Over the last few weeks, while treating clients, the most common questions I have been getting are about how to strengthen their immune system. Some clients have been saying that their digestive system has slowed right down and resulting in symptoms such as increased constipation, bloating and lethargy.
So, this month I have put together some simple practical steps to help you work on building your immune system up.
I always say that you can’t give from an empty cup and just like your car, your own engine needs a good service from time to time.
Your immune system always works harder in the Winter and particularly at times when we are under more stress. Now that we are in March, the lighter nights are coming (hurrah!) and fingers crossed that better weather is on its way too.
How important is it to strengthen your immune system?
Let me explain the importance of your immune system and how it works. Over 70% of your immune system is in your gut. It’s your body’s first line of defence against illness and disease.
Because you can only do so much to minimize your risks of coming into contact with harmful bacteria and viruses, your body’s immune system takes over when you are exposed to these dangerous germs and helps to protect you from illness. It is your army and is there to protect you.
Your immune system produces white blood cells, which fight off bacteria, infectious disease and foreign materials. When your immune system isn’t functioning properly or is low/ suppressed, it can’t produce enough white blood cells to fight off infection and you become sick.
Another important element of your immune system is antimicrobial peptides. These fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi, even sometimes battling cancerous cells. Your body naturally produces antimicrobial peptides, but you can take supplements to stimulate your body’s production of these essential warriors. Antimicrobial peptides also have other immunomodulatory benefits.
How to strengthen your immune system:
1: Nutritional Planning
One of the easiest and the best ways that you can make sure that your immune system is functioning at its best is to make sure your body is getting all of the nutrients it needs.
Healthy eating habits are essential in Winter, however, it’s very easy to get into unhealthy eating habits which can lead to suppressed/low immune system.
You have probably heard me say that eating healthily all year-round is really important, but it is a vital function to ensure that your immune system is functioning properly.
Where you can, eat plenty of vegetables and proteins like plant protein, fish and good quality meat and reduce your refined carbs i.e. things like white bread, white pasta and processed food.
Obviously at the moment shopping is difficult with what is available, so even things like tins of fish are a great staple to have in the cupboard – I know what I am talking about as I worked for the biggest supplier of canned fish for years! 😊
I know it’s hard to eat perfectly all of the time. I always live my life by the 80/20 rule (80 % good with 20% allowed for treats and processed foods). But improving your eating habits meal-by-meal can produce a direct result in how well your immune system deals with the challenges of life.
Planning and preparing your meals is my key tip in changing your eating habits and the bonus is that you will save money in the long run by only shopping for what is necessary to your menu for the week.
In addition to focusing on your eating habits, consider taking a good quality nutritional supplement that will help to boost your immune system, help your body to create good chemicals and help you get the most from your food:
- VITAMIN C: Vitamin C is one of the most important supplements you can take to help boost your body’s immune system response. It is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. It’s involved in many body functions, including the formation of collagen, absorption of iron, the immune system, wound healing and maintenance of cartilage, bones and teeth. You can improve your Vitamin C intake by eating more fruits rich in Vitamin C, or taking Vitamin C supplements (I would stress a good quality one).
- ZINC: Zinc is an essential micronutrient that is crucial to almost every aspect of your health. It’s available in many different forms but I would recommend Zinc Picolinate which is better absorbed in the body than Zinc Gluconate. It plays a direct role in how well your immune system functions. Zinc stimulates the white blood cells that fight off infection and help keep your body healthy. Zinc and Vitamin C have a synergy that results in improved effectiveness when taken together.
- L-HISTIDINE: L-histidine promotes Zinc absorption. It is a semi-essential proteinogenic amino acid, which basically means it can be synthesised in small amounts by the body itself and is used to form proteins. Taking Zinc supplements without Histidine may be ineffective because certain foods, especially vegetables, can interfere with Zinc absorption. Histidine counteracts that interference and enables your body to effectively process Zinc.
- VITAMIN D3: Vitamin D3 functions in your body as a powerful antibiotic. Vitamin D3 boosts your body’s production of antimicrobial peptides which destroy pathogenic organisms, such as the influenza virus. Vitamin D3 isn’t a cure for the flu, but it can help your body become more effective at combatting the flu.
A detox program that includes colon hydrotherapy can help your body effectively rid itself of unwanted compounds and boost your body’s metabolism and immune system functionality. By removing toxic materials from your body and improving your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, colonic hydrotherapy can help boost your immune system.
But don’t try to make too many changes too quickly, or your body will have a difficult time to adjust. Make transitions to healthier eating habits gradually so your body can become accustomed to the change. Don’t deprive yourself of the occasional treat, either, or you may find it more difficult to be healthy overall.
2: Stress Management
Stress makes it more difficult for your immune system to function properly, therefore increasing your risk during the cold, wet and windy winter months when you are more likely to contract an illness.
