With everything that’s going on around us at the moment (Coronavirus anyone?) I thought it might be a good time to suggest some ways in which we can look after our health and that of our families. Having a strong immune system is the best chance we’ve got of fighting off all kinds of disease and there are plenty of things you can do to improve your immune system naturally and quickly.
What Is Your Immune System?
Your immune system is made up of organs, cells and tissues that work together to protect you from infections and diseases. White blood cells and antibodies are produced to identify and destroy the threatening antigens (foreign substances) invading the body. Antibodies also neutralise toxins and kill bacteria, viruses and infected cells.
Humans have three types of immunity:
- Innate Immunity – This is a general immunity that everyone is born with.
- Adaptive Immunity – This is immunity that is developed through our lives, from diseases we’ve been exposed to or been vaccinated for.
- Passive Immunity – This immunity is borrowed from another source and is short lived, such as the immunity a baby gets from its mother’s breast milk.
Foods That Build The Immune System
Plenty of fruit and veg in your diet is a given if you want to stay healthy. You need to make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin A, B6, C, D and E in your diet to really make a difference. There are certain superfoods which contain the right combination of vitamins and minerals to be the best immune system boosters.
1. Citrus Fruit
Vitamin C increases the production of white blood cells and these little fellas are key to fighting infections. There’s such a delicious variety to choose from – Oranges, Lemons, Grapefruits, Satsumas, Limes, Clementines, Tangerines, Pomellos. Make sure you’re including citrus in your diet every day as the body can’t store Vitamin C so it needs to be continually replenished.
2. Cruciferous Vegetables
Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower and Spinach are all high in Vitamin C and wonderful for supporting the liver.
Broccoli especially is one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat. It’s full of Vitamins A, C and E. It’s got loads of antioxidants and is a great source of fibre. Don’t overcook it though or you’ll lose all that goodness. I like it chopped up in salads, it adds a lovely crunch and raw is the healthiest way to eat it.
3. Bell Peppers
Bell Peppers are an abundant source of Vitamin C and Beta Carotene, another aid for strengthening the immune system and promoting healthy skin and eyes. They are best eaten raw but some people find them hard to digest. Lightly roasting them will help with digestion and makes them absolutely delicious, especially the red ones.
4. Herbs & Spices
It’s important to incorporate a variety of herbs and spices into your cooking. Not only do they add amazing flavour, they are also full of disease-fighting goodness.
Ginger is wonderful. I love it. I grate it into hot water, lemon and honey when I have a cold, or juice it and mix it with my smoothies. I love the heat it delivers and personally prefer it savoury than sweet. Although I like it in sweet dishes too. I like it any way really. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory. It helps reduce nausea. It’s thought to help relieve pain and some studies suggest that it could even lower cholesterol.
Garlic is certainly popular around the world, especially where I live, and with good reason. Not only is it delicious, it is also really good for your heart, it fights infections and is thought to lower blood pressure.
Turmeric has been used in Indian cooking for centuries but has recently caught the world’s attention because of its potent anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s thought to help fight against certain cancers, heart disease, arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s. I’ve also heard that it can act like a natural antidepressant. If you add it to your cooking be sure to add some black pepper too, as the black pepper helps the body to absorb the turmeric.
Walnuts, Almonds and Pistachios are packed with Vitamin E which your body uses to fight bacterial infections. Vitamin E is fat soluble and nuts are full of healthy fats and antioxidants.
Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds and Sunflower Seeds have Vitamin E and Vitamin B6. They also contain Iron, Selenium, Phosphorus and Magnesium. They are really easy to include in your diet. Just sprinkle them on salads, soups or cereals.
Natural, live yogurt and fermented products like kefir deliver gut friendly bacteria. If your gut is healthy, that goes a long way to keeping the rest of you healthy too. Some yogurts are fortified with Vitamin D so that’s an extra boost for your immunity.
8. Bone Broth
Turns out chicken soup really is good for the soul, and the body as well. Poultry has lots of Vitamin B6 which is vital for making white blood cells. Broiling the bones to make a stock releases lots of other goodies that are healing for the gut.
Other Ways To Improve Your Immune System Naturally
1. Stop Smoking
Smoking is one of, if not the, worse thing you can do for your health. It’s linked to a whole host of illnesses including cancer and emphysema, and has a very negative impact on your immune system, lowering your defences and leaving you open to infection.
2. Get More Exercise
Regular exercise pumps oxygen filled blood around the body, improving heart and lung health. It also releases endorphins and dopamine, improving your overall mood and reducing your perception of pain, making you feel better. Just don’t overdo it with hard training, this can have an adverse affect on your immune system.
3. Get More Sleep
Sleep is so important, yet it’s often the first thing we overlook when it comes to staying healthy. Lack of quality sleep suppresses your immune system functions, reducing the amount of infection fighting antibodies and cells that are produced. Aim for at least 7 or 8 hours a night. Easier said than done with a baby. Trust me, I know.
4. Get Some Sun
Obviously don’t lay out baking in it, but a walk in the sunlight will do wonders for your Vitamin D levels. The morning light is especially good for your health. It regulates your circadian rhythms to help with your sleep, as well as your appetites, energy levels and hormone production.
5. Moderate Your Alcohol Intake
A glass of red wine may be beneficial to your health, but too much can mess with your immune system. Alcohol can damage the lining of your gut, and a leaky gut can cause all sorts of problems in your body.
6. Take A Cold Shower
Doesn’t sound very tempting but even just switching to cold water for the last 30 seconds of your shower could help strengthen your immune system. Studies have found that the cold water increases the amount of white blood cells in the body. It also increases the metabolism rate and reduces stress, all factors that go towards improving your immune system.
Chronic stress releases the hormone Cortisol which can weaken the immune system. It interferes with the production of white blood cells and antibodies that protect us from pathogens. Do whatever you can to combat stress. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, spending time in nature, whatever works for you, do it.
Why It Matters…
If you take care of your immune system it will take care of you, protecting you from infections and viruses now and helping to prevent more serious illnesses in later life. These steps are easy to take and to incorporate in your day to day life. They’ll help keep your toxin levels low and keep your body healthy so you’ll feel better, look better and age better. A little effort goes a long way.
If you have any questions or any more great tips to share then please do so in the comments below.