How To Boost Your Immune System
There’s more to boosting your immune system than upping your Vitamin C, and although staying well is a complex matter – dependent on so many external factors outside of our control – that’s not to say there aren’t tips and tricks we can adopt to improve our chances of avoiding illness.
Food to Avoid
As Pulitzer Prize winning author Matt Ritchel explains in his recent book An Elegant Defence, the foods we consume have a negligible effect on our immune system when compared with the way we live. Outlining the work of Dr Anthony Fauci, an expert in immunology and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in America, Matt explains that lifestyle factors such as exercise, sleep, and low-stress living are far more important in building and maintaining a strong immune system. However, there are ingredients and food types that can damage our immune system and make us more susceptible to illness and infection.
- Processed foods: As well as being generally less nutrient-dense than natural food, research shows that the additives and emulsifiers found in processed foods can damage our microbiome, exposing our intestinal lining to bacteria which may cause infections.
- Excess salt: While salt in general is not significantly damaging for immune function, research has found that an excessively high-salt diet can compromise immune function by inhibiting the function of granulocytes, the most common type of immune cell in the blood.
- Sugar: Scientists tend to agree that reducing your sugar intake will have a positive impact on immune function, and there is some debate around the extremity of the impact of sugar consumption on our immune system. Contested studies suggest that reducing sugar can cure cancer and other serious diseases such as lymes disease, and while some of the claims about the efficacy of a sugar-free diet are outlandish, it’s widely agreed that a high intake of sugar can curb the efficiency of immune cells, so limiting the white stuff is wise.
Food to Seek Out
It’s a natural, almost unconscious response, built from years of being told to eat our oranges to avoid catching a cold: when presented with the threat of an illness, our first step is to up our Vitamin C. And although Vitamin C is understood to help our cellular immune function, there are a number of other food types we can focus on to boost our immune function.
- Probiotics and prebiotics: Improving our gut health is an important step towards high immune function. As explained by Dr Mark Hyman in his book Food Fix, probiotic and prebiotic foods can improve our immune system by protecting us from the damaging effects of an unbalanced microbiome. Probiotic foods include fermented products such as sauerkraut, kimchi and miso, and prebiotic properties are found in fiber-rich foods such as sweet potatoes, artichokes, and wheat bran.
- Protein: Research shows that a strong immune defense system is dependent on protein to build antibodies and fight infections, so maintaining adequate protein intake is essential.
- Vitamin B6: Research has found that Vitamin B6 can increase the immune function in critically ill patients, highlighting its importance for our immune response. Vitamin B6 can be found in wholegrain cereals, eggs, soya beans, and avocado… breakfast lovers rejoice.
- Vitamin A: The antioxidant effect of Vitamin A strengthens the immune system. Foods rich in Vitamin A are often the colourful ones: carrots, pumpkin, and leafy green vegetables are a good go-to.
- Vitamin D: If you’re not getting outside enough, try to up your Vitamin D intake through foods such as fatty fish or fortified cereals.
- Zinc: Research has found that zinc can be essential for immune function. Although this vital micro-nutrient is found in the highest quantities in animal products such as meat and dairy, plant-based sources do exist: pepitas, legumes and (joyously) dark chocolate are a good place to start.
Lowering Stress Levels
A growing body of research suggests that minimising our stress levels has a significant impact on improving our immune system.
In his book An Elegant Defence, Matt Ritchel explains how when we’re under stress, our body focuses on our immediate safety (entering a reactive fight-or-flight mode) rather than building long term health. When we enter a state of lower stress, we allow our cells and nervous system to build up our defences.
High stress decreases the body’s production of lymphocytes, which are the white blood cells that help fight off infection. Taking time to de-stress – through meditation, reading, or getting outside – can be a proactive measure in preserving our health.
Thankfully, working from home makes this one easier to achieve. Research shows that getting the required amount of uninterrupted, high-quality sleep can be the key to maintaining a healthy immune system.