Improving and supporting your immune system functions can help improve your health and wellbeing. There are aspects of your lifestyle that can be changed to support optimal immune function, as there may be some factors you need to change to keep your immune system working at its best.
There is a misconception that we need to “boost” our immune system, especially in those cold winter months. In most cases, our immune system will do its job at protecting us from foreign invaders. However, it is our responsibility to fuel and look after our bodies to support our bodies natural processes. Unfortunately, our immune system is not full proof and can sometimes fail and we get sick. We, as indulgent humans, can also do a lot to destroy our immune system with destruction and poor lifestyle choices.
Our immune system does an amazing job by disarming a constant barrage of foreign invaders. Our immune system works by responding to various threats from our environment. This process starts at the time of conception where the mother’s body acts to protect the baby and continues until we pass over.
Immunity and immune function is a complex process that requires support from nutrition, healthy habits and lifestyle choices.
A note on “Immunity boosters”
Going against many claims, there is no magic pill or vitamin mixture that can boost your immune system. It would be great if it was as simple as that. Due to immunity being made up of complex systems and processes, taking that “magic” pill to miraculously boost your immune system is not correct. It is common to see social media feeds full of claims of vitamins or herbal mixtures that claim to boost your immune system. Eating a healthy well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is much more beneficial, plus you’re getting all that extra fibre that your gut flora needs to thrive.
The Gut – Immunity connection
Our gut contains various types of micro-organisms that are dynamic and integral for health.
The gut contains more bacteria than cells we have in our bodies, and our gut microbiome plays an essential role in our overall immunity.
Gut health is important for immune due to various reasons, those include:
- Help prevent infections caused by pathogens
- Gut flora helps in digestion and providing us with nutrients such as vitamin K, Vitamin B and folate
- The intestinal gut flora is vital in the development and function of our mucosal immune function
Supporting a healthy gut has been understated, and has not been until recently that the importance of good gut health has been established.
If you would like to know more on the importance of good gut bacteria, I have created a post on this HERE.
I have also created a free eBook for download, you can get this free by clicking the link below.
Ways to support immune function
- Reduce chronic stress. Mindfulness and meditation is a very effective way to achieve this
- Limit and reduce alcohol consumption as it acts as an immune system suppressant
- Exercise regularly
- A healthy and wholesome diet including recommended amounts of fibre
- Practice good hygiene and wash and clean hands regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Quit smoking
Let’s explore each of these points in more detail
Burnout and chronic stress go hand in hand, and can directly affect our bodies ability to fight off pathogens. Chronic stress puts a major burden on our bodies and reduces the ability of our bodies to be optimized for best performance.
Research shows that stress weakens our immune system. Stress decreases a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which help fight and ward off infections. The more stressed you are, the more the stress affects your white blood cells increases your risk for infection. There is a direct relationship with the length of the stress and the amount of impact it has on our immune system.
Chronic stress can increase inflammation in the body, also having an affect on our bodies immune system.
Mindfulness practice and meditation can help reduce the effects of chronic stress, by calming the body and mind. See more on mindfulness here.
I also have a free eBook on Mindfulness practice which is FREE to download. Click the link below
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol consumption and immune function is a complex and fascinating topic. There are many factors that come into play in relation to alcohol consumption and improving your immune system.
Very heavy and chronic drinkers are considered “immunocompromised” and are at higher risk of developing many chronic diseases, but also infections such as pneumonia. Heavy consumption of alcohol-impaired the bodies defences and it is less likely to be able to fight bacterial, viral and other pathogen attacks. Alcohol abuse suppresses immune responses leading to an increase in the rate of infection, resulting in a greater risk of complications and death. Heavy alcohol consumption is directly related to a wide suppression of immune response in a heavy drinker. This can also include binge drinking.
On the contrary, some research is showing low to moderate alcohol consumption of polyphenol-rich beverages may have health benefits. Polyphenol- rich beverages include wine and beer!
Moderate drinkers have fewer effects on the immune system, but this can depend on the amounts of alcohol consumed and binge drinking behaviours that can affect the immune response of people.
What this comes down to your drinking pattern, the type of beverage, and the amount of alcohol that determines its positive or negative impact on your immune system.
Not only is exercise great for physical and mental health, but it also plays a role in our immune function. A study by Neiman identified that moderate exercise improves immunity by increasing the circulation of white blood cells for up to 3 hours post-exercise.
Other effects of incporporating exercise into your regime include:
- Improves defence activity of your immune system
- Regular exercise improves immune function and slows down age progression
- Leading a regularly active lifestyle reduces the risk of infections and non-communicable diseases such as cancer.
Lets not forget to mention that having a regular exercise regime is good for your mental health, and helps to reduce the effects of stress that also affect our immune function.
Eating a wholesome diet
Its not a suprise that eating a good diet full of wholesome foods beneits yoru immune function. Some foods that help support your immune system include
- Plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes
- A diet with plenty of fibre to help support gut health
- Incorporating pre and probiotics into your diet. High probiotic foods can boost and establish good populations of “good bacteria” back into the gut, especially after a course of antibiotics that depletes our good gut bacteria. Foods with good amounts of prebiotics and probiotics include yogurt, kefir, miso and other fermented foods
- reduce your intake of artificial sweeteners
- If you have had a recent course of antibiotics, a probiotic supplement may be beneficial to help boost gut populations.
Having good hygiene practices is the first line of defence to reduce your exposure to pathogens. Some good hygiene practices to have include:
- Wash your hands with warm soap and water after using the bathroom. Also, wash your hands before preparing food. Hand gel is effective if your hands are not visibly soiled.
- When you sneeze, sneeze into a tissue. If you don’t have a tissue available, sneeze or cough into your elbow and not onto your hands.
- If you have a cut or scrape, disinfect with something like iodine and cover it with a clean dressing.
- Avoid picking at your skin, this includes squeezing blemishes. Your skin is an amazing defence organ, and opening up sores expose a lovely portal of entry for pathogens to wreak havoc.
Sleep is an important factor in healthy immune function
Getting adequate sleep is essential in promoting health and wellbeing, let alone being vital for immune function. For those of you who do not get enough sleep can be unintentionally affecting your health and immune function. It is vital that each night, you get a good amount of sleep. so turn off those devices and get adequate amounts of rest and sleep.
It is not surprising that smoking is on this list of things to quit to improve overall health and immunity. Smoking has more than 7000 chemicals and chemical compounds in each cigarette, and 70 well-researched chemicals that are proven to be cancer-causing. So, it’s not surprising that smokers get sick more often than not smokers.
There are many reasons to quit smoking, one of them is the effect of smoking on our immune system. The effects of smoking on our health and immune system include:
- Increased risk of getting sick and becoming sick more often than non-smokers. Especially in infections such as influenza and pneumonia.
- Smoking encourages immune imbalance and increases the risk of auto-immune diseases.
Take home message
Incorporating healthy lifestyle choices can support your immune function to run at its best. Avoid smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, poor diet choices, and excess stress. Include good hygiene practices, wholesome food including fermented foods, and good quality sleep and exercise. Do all of these things, and you will give your immune system a good chance to work at an optimal level.