Immune Health Nutrition
By Dr Linia Patel, Dietitian
Are you regularly washing your hands, stocking up on hand sanitiser, being super mindful to not touch your face and now working from home all because of coronavirus? Interested in knowing what else can you do to improve your immune health nutrition? I have put together a list of 5 easy ways to boost your immune system. While the suggestions below will not make you invincible, they are sensible and easy to follow and can help strengthen your natural defences against viruses, colds and flu and keep yourself as healthy as possible.
5 Easy Ways to Boost Your Immune System
1. Strengthen your gut
The microbes in your gut not only help your body digest food, but they also help regulate your metabolism and your immune system. In fact, almost seventy percent of your immune system is in the gut. Eating fermented food (think bio-live yogurt, miso, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut) popping a probiotic or increasing dosage if you are already on one boosts the level of good bacteria in your gut. These good bacteria influence your body’s T-cells, the crucial white blood cells that help power your immune system. They also help reduce inflammation which prevents infection.
Eat at least one portion of fermented food each day.
2. Stay hydrated
Your body is made up of more water than anything else, so it’s not surprising that poor hydration has a detrimental impact of the effectiveness of your immune system. Optimal hydration is important for removing toxins from which the body and dehydration reduces the overall volume of blood and lymphatic fluids that are integral in a healthy immune system response.
Use your urine colour to help you determine if you need to drink more water. If you are hydrated your urine will be a pale straw colour.
3. Reduce stress
Yes, we are living in very strange times however stressing about it to no end is counterproductive. Stress causes an anti-inflammatory response within the body as it activates your fight-or-flight response by releasing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This in turn supresses your immune system which then leaves you more susceptible to infections.
Don’t panic! Find a restorative way of managing your stress. Maybe try meditating, yoga or getting out in nature.
4. Reduce inflammation
Studies have shown that a high intake of simple sugars decreases white blood cell production buy up to 50%. Eating a diet based on wholefoods and loading up on antioxidant rich vegetables and fruit will boost your overall health and help protect you from other viruses and infections. On the other hand, a diet that is high in refined foods and sugars (refined carbs including junk food and alcohol) is known to dramatically decrease your immune function.
Vitamin D is another key nutrient that dampens inflammation. Recent research has shown that people with low vitamin D levels are 36% more likely to catch a cold than those who are not. The reason for this is that vitamin D helps your body produce a protein called cathelicidin that fights bacteria. As it’s the sunshine vitamin, and most of us don’t get enough of that over winter, it’s recommended to take a supplement over the winter period.
In my clinical experience 1000IU of D3 a day during autumn and winter is sufficient to maintain good vitamin D levels.
5. Sleep some more
Are you getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep a night? Getting enough sleep is crucial for a strong immunity and is also vital for a speedy recovery should you catch a virus. Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep hence being sleep deprived reduces the amount of cytokines produced and therefore reduces the infection-fighting antibodies needed. A lack of sleep also leads to an increase in the body’s level of cortisol, a stress hormone that can take a roll on your immune system. Lowering your levels of cortisol increases your immune response.
Don’t sacrifice sleep even for exercise. Aim for at least seven hours a night and if you don’t get that have a nap.
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Photo courtesy of heftiba (Unsplash)