent damage to cells by free radicals.
  • Pumpkin seeds: provide a great source of zinc, protein and iron.
  • Protein is very important for tissue repair and also to help manufacture immune cells and antibodies. Check out this post for more information about Protein.

There is SO much you can do to keep yourself in tip-top condition and prevent yourself coming down with a cold, or even worse – flu!

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Michelle is a qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist, Reflexologist and Reiki practitioner who is passionate about living a holistic lifestyle and helping others to achieve their health goals. She is also a Jungle Body Dance Fitness Instructor, which not only keeps her fit but also helps her to inspire others to feel confident and get in shape.

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