by Daphne Lambert
Whilst we need a strong immune system all year round - the short days of winter with low sunlight, cold weather and now the additional stress of the cost of living makes it especially important to support our immune systems. Individuals differ enormously in their ability to fight off infections and disease. Socio-economic status, environmental exposure, genetics, age, microbiome and diet all affect immune response. The human immune system evolved with, not separate from, the whole of nature. When we align with nature and eat nutritious food grown in a flourishing soil biology and incorporate healthy lifestyle choices into our lives we are supporting the immune system to respond most effectively to challenges
Here's a few pointers to help achieve your optimum immune system.
Support your gut microbiome
* eat lacto fermented foods regularly - sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt
* include prebiotic foods daily - cabbage, beetroot, onions, leeks, garlic, apples
* include glutamine rich foods - spinach, cabbage, walnuts and chickpeas
* eat plenty of polyphenol rich foods – chestnuts, linseed, cacao
* ensure your diet includes adequate essential fatty acids - hemp, chia, walnuts
* minimise the use of sugar which encourages the growth of pathogenic bacteria
* avoid antibiotics, (if you have a choice)
* avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, they derail gut bacteria
* avoid excessive stress as this is a big factor in overall gut health
* source as much food as you are able from a regenerative farming system
Eat vitamin & mineral rich foods
We need a whole range of nutrients for the immune system to function efficiently including good quality protein, essential fatty acid, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. A number of vitamins A, B6 B12, folate, C, D & E and minerals zinc, copper, selenium and iron have key roles in supporting the immune system and reducing risk of infection.
In the following run down of key vitamins and minerals I have given a few suggestions of which foods to eat and have focused on winter foods, (with a few berries which you can use dried or from the deep freeze)
Vitamin A is important for intestinal immune response, many aspects of innate immunity, are modulated by vitamin A and its metabolites found in oily fish, eggs & butter
The carotenoids alpha carotene & beta carotene are pro vitamin A and found in foods like sweet potato, carrots and kale.
Vitamin B6, deficiency leads to decreased levels of white blood cells and decreased production of antibodies. sources include cauliflower, cabbage, spinach
B12 is integral to red blood cell production, ensuring the immune system gets the oxygen it needs. found in meat, eggs and dairy a plant based diet will need a supplement
Folate - is essential for the survival of regulatory T cells in the small intestine found in lentils, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts.
Vitamins B6 and B12 and folate all support the activity of natural killer cells
Vitamin C has many different immune enhancing effects. It influences cellular immunity involved in defense against invading pathogens improves the integrity of mucous membranes as well as being antibacterial and antiviral. Levels are soon depleted during stress and infection.
Vitamin C is found in broccoli, kale, blackcurrants
Vitamin D has important immuno-regulatory properties. Studies show that individuals with low vitamin D status have a higher risk of viral respiratory tract infections. - oily fish, pastured eggs, shiitake
Vitamin E improves the function of T & B cells, major cells in adaptive immunity, found in
sunflower seeds, hemp-seeds, green leafy vegetables
Zinc has wide ranging actions on the immune system and is directly antiviral. Research suggests zinc may play a key role in host defence against RNA viruses
Oats, peanuts, mung beans, pumpkin seeds are all good sources of zinc
Copper has a key role in pathogen engulfing macrophages and is found in shiitake, sesame seeds & walnuts
Selenium affects all components of the immune system and is found in wholegrain barley & rice & mushrooms
Iron deficiency commonly causes immune dysfunction,
There are 2 forms of iron, heme iron is only in animal-derived foods and non heme iron is mostly in plants, including lentils, cacao, hemp-seeds, & Swiss chard
Find ways to avoid stress and tone the vagus nerve
When we experience sudden high stress, we activate our fight or flight response, getting the body ready to either flee the scene or fight. In our everyday experience of stress, there is no place to run or hide, and the stressful situation is not one that can easily be fought off.
Your body’s level of stress hormones are regulated by the autonomic nervous system which has two components that counter balance each other, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
In times of stress the sympathetic nervous system stimulates your central nervous system to deal with a perceived or real emergency by activating our fight-or-flight response. When the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, our heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, breathing becomes rapid and shallow and the body's immune response slows down
The parasympathetic nervous system counter-balances the sympathetic nervous system by triggering a relaxation response in the body. It promotes rest and sleep, by slowing our heart rate, slowing our breathing and reducing inflammation.
However if we are in a state of constant stress the sympathetic system is constantly in control and we are out of balance.
The vagus nerve is key to the parasympathetic nervous system counterbalancing the sympathetic system. Improved vagal tone supports your body and mind in relaxing faster after stress.
5 simple ways to improve vagal tone
Breathwork. Deep slow breaths from the belly will stimulate the vagus nerve.
Laughter. Laughter releases a ton of neurotransmitter which improves vagal tone
Singing. Singing works the muscles in the back of the throat which stimulates the vagus nerve.
Cold showers (not always easy in the winter!)greatly improve vagal tone. Just lower the temperature for 30 - 60 seconds at the end of your shower
Yoga. The breathing and movement of yoga helps with digestion and has been shown to increase levels of the amino acid GABA levels which will stimulate vagal tone.