I very much hope you are keeping well during lockdown. Paying attention to your immune system is particularly important during this time. My continued learning in this area has brought me some additional insights, which I thought would be beneficial to share with you.
I don’t know about you, but some days are extremely productive and others seem to morph into each other. The sunshine has definitely helped lift my spirits as I love feeling warm. A little outdoor exercise is essential for me, and joining Joe Wicks every morning is a great start to each day!
Balancing working from home with home schooling, whilst trying to keep harmony in the house, is a huge challenge for many. Others face loneliness. We are all feeling the pressure in some way at the moment, and this can put immense strain on the immune system.
How the immune system works
The immune system responds to threat in two phases. The innate immune response is the first to kick in; see it as the rapid response team, activating within hours of infection to kill invaders before they spread around the body. If the body is still under attack after a few days, the adaptive immune response takes over, producing antibodies specifically designed to fight that infection.
You may have heard about cytokine storms in the news. This is when inflammation, the physical process your body uses to fight against bacteria or viruses (pathogens), gets out of control and becomes life-threatening. People with low grade chronic inflammation, such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, can be at higher risk of this. Their body is already inflamed, so the immune system may struggle to fight off an additional attack.
The best thing you can do is ‘normalise’ your immune system, which means getting it into its normal state. Given the right tools, it’s pretty amazing. Here’s how you can help yours.
Step 1 – Manage your stress levels
All surfaces inside the body that lead to the outside, namely the respiratory, urinary and gastrointestinal tracts, are coated with mucosal lining. This protective layer is designed to prevent bacteria, viruses and dirt from entering the body. But it can become weakened by an over-production of cortisol (the stress hormone) in highly stressful situations.
If you’ve ever experienced a cold or sore throat on holiday, after a period of intense pressure to get you there, this is why. If you’re frequently ill, have a look at your stress levels. Here are some tools to help:
- Take regular outdoor exercise and/or home workouts to suit your ability.
- Eat well and avoid inflammatory foods/drinks (more on this below).
- Support your adrenals (the glands which release cortisol) – I can help you with this through a Zoom appointment.
- Set a regular bedtime and morning routine to help you sleep well.
Step 2 – Look after your gut
60% of your mucosal lining is in your digestive system, so it’s important to look after your microbiome (the good bacteria in your gut). It’s at the helm of your immune system, protecting your body against pathogens and producing some essential vitamins.
Some of the gut bacteria have a direct influence on your immune system by making signals to the T-cells (white blood cells at the core of the adaptive immune system). The best way to look after these is to feed them with prebiotics such as asparagus, beans, garlic, onions and leeks. These fibre-rich foods resist digestion and travel to the large intestine, acting as a fertiliser for the good bacteria. They multiply and pump out their own metabolic waste, known as short chain fatty acids, as they grow. These are incredibly powerful in controlling and modulating the immune system.
Polyphenols, found in green tea, berries, nuts and pulses (or by taking a resveratrol supplement) are another great way to feed your good bacteria.
Eating a variety of colourful plant-based foods is key to supporting the diversity of good gut bacteria. It’s called ‘eat the rainbow’. The more colourful your plate of food the better.
Step 3 – Get the right nutrients
Here are some key nutrients that will help strengthen your immune system:
- Zinc – This essential mineral plays a vital role in the functioning of the innate and adaptive immune responses, strengthening your resistance to infection. See the zinc protocol in my last newsletter (Link).
- Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids – Most of you will get enough omega 6 in your diet through dairy, eggs, avocadoes, olive oil and eggs. Omega 3, found in fish, flaxseed and chia seeds, is more likely to be deficient. Omega 3 is brilliant at dampening inflammation, but too much omega 6, without sufficient omega 3, will have the reverse effect.
- Vitamin D3 – This is excellent for the immune system. Like zinc, it supports both the innate and adaptive immune responses. Before the benefits of vitamin D were discovered, patients with TB were sent to sanatoriums where treatment included exposure to sunlight. Doctors knew sunlight helped, but didn’t know why. Make sure you get outside and enjoy some of this lovely sunshine.
- Vitamin C – Well-known for immune support, this is a wonder vitamin. Again, refer to my last newsletter (Link).
Every time you eat, ask yourself whether it’s a pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory food:
Anti-inflammatory foods – Spices (particularly turmeric and ginger), fresh vegetables, fruits and pulses.
Inflammatory foods – Processed and high-sugar foods (such as pastries, donuts, sugary cereals etc.) and too much alcohol. These produce toxins that overwhelm the body and can cause inflammation in excessive amounts.