Boosting Immune Resilience: How to Support Your Body’s Natural Defences

Chronic stress, being bombarded by toxins and ultra-processed foods full of nasties and devoid of all nutritional value…our modern lifestyles are slowly but surely eroding our immune system, making it much more likely that we’ll be unable to mount an effective response to bacteria, viruses and other pathogenic invaders and recovery quickly. If you’re tired of falling victim to the latest bug making the rounds, here are a few things you can do today to boost your immune system and build its resilience.

 

Building Strong Immune Foundations

 

While your immune system is very complex, you can do some straightforward, uncomplicated things to support it. Like all body systems, living a healthy lifestyle is the first step to building a solid foundation for immunity. 

 

Balance Stress

Work deadlines, financial worries, relationship breakdowns, stressors are everywhere, and as a result, our stress response is constantly activated. This constant activation can make us feel run-down, tired and stressed out. It also makes us susceptible to illness. Find ways to manage stress in healthy ways. Regular exercise, mindful breathing exercises and meditation are all effective ways to manage stress. Using an adaptogen like ashwagandha and holy basil is another great way to help you handle stress. These herbs work by helping the body react to and recover from long and short-term physical and mental stress so you can better manage when the going gets tough. Adaptogens such as American ginseng, goji berry and eleuthero can also help with immunity, energy and overall wellbeing.

 

Prioritise Sleep

If you are only willing to make one lifestyle change to support your immune health, prioritise sleep. Inadequate sleep quality and quantity will activate your fight or flight sympathetic system, raising your cortisol levels and suppressing your immune function while turning down your rest and digest parasympathetic system. How do you go about prioritising sleep? Improving sleep begins in the morning by getting daylight exposure as early as possible each day. You’ll also want to make sure to avoid consuming stimulants like caffeine late in the afternoon. Create an inviting sleep sanctuary and keep regular sleep hours, aiming for eight hours each night.

 

Feed Your Microbiome

A healthy gut, particularly a friendly group of guests in your gut microbiome, is vital for overall immune function. You can support your gut microbiome through your diet and lifestyle. Feed your gut microbes by eating prebiotics like Jerusalem artichoke, garlic and asparagus; these contain oligosaccharides and fibres that help maintain healthy colonies. Suppose your gut microbiome is currently inhabited by microbes that aren’t friendly (you can find out by testing I use this one and this one with clients), in that case, you can move some beneficial bacteria into your gut microbiome by consuming fermented food and drinks like kombucha, natto, sauerkraut and hot pepper sauce. Probiotic supplements can also be helpful too.

 

Exercise

Regular, moderate exercise improves immune function, mood, and stress, especially when combined with being out in nature. Exercise will also increase circulation alongside the levels of infection-fighting antibodies and cells. 

 

Eat Real Food

A diet that supports your immune system contains whole, unprocessed foods. Aim for ten daily servings of at least 40 different types of brightly coloured vegetables and fruit each week. That sounds like a lot, but you can build up to this level. These plant foods contain many beneficial compounds that powerfully support immune function. Include plenty of herbs and spices in your meals for extra immune support. You can use herbs in salads, add cinnamon to porridge and smoothies, and include ginger and turmeric in savoury dishes like stir fries and curries. Reduce or avoid processed foods and refined sugar; as we’ve seen, these damage the gut and dampen the immune system. Aim for up to two litres of fresh filtered water daily and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can interfere with sleep and blood sugar balance, which can, in turn, negatively impact immune system function. To reduce the burden of toxic load in the body and its inevitable negative impact on the immune system, choose organically-grown produce and avoid using food storage containers and nonstick pans.

Nutrients to Boost Your Immune System

 

Here are some essential micronutrients you can include in your diet to ensure you get the raw materials your body needs to support healthy immune function.

 

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is involved in developing the immune system, with several immune system functions dependent on it. It also supports immune tolerance and helps to maintain and restore the integrity and function of all mucosal barrier surfaces in the body, including gut membranes and the upper respiratory tract.

 

Animal forms of vitamin A, known as retinoids, include liver, fish oil and dairy products. They include retinal, which is vital for vision, and the storage form of vitamin A retinol. Orange, yellow and green plant foods like sweet potato, carrots and leafy greens contain vitamin A in the form of carotenoids like beta carotene. However, these carotenoids need to be converted by the body to retinol. Some people carry a genetic variant of the BCO1 gene that can reduce the body’s ability to do this by more than 50%.

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is Vitamin A’s indispensable co-partner in immune health. It’s produced in the body when sunshine touches the skin, so it’s often called the sunshine vitamin. Like vitamin A, vitamin D supports both innate and adaptive immune system function, and a meta-analysis study found it effective in preventing colds and flu. Vitamin D deficiency will be more likely during autumn and winter at latitudes above 37 degrees north or below 37 degrees south of the equator. This includes all European countries, parts of Asia and most states in the United States in the north, while in the south, it includes Tasmania, New Zealand and parts of Chile and Argentina. Vitamin D deficiency is also more likely if we spend more time inside and in people with darker skin tones living at the latitudes mentioned. 

Given the powerful benefits for the immune system gained from vitamin D, it’s advisable to supplement. Keep on top of your vitamin D levels by testing twice yearly at the end of summer and winter. You can check your vitamin D levels via the GP or an at-home finger-prick test kit and work with a health professional to understand your optimal daily dose. Bear in mind that some people have genetic changes to the genes that encode for the vitamin D transporter and the vitamin D receptor, which may affect normal circulation and tissue sensitivity to vitamin D. Changes to the GC gene that encodes for the vitamin D transporter increase the risk of vitamin D insufficiency/deficiency, asthma and respiratory infections.

  

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is usually the first micronutrient most people consider to boost immune health. It’s a vitamin that we and several other species need to consume because we’ve lost the ability to make and store the vitamin – one of the reasons scurvy was so common among sailors who didn’t have vitamin C-rich foods while at sea for months. Bell peppers, kiwi fruit, berries and citrus fruits are some of the richest sources of vitamin C.

 

Vitamin C is fundamental for the immune system to mount and sustain an adequate response to pathogens and helps to minimise excessive damage to the body due to the immune system’s activation. It supports the innate and adaptive immune system and has potent antioxidant capacity. Vitamin C is also essential in wound healing and synthesising two structural proteins – elastin and collagen – which are linked to the connective tissue condition, scurvy. Vitamin C requirements increase rapidly during times of infection or illness. It is also depleted by pollution, chronic inflammatory conditions like diabetes, smoking and during times of stress.

 

Zinc 

Severe, moderate and even mild forms of zinc deficiency can suppress or harm the immune system’s ability to fight infections. This is because zinc supports the function and the propagation of immune cells. Zinc is also a mineral sought after by invading microbes that need it to invade and thrive, so the body has to protect zinc.

 

The body cannot store zinc; low zinc status may be more common in children and older adults. Good sources of zinc are found in meat, lentils, chickpeas, pumpkin and sesame seeds. It’s also worth noting that phytates, compounds found in plant foods like nuts, seeds, grains and beans, can bind minerals in the intestines and block their absorption and availability for use in the body. Including plant and animal zinc sources in your diet is essential to ensure optimal levels. If this isn’t possible, phytates can be inactivated by soaking and heating. 

 

Supplementation can also support your immune health and increase your zinc levels, but ensure that your supplement includes copper to balance zinc. Excess zinc can lead to copper deficiency and vice versa.

About

Hello, I’m Leah! Functional health consultant and founder of The Thrive Practice. Driven by data and supported by science, I’m unerringly obsessed with exploring your unique biochemistry to methodically get to the root of your health issues. So, you can achieve real and lasting relief.

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