How to Support your Immune System

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It was a 19th Century scientist, Claude Bernard who famously quoted:

“the state of a person’s internal environment (terrain) is much more important in determining disease than the infecting organism. We should focus more on making this environment the most inhospitable place for disease to flourish.”

What this highlights is the importance of supporting our immune system (our internal environment) and with news of the coronavirus spreading and people becoming concerned about contracting this virus, supporting the immune system is vitally important.

So what are the things we should be eating and doing to make our internal environment as inhospitable to infections?

  • Support your digestive system – Did you know that around 70% of our immune system is in our gut as it contains millions of bacteria known as our microbiome? It is therefore essential that we support our digestive system if we want optimal immune function. Our microbiome loves to feed off digestive fibres so make sure you are consuming foods that are high in soluble and insoluble fibres to keep them at their best. Good sources are leeks, onions, asparagus, oats, mushrooms, apples, pears, nuts and seeds. Fermented foods are also good to include in your diet too as they contain specific groups of beneficial bacteria to support our microbiome. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and kombucha.
  • Reduce your sugar intake – Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but when it comes to our immune system, then unfortunately sugar isn’t our friend. High amounts of sugar can potentially increase inflammation in our body and suppress our immune function, so it’s important that we keep our sugar intake to a minimum. So avoid foods such as sweets and chocolate, but also foods made with white flour (which is quickly broken down into sugar) such as white bread, pasta, rice and obviously cakes, biscuits, pastries etc. Instead consume wholegrain varieties, for example, brown rice, brown bread, wholegrain pasta. When it comes to fruit, I recommend no more than two portions a day because even fruit has sugar in it. Instead fill up on lots of vegetables. It is also worth avoiding processed foods which tend to be high in sugar. You should also start to read labels. If sugar is one of the top three ingredients, then don’t buy the product.
  • Eat the rainbow (fruit and vegetables) – When looking to support our overall health, including our immune health, it is essential that we eat lots of fruits and vegetables of different colours. These colours contain phytonutrients which support many functions in our body as well as vitamins and minerals that support our immune health. Make sure you buy fresh produce as they will have the highest levels of these nutrients.
  • Key nutrients to consume – There are specific nutrients that we should be consuming when it comes to supporting our immunity and they include:
    • Vitamin C – A key nutrient for our immune system with low levels being associated with a higher susceptibility to colds and flu. There are also clinical trials currently looking at high dose vitamin C as a weapon against the coronavirus, so watch this space. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruit, peppers, kiwi fruit, berries, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, papaya to name a few.
    • Vitamin D – You may have heard the importance of Vitamin D when it comes to strong bones and teeth, however did you know that it is vital for a healthy immune system too? Vitamin D helps to modulate our innate and adaptive immunity so it’s crucial that we have adequate amounts. It is also one that is commonly deficient in many people. Why? Because we make vitamin D by exposing our skin to the sun. In the UK, lets be honest, we don’t get much sun, plus we also smother ourselves in high factor sunscreen and a lot of people don’t get enough daylight, which all impacts our ability to make vitamin D. However, the good news is that you can get your vitamin D levels tested by asking your GP. You can also get some vitamin D from foods such as oily fish, mushrooms and eggs. If your levels aren’t adequate, then supplementation is recommended.
    • Vitamin A – this vitamin is important when it comes to supporting immunity, mainly because it is crucial for the health of our digestive system, which as you know, is key if we want to keep our immune system in tip top health. Good sources are liver, eggs and foods rich in carotenoids (orange, yellow and green foods) such as carrots, squash, mangos, oranges, peppers, sweet potatoes, green leafy veg etc.
    • Selenium – plays an essential role in the health of our immune system as it acts as an antioxidant therefore reducing oxidative stress in the body which reduces inflammation and enhances immunity. Good sources are brazil nuts, meat and fish, eggs, mushrooms, brown rice, lentils, nuts and seeds
    • Zinc – again an important nutrient when it comes to supporting immunity, but quite often people are deficient in it. Good sources are shellfish, oysters, beef, beans and pulses, pumpkin seeds and other nuts and seeds.

Other things to consider

  • Prioritise your sleep – as people who report poor sleep have lower immune functions. Aim for at least 7 to 8 hours a night to keep you feeling at your best.
  • Keep you stress levels down – Stress is a killer when it comes to our immune system. Have you ever been working hard to find that when you stop you get ill? This is a clear indication that stress is affecting your immune system, so make sure you adopt stress management techniques such as daily meditation or relaxation activities to ensure your stress levels are minimal.

Finally make sure you are following the Government recommendations of washing your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds as good hygiene can really help with our fight against the coronavirus!

Fiona Hutchinson is the Nutritional Therapist at Lymm Osteopathic Practice, to arrange an appointment call 01925 752264