We think it’s fair to say that nobody likes to get ill, and it’s the job of the immune system to keep us safe by fighting off illness and infection. Here, we will be talking about how to boost immunity – the steps we can take to ensure the body has everything it needs to keep the immune system in tip top condition so it’s ready to protect us when needed.
But, before we talk about this it’s important to understand what the immune system is and how it works. The immune system is a complex network of cells and organs that circulate in the body and its main purpose is to protect the body from disease, bacteria, infection and viruses. It recognises foreign substances – called antigens – and cells, and if they are seen as harmful, our body’s T cells (also known as killer cells) kick in to help destroy them and protect us.
What Can Affect The Immune System And Immunity?
Every individual is exposed to different viruses, infections and vaccinations in their life. As such, every individual’s ability to fight off infection will be different from another. That being said, it’s natural that as we age, our immune system weakens. Naive T cells in the body regulate the immune system, and as we get older, the number of these T cells produced by the body declines, leaving the immune system weaker. As a result, this leaves elderly more susceptible to illness.
But it’s not just the older generation who are more at risk. Those with medical conditions that put pressure on the immune system like Crohn’s disease and chronic fatigue syndrome are also immunocompromised.
Women going through menopause – at any stage – may also find it difficult to fight off an illness. This is due to hormonal imbalance; the levels of estrogen, progesterone and DHEA, which all support a healthy immune system, are diminished, causing the immune system to be suppressed even further.
Signs of a weakened immune system can include (but are by no means limited to):
- Always having a cold
- Having ongoing tummy troubles
- Slow-healing wounds
- Being stressed
- Getting infections frequently
- Feeling tired all the time
The good news is that there are steps you can take at home to help your immune system fire on all cylinders. If you’re concerned you are experiencing signs of a hormonal imbalance, we can arrange for a video consultation and appropriate treatment with one of our Doctors from the comfort of your own home. To book, please call us on 020 7191 2378, email firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our booking form.
How To Boost The Immune System
- Spend time improving your sleep. Many of us don’t get enough sleep, but it plays an important role in protecting the body both physically and mentally. When you sleep the body makes and releases proteins, called cytokines. These help to fight off infections by targeting infection and inflammation – this is called an immune response. When you don’t get sufficient sleep, the body doesn’t produce as many cytokines and so a lack of sleep can have a detrimental impact on the immune system’s defenses. Although it’s suggested that the average adult needs around eight hours of sleep a night, there really isn’t a normal amount of time to sleep for as it varies between individuals. If you struggle to get to sleep, take a look at our top tips for better sleep.
- Look at how you’re fuelling your body. A healthy immune system requires a steady stream of all the essential vitamins and minerals that support immune function. There’s a very good reason we encourage patients to eat the rainbow! Micronutrients (for example, vitamins A, B, C, D, and Zinc) have vital roles throughout the immune system and are essential for cell production. The best way for your body to get these is by consuming a balanced diet consisting of nutrient-dense foods in order to support the normal functioning of your immune system. Examples of nutrient-dense food include fruit, vegetables, seafood, lean meats, eggs, beans and nuts. Whilst we are in lockdown it’s tempting (and remarkably easy) to over-eat and increase your intake of sugar, but too much sugar can hinder the cells that attack the bacteria in the immune system.
- Exercise on a daily basis. Moderate exercise contributes to a healthy immune system in many ways, and research has shown that regular exercise can lead to fewer infections than in those who do not exercise. It promotes good circulation which allows the cells of the immune system to move through the body, increases T cells and boosts the function of the killer cells in the immune system. We recommend partaking in daily activity, whether this is a brisk walk, a yoga session or an online workout class from home.
- Take steps to manage your stress levels. We understand that this is a tricky one – especially at the moment when there’s so much uncertainty. When we are stressed the body produces a hormone called cortisol. This is the hormone which gives a burst of energy associated with survival (you’ve probably heard of this referred to as fight or flight mode) and lower sensitivity to pain. However, stress – and elevated levels of cortisol – for extended periods of time, can lead to lowered immunity, as well as weight gain and high blood pressure.
