Boost your immunity

Immune function

Our immune systems protect us against a wide range of infective agents including bacteria, viruses and parasites. A strong immune system is also required to prevent changes which can lead to cancer.

Our immune systems consist of four primary lines of defence including our skin and mucous linings, our lymph system and the collection of organisms which live within our guts, our white blood cells and the antibodies they produce and the integrity of the cell itself.

The good news is that our immunity can be boosted through changes in behaviour! Below is a guide to making the most important changes.

  • Bacterial and viral infections. Avoid close contact with people with obvious infections. Eating live yoghurt and taking probiotics (good bacteria) has been shown to help protect against bacterial infections and will help protect the gut against food borne infections and some cancers.
  • Travel. It is the exposure to novel infective agents which can be most risky when travelling so be sure to take all appropriate precautions by having vaccinations and immunisations.
  • Stress. Avoid excess stress and learn to relax. Many forms of relaxation can help boost our immune systems. Evidence favours the use of yoga and tai chi to promote immune function.
  • Lack of sleep. Our immune systems are replenished overnight so be sure to protect your sleep and get at least two deep phases of sleep – this normally equates to a minimum of 6 hours.
  • Excess exercise. Whilst moderate exercise has been shown to stimulate our immune systems an excess of exercise can leave us exhausted and our immune systems compromised. Avoid exercising to exhaustion, when unduly tired and during viral infections.
  • Over or under weight. Obesity and being seriously underweight are both associated with lowered immunity so maintain an appropriate weight.
  • Poor personal hygiene. It’s obvious, but washing your hands frequently and regularly, especially after touching items in a public area can help minimize the risk of ‘picking up’ infections. Do also dispose of used tissues rather than reusing them.
  • Poor food hygiene. Remember to keep cooked and raw foods well apart, prepare raw meat/fish and vegetables in different areas or on separate boards, cook foods thoroughly and avoid foods which are off, mouldy or out of date. If in doubt about how long they have been displayed avoid cook-chilled foods.
  • Malnutrition. Deficiencies of many nutrients have been associated with lowered immunity. Maintaining a diet rich in vitamins A and C and the mineral zinc are particularly important. Be sure to eat 5-9 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day and include a rich source of zinc from fish, meat, eggs, nuts or seeds daily.
  • Excess sugar. Cut back on all sources of refined sugar as sugar has been shown to impair white cell function in animal studies.
  • Excess alcohol. Excess alcohol consumption has been associated with immune suppression, although there appears to be no adverse effect up to 3-4 units of alcohol a day
  • Over consumption of fats. Whilst too much fat in total appears to lower immunity, the balance of fats also seems important so try switching from saturated to monounsaturated fats such as those from olive oil.
  • What about dietary supplementation? Nutritional deficiency has been shown to compromise immune function, especially in the elderly and the use of vitamin C can reduce the duration of a cold. A general multivitamin is likely to prove helpful and vitamin C should be taken with a cold but advice should be taken from a suitably qualified healthcare practitioner before using high dose supplements.
  • Many herbs have been associated with improved immunity, including Echinacea, panax ginseng, St John’s Wort and Cat’s claw, among others. Mushrooms, including Cordyceps and Shiitake, among others have also been associated with improvements in immunity.
  • Herbs have been shown to be effective against Summer allergies and the combination of Butterbur and Olive leaf with the antioxidant Quercetin have been shown to be particularly effective.

It is strongly recommended you talk to our clinical nutritionist before taking supplemental doses of herbs.

For more advice about boosting your immunity talk to Clinical Nutritionist Peter Cox on 07788 447843.

About The Author

Peter Cox is a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist located in Westminster, London. He typically sees clients from the surrounding areas of Kensington, Camden Town and Paddington.

Find out more about Peter’s work by visiting his GoToSee profile page here


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