When we get stressed (and we all do, even me), we produce a hormone called Cortisol which uses massive amounts of Vitamin C, which then weakens your white blood cell’s ability to fight viruses. Cortisol also increases blood pressure and blood sugar, increasing your body’s risk for other medical complications in addition to a suppressed immune function.
Sleep is vitally important at any age. I like to prepare myself for sleep – nice bedding, lavender spray, warm drink and practice relaxation techniques to reduce stress levels. There are lots of free apps available now. My favourite is the Calm app.
By reducing your stress levels, you reduce your body’s production of Cortisol and boost your immune responses.
You can also take a magnesium supplement in conjunction with aerobic exercise to reduce Cortisol levels. Omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin C also reduce the negative impact of Cortisol, making it easier for your body to fight off illness and lowering your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Therapeutic relaxation techniques can help lower your stress levels. I offer a variety of techniques and therapies including massage, reflexology, cupping and reiki to colonic hydrotherapy sessions at Complete Health Clinic which all help to reduce your stress and Cortisol levels.
Finally, let’s talk about how your body responds to emotions. Reducing direct stress is only one part of the equation for keeping your body healthy and happy.
You also need to nurture yourself – spending quality time with friends and loved ones and enjoying relaxing activities that make you happy. Don’t succumb to the mood hoovers – be with radiators not drains!
Keeping your mental state upbeat and positive has a direct impact on your stress and Cortisol levels, which has a direct impact on how well your body’s immune system functions! Just remember everything is temporary and there are no rainbows without the rain.
3: Natural sunlight
Sunlight is an important part of your body’s immune system functionality. During the winter, we don’t get as much direct exposure to sunlight as we do during the Summer (unless of course, you are lucky to be able to jet off to the sunshine). That is particularly the case during long, cold and wet Winters such as the one Manchester has just experienced. Although saying that, the longer nights are going to be here this week – don’t forget the clocks go forward on Saturday night!
So why do we need sunlight? When the sunlight enters your eyes, it stimulates your brain’s hypothalamus. The hypothalamus regulates automatic bodily functions and controls metabolic functions, such as the production of Cortisol and Serotonin, the mood-enhancing brain hormone. Therefore, more sunlight helps to lower Cortisol and boost Serotonin, making you feel happier and lowering stress levels.
Direct exposure to sunlight in the form of the sun shining on our skin also stimulates our body’s production of Vitamin D which boosts your body’s ability to absorb Calcium and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy. Decreased sunlight and subsequently lower Vitamin D levels lessen our body’s ability to fight off colds and flu during the winter months when we don’t get enough exposure to sunlight.
Try to spend more time outdoors in the Winter, even though it’s cold. Take a short walk outside during your lunch break, or quick walks before and after work. Any exposure to sunlight boosts your mood, helps to regulate your hypothalamus and can increase your body’s Vitamin D production – keeping you healthier even in the cold months. The exercise you’ll get on a quick walk also helps to boost your immune system!
Just as increased sunlight can play a direct role in your mood and energy levels, so can colonic hydrotherapy. Over 80% of the Serotonin you produce happens in your gut. You release it when you have a good bowel movement – hence one of the many reasons why my lovely clients who have colonic hydrotherapy sessions with me at Complete Health Clinic leave happy, as they get a surge in energy and serotonin levels.
4: Keep hydrated and Drink Water
Drinking warm water is effective for all viruses. Warm water stimulates the digestion and the body won’t use so much energy to break down the food you consume, which makes it very easy for them to be digested and to smoothly pass through the intestines. Try not to drink liquids with ice or cold water as it has the opposite effect. This is another reason why restaurants offer coffee or tea at the end of a meal. The warm water helps the body flush out toxins as you sweat and urinate including fat deposits, circulating in your body, which improves blood circulation. Muscles relax as well also aiding in better blood flow. As your body detoxifies, your skin can recover faster after coming in contact with germs and other free radicals. Not to mention water can relieve constipation which is a common result of dehydration…
I hope that those tips on how to strengthen your immune system have helped ease some worries. It won’t stop you from catching viruses or infections, but it will certainly help in how your body deals with them and recovers. So, even just changing the way you eat will have massive benefits.
If you have reasons to believe your immune system may be compromised or lower than it should be and are worried, at Complete Health Clinic we offer a variety of tests that allow you to get your immune system checked, such as:
- Gut Immunology: a comprehensive stool test to evaluate immunological imbalance specific to gastrointestinal tract inflammatory disease activity.
- The complete status of intestinal colonisation as the microbiome is key to our defence system as it protects against germs and breaks down food to release energy and produces vitamins and of course benefits your immune system.
Please contact me for more details about either of the tests above. The results are very easy to read, so don’t feel intimidated by the language of the tests above – you will find the advice insightful and actionable!
If you have any questions and comments about what I have discussed above, I’d love to hear them, so please comment at the bottom of this blog post and I can reply to you there.