We can support our immune health and build up resistance to future infection by managing stress, getting enough sleep and improving our diets.
It is more important now than ever to look after our immune health to fight future infections as well as chronic diseases in years to come. Don’t underestimate the importance of getting outside in the fresh air and light during the day, which helps to support a natural circadian rhythm and aids sleep. Spending time in nature may also help calm the stress response as well as support immunity.
My top tips for supporting your immune health
Limit ultra-processed food: Poor nutrition has been found to increase the risk of infection and can lead to compromised immunity, so limit sugary, processed snacks and reduce your reliance on ready meals. Selected nutrients play a fundamental role in how well our immune system works. It is much easier to fit these nutrients into meals if you’re not filling up with empty calories (i.e. foods that are low in nutrients) every few hours.
Eat a rainbow: For a well-functioning immune system, micronutrients should include vitamins A, C, D, E, B2, B6 and B12 as well as folic acid, iron, selenium and zinc. Replenish these by eating the rainbow over the course of the week. This also feeds helpful bacteria in the gut, which play a fundamental part in regulating a healthy immune response and ensuring the body can recognise invaders.
Vitamin C: Infections significantly deplete the body’s Vitamin C stores. Sugar also competes with Vitamin C for uptake into cells, so instead of an afternoon snack consisting of a sweet treat, go for citrus fruit or other Vitamin C-rich foods such as berries, kiwi, mango and sweet peppers in addition to eating your greens at meal times. You will instantly add more immune-supporting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants into your diet while cutting out the foods that can leave you feeling lethargic an hour later.
Studies have also indicated that oral Vitamin C (2-8g/day) may reduce the incidence and duration of respiratory infections. However, ION always recommends talking to a registered nutritional therapist or a GP before supplementing.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is most likely to be a problem during winter months, since we absorb most of what we need through the skin over summer. It is thought that Vitamin D deficiency may be associated with sub-optimal immune function and an increased risk of infection, with studies now linking Vitamin D deficiency to the severity of COVID-19.
Good food sources include oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon, as well as egg yolks. Vegetarians and vegans can get vitamin D through some mushrooms and some fortified foods such as plant milks or nutritional yeast.
The NHS also recommends everyone to supplement with 10 micrograms of Vitamin D every day throughout the winter months. However, studies point towards upwards of 100 micrograms being most optimal for human health.
Reduce stress: Chronically raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol can result in the immune system becoming resistant to the stress response. Swollen glands, a sore throat and aching limbs can all be signs that the body is working hard to cope – and a good indicator to take time to relax. Meditation, yoga, walking, running and lifting weights can all help you to do this. The important thing is finding what works for you and your body.
Prioritise sleep: Studies have shown that sufficient sleep helps the immune system to work well, with chronic sleep deprivation an independent risk factor for impaired immunity. Eating meals earlier, avoiding technology close to bedtime and winding down with a bath or listening to some music before bed can all help you to get a better night’s sleep.
Main pic: @veikkovenemies