Supporting your immunity
We completely understand that your health and wellbeing is at the forefront of your mind. The safety of all our patients and staff is our top priority too, and we will do everything possible to continue treatment for as long as it is safe and possible to do so.
There is lots still unknown about COVID-19 as it is such a new illness, but there are certain things you can do to support your immune system and help your body be in the best condition possible.
Zita West, leading fertility and pregnancy expert, gives her recommendations for how to support your immune system with small tweaks to your daily routine that can be done at home…
We may only think of our immune system when we feel ill, but our network of cells, organs, proteins and antibodies are working all the time to keep us safe.
Now, more than ever, while we may not be able to control what is going on around us, it is important to try and take control over the situations we can, which includes our internal environments, in order to help support and strengthen the immune system.
If you are looking to strengthen your immunity, the best way is through a combined approach. These tips are in no way prescriptive, nor a magic bullet to health, but are simply a gentle nudge in a better direction…
Modern medicine has come to appreciate the closely linked relationship of mind and body, and reducing stress is an important way of strengthening your immune system. Although stress is difficult to define (as what may appear to be a stressful situation for one person is not for another), what is known both from anecdotal evidence and published studies is that sustained neuronal activities, such as experiencing prolonged psychological and emotional stresses, negatively impact the immunological state.
When you are feeling stressed or anxious, the body releases the hormone cortisol. In short spurts, cortisol can boost your immunity by limiting inflammation; however, over longer periods, cortisol can lead to a decrease of the body’s lymphocytes (the white blood cells that help fight off infection). The lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are to catch viruses.
Stress reduction strategies not only give your mind a break, but they can also relieve the pressure on your immune system. You can take steps to reduce short-term and long-term stress through things like meditation for 10 to 15 minutes a day, or perhaps yoga. Physical exercise can help to restore your body and mind to a more relaxed state, but make sure to follow the latest government guidance on social distancing and self-isolation.
Please note that this article was written in 2018, and any activities recommended must be considered in line with the most recent government guidance on COVID-19.
While more sleep won’t necessarily make us invincible, lack of sleep almost immediately tips our immune system into imbalance. A single night of poor sleep leads to a decrease of up to 70% of our natural ‘killer cells’ – our first line of defence against viruses. Other research shows that people who sleep for six hours a night or less are four times more likely to catch a cold than those who spend more than seven hours asleep each night.
A good night’s sleep pays dividends, as it helps the body produce antibodies, helping the immune system to better fight infections. Try to keep regular sleeping hours, as this helps your brain and body clock get used to a routine, and help your body wind down by avoiding phones and tablets before bed. The NHS website also has lots of tips on how to get better sleep.
Reduce alcohol intake
Alcohol affects the way health gut microbes interact with the immune system and also disrupts the gut barrier, allowing more bacteria to pass into the blood. In addition, alcohol also interferes with the chemical signals from white blood cells called cytokines, and this can cause an autoimmune response if produced in larger than normal quantities. This interference can even prompt an immune system deficiency in cases when these levels are decreased.
Alcohol consumption also disrupts normal T-cell function, leaving someone at greater risk of bacterial and viral infection. A single episode of binge drinking can result in an immune system failure against exposure to illness within the first 24-hours of initial consumption.
With this in mind, reducing your alcohol intake can help your immune system function to the best of its ability.
Research has shown that there is a significant amount of interaction between the body’s immune system and bacteria in the gut.
Beneficial gut bacteria species have been demonstrated to help both your innate (present from birth) and acquired immune systems. It’s therefore important to focus on optimising your gut health, strengthening the gut lining and re-inoculating (re-populating your gut with bacteria). You can do this by eating prebiotic and probiotic rich foods, such as bananas and certain yoghurts.
Overall, eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of different foods will help ensure your diet is rich in different species of bacteria, all of which encourage a healthy gut lining and microbiome, so promoting a healthy immune system.
Eating nourishing foods rich in certain vitamins can help your immune system fight off illness.
- Vitamin C is one of the biggest immune system boosters, helping our white blood cells in a number of ways. White blood cells help our body fight infection, and Vitamin C boosts the production of white blood cells, helps them function more effectively, and even helps protect them from damage by potentially harmful molecules.
We cannot produce our own Vitamin C, but the good news is that there are a number of foods rich in this vital nutrient, including oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, strawberries, peppers, spinach, kale and broccoli.
- Vitamin D helps to keep the immune system balanced. Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated with the worsening of autoimmune diseases, as well as with frequent infections, colds and flu. In addition, studies have shown that taking Vitamin D reduces the risk of developing a respiratory infection.
From about late March/early April to the end of September, most people should be able to get all the vitamin D we need from sunlight, but we can also get some Vitamin D from foods including oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel and sardines), as well as red meat and eggs.
- Curcumin: You may already be familiar with the antioxidant Curcumin (the orange-yellow component of turmeric), but you may not know its anti-inflammatory effects.
While studies on some antioxidants are inconclusive at best, turmeric’s main active ingredient, Curcumin, demonstrates strong disease-fighting potential. That, combined with its strong anti-inflammatory properties, makes it an excellent therapeutic agent for immunity.
Curcumin’s capability to double as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant gives us extra incentive to squeeze more turmeric into our daily regimen!
- Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important, as they have many powerful health benefits. In addition to helping prevent disease by reducing inflammation, DHA-rich fish oil also helps enhance the function of immune B cells, boosting your immune system’s ability to fight infection.
Many foods are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids; fish (especially cold-water fatty fish, like salmon) is a fantastic source of Omega 3, as are nuts and seeds, and plant oils, such as canola oil and walnut oil.
Overall, the message is to be mindful of our immune system even when we are healthy, and to take measures to support our health (perhaps before we think we need to). The combination of lots of small changes, like tweaking your dinner and reading before bed, can give your immune system a big boost and make sure it’s in the best condition to deal with whatever comes its way.
Zita West is a practicing midwife, acupuncturist, nutritional advisor and author of ten fertility and pregnancy books. She is acknowledged as one of Europe’s leading experts on physiologically, nutritionally and emotionally preparing for all stages of the fertility journey, from pre-conception to conception, pregnancy and the months immediately after birth.