It can be useful to keep a stress diary and record what caused your stress, how you felt at that time, how you reacted, and how you made yourself feel better. This will allow you to reflect and identify both patterns, and the causes of your stress. If the cause of the stress is that you feel like you’re too busy, you can prioritise certain tasks and work through them one at a time.
The current situation can leave you feeling like everything is out of your control, but it’s important to remember that you can take control of your stress levels. Have you tried meditation? This has been shown to be effective at reducing cortisol levels, and in turn, stress and anxiety. We like the Headspace app, but there are many meditation apps that you could try from your phone or tablet. Additionally, it’s vitally important to make time for fun and relaxation, whether that’s reading a book in the sunshine, calling a friend for a catch up, or doing some gardening.
- Get plenty of vitamin D. Many studies have shown associations between lower vitamin D levels and increased rates of infection. Whilst we get some of our vitamin D from food like eggs, milk and oily fish, most of it is made by our bodies as a result of sunlight on the skin. The synthesis happens in the liver and kidneys and the active form of the hormone (yes, vitamin D is a hormone!) is then utilised by the body. If you have a garden, you can ensure you’re getting enough sunlight by spending 15 minutes a day outdoors with some of your skin exposed (wearing shorts or short sleeves, for example), without suntan lotion so the UV-B rays can penetrate the skin. If you’re unable to do this because you live in a flat, you can supplement your diet with D2/D3 tablets, sublingual drops or spray.
Our immune system relies on nutrient-dense whole foods to function well. The following nutrients are particularly important for supporting the immune system:
- Vitamin A: Helps the body develop the white blood cells that produce antibodies.
- Vitamin C: Helps support cellular function.
- Vitamin D: Helps modulate the immune response.
- Vitamin E: Is an antioxidant which helps enhance the function of the immune system to fight off infection.
- Zinc: Contributes to activation of the cells responsible for fighting off infection.
Vegetables are the foundation of a nourishing diet, providing so many of these immune-supporting nutrients. Below is a nourishing roast vegetable dish with a super immune-boosting dressing for you to enjoy.
Recipe: Roasted Vegetables With Super Immune-boosting Dressing
By Tiina Lemmik
Be creative with what you use, I have included options rather than strict ingredients in the recipe.
- A variety of vegetables for roasting, cut into chunks (Why not try: Carrots, sweet potato, parsnip, swede, pumpkin, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, red pepper, zucchini, and fennel).
- Canned chickpeas
- Greens like rocket or spinach (optional)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Olive oil or melted coconut oil
- Salt and pepper
For The Super Immunity-boosting Dressing:
- ½ cup olive oil
- Thumb-sized piece of turmeric, sliced
- Thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1tsp dijon mustard
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper
How To Make It:
- Preheat oven to 200℃ (180℃ fan)
- Line a large roasting tin with baking paper (to make clean up easier). Toss vegetables of your choice with oil and place the more robust vegetables (like carrots, parsnips, pumpkin and swede) in a single layer on the tray. Season lightly with salt and pepper and roast for 15-20 mins.
- Add the remaining vegetables (broccoli, red pepper, etc.) to the tin and cook for a further 15-20 minutes until lightly coloured and cooked.
- In a jug, combine approx ½ 1 cup of really good quality olive oil. Add the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, ginger and turmeric into a high-speed blender and pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Tip: If you don’t have a blender handy, just chop ginger, turmeric and garlic finely or use a grater.
- Once ready to serve, add some canned chickpeas (or any other beans you have handy) to your roasted vegetables and if you have some, greens like baby spinach or rocket for an extra boost. Pour over the dressing, sprinkle with some pumpkin seeds and be really proud of yourself!
If you have any dressing leftover it can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for a week, but take it out before serving so it’s at room temperature. And if you don’t have all the fresh ingredients, you can replace them with dried ones, but you’ll need to use less (the general rule is 1:3).
Remember, stay home, stay safe.