As the days get shorter and darker, many of us are feeling emotionally fatigued at the prospect of more challenging months ahead with the pandemic. If you feel the same, I am keen to fill you with fresh inspiration about how you can support your immune system, and overall health and wellbeing, over the coming months.
Normally our immune system is equipped to deal with exposure to pathogens. However, our immune defences are often compromised nowadays, resulting in low immunity, and frequent, severe, and/or persistent infections.
Understanding why we might be prone to low immunity, helps us to find the inner drive needed to implement sustainable, nourishing habits, and the right immune support.
1. LOOK AFTER YOUR GUT
The gut is well-recognised for its central role in immunity. I find individuals who have in imbalance in digestion & absorption, motility, integrity and immunity and microflora balance are more prone to low immunity. Our microbiome (the populations of good and bad bacteria and yeasts in our gut) provides the foundations of our immune system. Having adequate beneficial gut flora is the best defence against external pathogens, such as seasonal viruses. Keep levels topped up with daily servings of probiotic, fermented food and drinks, such as sauerkraut and fermented vegetables, kefir and kombucha. Taking a good quality multi-strain probiotic supplement can also help.
2. EAT NUTRIENT RICH FOODS
Eat a well-balanced and healthy diet that is rich in whole natural foods, fruit, vegetables, grains, beans, seeds, nuts and an adequate amount of protein. Try and limit your sugar, caffeine and processed food intake. Specific nutrients such as Zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin D are essential components of our immune cell response.
Vitamin C is readily available in fruit and green and orange vegetables
(think dark leafy greens, peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, berries
etc) The body cannot store Vitamin C, so daily doses are important.
Consider boosting your intake of natural vitamin C with a concentrated fruit
powder such as baobob, rosehip or acerola cherry (I like adding a scoop to my
smoothies or porridge). Zinc is found in meat, liver, seafood,
and nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds.
Vitamin D3 helps regulate the immune system. Unfortunately, in the UK we can only obtain adequate levels of Vitamin D from the sun between April and September so our levels often dwindle during autumn and winter. In terms of food, Oily fish, grass-fed meat and organic eggs will provide some but an additional D3 supplement is recommended, especially if you follow a vegan diet. Taking a vitamin D supplement can help boost mood and prevent depression. Energy and immunity can also be low, so the use of medicinal mushrooms and adaptogens may be beneficial.
Stay active! Your circulatory system and lymphatic system (AKA immune system) are very closely related and interactive. Mild to moderate activity supports healthy immune function, and can energise the body, increases levels of serotonin (which is our feel-good hormone and also regulate our sleep cycle.
TOO much exercise can however put too much stress on the body and deplete you of vital nutrients, lead to chronic inflammation and suppress your immune system.
Feeling stressed has a hugely debilitating effect on our immune function, as it uses up the very nutrients which we require to maintain robust immune defences, notably Vitamin C, Magnesium and Zinc. This can have a knock-on effect for example if we are depleted in magnesium, our ability to activate vitamin D s reduced and low vitamin D status is linked with an increased risk of infection!
Prolonged stress can also go on to cause chronic low-grade inflammation which is another driver for low immunity and drive poor sleep.
With so much out of our control at the moment, it is important to focus on what you can control. This includes your self-care, of which stress management is a vital part.
Try get some fresh air every day, move your body in a way that feels good and fun to you, enjoy calming botanicals such as magnesium or Epsom bath salts, drink calming teas such as lemon balm or chamomile, and enjoy warming foods.
5. STAY HYDRATED
Drink up! Your mucous membranes need to be moist and ready to handle exposure to allergens, pollutants and viruses. Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of herbal teas to keep your warm. I love drinking warm water with a squeeze of lemon and ginger.