With the cold and flu season in full swing and UK COVID-19 cases back on the rise, it's more important than ever to make sure your immune system is functioning at its best. A strong immune system will help you stay healthy during the winter months, and can help prevent serious illness if you do contract a virus such as a coronavirus. In this blog post, we will discuss seven ways to naturally strengthen your immune system. We'll provide an overview of the major functions of the immune system, and offer some tips on how you can keep yourself healthy this winter!
Functions of the Immune System
The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to help protect the body from illness and infection. Its primary functions include fighting off pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, destroying foreign substances that enter the body, and regulating inflammation to promote healing.
7 Tips to Enhance Immunity Naturally
A combination of toxins, stress and a poor diet can prevent your immune system from being able to work properly and make you more likely to get sick. To help avoid this, here are some tips for keeping your immune system healthy:
1. Minimise Your Stress Levels
To function optimally, your immune system requires harmony and balance. But when you experience psychological stress, your body produces elevated levels of the cortisol hormone to help prepare your body for a perceived emergency. This is your body’s natural response which helps you deal with intensely stressful situations, and is known as ‘fight or flight’. However, our bodies aren’t designed to cope with prolonged periods of stress, and when cortisol levels remain elevated in your body, they can negatively impact the immune system by suppressing the activity of certain white blood cells that help fight infection. This leaves you increasingly susceptible to viruses and decreases your ability to stay healthy. Even minimal daily stressors can negatively impact your immune response. This is why it’s so important to practise self-care regularly to minimise your stress levels and stay healthy. Consider a daily walk, meditation, a yoga session, time to read a book, a massage or taking a natural supplement that helps your body better cope with stress, such as adaptogens Ashwagandha and Rhodiola, or hemp-derived CBD oil.
2. Take Vitamin D Supplements
Recent research suggests that those with lower blood levels of Vitamin D may be more likely to get sick. Scientists believe that Vitamin D helps regulate the production of infection-fighting white blood cells. But Vitamin D isn’t as easily sourced from foods as other vitamins and minerals; instead, our bodies produce Vitamin D after we have been exposed to the sun. During the winter months especially, many of us don’t get enough sunlight to keep our bodies sufficiently topped up with Vitamin D. To keep your levels healthy, it's recommended that you take a good quality daily vitamin D supplement. Aim for 1000 – 2000 IUs (International Units) of Vitamin D per day.
3. Get Plenty of Sleep
Achieving regular, good-quality, deep sleep is essential for optimal body and brain health. Sleep results in the production and release of cytokines (immune system proteins) which play a key role in fighting infection, reducing inflammation and tackling stress. When you’re sleep-deprived, cytokine levels decrease, and inflammation increases. Getting the right amount of sleep is fundamental for good health; adults should aim for between seven and nine hours each night (children and teens require more). If you struggle to switch off and get to sleep, try a natural supplement such as Mission C Night Oil to help unwind the mind and drift off into a deep slumber.
4. Stay Hydrated
Adequate hydration is crucial for overall health, including the function of your immune system. Staying hydrated can help to flush out toxins, reduce inflammation, and promote better circulation - all of which are important for maintaining your immune health as immune cells circulate throughout the body. To support your immune system, ensure you are sufficiently rehydrating. Adults require approximately 2 – 2.5 litres of water or fluids daily (more if participating in strenuous exercise). If you enjoy cups of tea or coffee as part of your daily fluid intake, try decaffeinated options to avoid becoming dehydrated.
5. Up Your Fruit and Veg Intake
Are you eating enough fruit and vegetables? Many of us are aware that a healthy diet is important for healthy immunity, but struggle to eat a balanced, plant-rich diet with plenty of protein, healthy fats and fibre. Aim to add colour to every meal – think a rainbow of fruit and veg – for a good balance of nutrients. Reducing processed foods, refined sugar and increasing consumption of complex carbs, such as oats and quinoa, plus lean protein, can contribute towards a strengthened immune system.
6. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise helps to control body weight, lower blood pressure, promote healthy blood circulation and prevent a variety of illnesses and conditions. Exercise has also been shown to help lower stress and boost mood. This positive impact – both mentally and physically – helps the immune system to work efficiently and effectively. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity, five days a week.
Can Too Much Exercise Negatively Impact the Immune System?
Overtraining can reduce immune function. Overtraining usually refers to strenuous exercise that lasts for at least 90 minutes, or inadequately resting between workout days. Incorporate regular exercise into your routine for a healthy immune system, but remember that rest days are just as important to good health, and keep training sessions up to 90 minutes long.
7. Maintain a Healthy Weight
It is now known that obesity can impair immune function. Extra body weight impacts levels of white blood cells, alongside the cell-mediated immune response. To keep your immune system as healthy as possible, it's important to maintain a healthy weight. This can be achieved by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
Does Being Cold Weaken the Immune System?
Catching a cold from being out in the cold is actually a stubborn myth. Your susceptibility to infection will likely not increase following exposure to cold air. In fact, being exposed to the cold for brief periods (such as during Cold Water Immersion Therapy) might even stimulate our immunity and ability to fight off infection. Winter is known as cold and flu season since the airborne flu virus survives for longer in colder, less humid environments, and people generally spend more time indoors during the winters, therefore in closer contact with others.