If you’re feeling apprehensive about the current coronavirus pandemic and the financial outlook, you are not alone. This can be an overwhelming time, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to slow down and look at optimising your own health including supporting your immune system.
In this video, I discuss briefly the role of the immune system and what it means to have a healthy immune system. I share my three top critical nutrients and some others that can help optimise your immune response giving you ideas of where you can find these in wholefoods. I also offer some lifestyle modifications that can offer overall physical and mental health benefits.
While we may be feeling a little overwhelmed and our daily routines disrupted, take the time to focus on nourishing yourself, connecting with your loved ones and slowing down.
What does the immune system do?
The immune system is the body’s first line of defence fighting off pathogens, bacteria, viruses and foreign invaders. How your immune functions will depend on a lot of processes and the performance of other systems like your gut.
I like to think of the immune system like an army. With an army, they need supplies and armour to defend and in the case of the immune system, that means the foundational nutrients of quality fat and proteins as well as nutrient co-factors. These co-factors help build immune molecules and support the chemical processes needed to produce such components like hormones and neurotransmitters.
For a strong immune system, you need a variety of different sized immune cells and in enough quantities. Just like in an army, you also need some of these molecules to be your standard fighters and support troops, as well as your highly trained marines that have very specialised and specific roles.
This will help our immune system to be highly intelligent and well-controlled. In the event we need to fight infection, we want our immune system to be active and strong and then have the ability to turn off when we are no longer under threat. Unfortunately, our immune system can become fatigued or weak because it doesn’t have the nutrient supplies such as in the event of a poor diet or chronic health issue or it can become confused as it does in autoimmune cases.
What can we do to encourage a healthy immune system? Right now, you can adopt some dietary and healthy lifestyle strategies to help build our army, equip it with the right materials and help train it to react appropriately when it is under attack.
3 critical nutrients for immune health
There are lots of nutrients that can help support your body’s immune system and keep it robust. These are my top 3 for you to consider:
- Vitamin D
Vitamin D, the sunshine hormone, modulates and controls your immune response.
Find it in sunshine, liver, sardines and other oily fish.
Zinc is required to build immune molecules and regulates varies immune functions.
Find it in eggs, meat, oysters, pumpkin seeds.
If supplementing, focus on acute rather than long term due. Best to speak to your health practitioner regarding doses.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is vital for the immune defence to support cellular functioning, to build immune molecules and for the epithelial barrier integrity.
There is research to suggest it may also help to reduce the severity and duration of respiratory tract infections.
Find vitamin C in fresh fruit and vegetables including kiwi, red capsicum, citrus fruits and berries.
Two things to consider:
- Vitamin C has a short half-life from hours to days so it needs to be replenished regularly.
- The need for vitamin C is increased with immune loading.
Other valuable nutrients to consider for immunity
- Selenium: valuable in controlling inflammation and supporting immune function.
Find it in Brazil nuts, eggs, tinned tuna.
- B vitamins: important for building immune molecules
Find it in a wholefood diet particularly whole grains, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and animal products.
Vegans and vegetarians need to be conscious of B12 which is only found in animal products.
- Vitamin A: essential for mucus membranes of the lungs and digestive system
Find it in livers, chicken, turkey, dark leafy greens, sweet potato, apples, carrots
- Vitamin E: important in training and building specialised immune molecules
Find it in salmon, sardines, tahini, nuts and seeds
- Omega-3: helps resolve inflammation and supporting the immune resolving molecules
Find it in fatty fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds
- Magnesium: helps to produce the energy needed for immune function. It’s also important for our sleep quality and stress balance.
Find it in Green leafy veg, tahini, nuts and seeds
Other foods to add to your diet…
- Mushrooms (reishi, shiitake)
At times like these, focus on nutrient-dense foods – don’t worry that you can’t find pasta and rice. To build a strong immune system, it’s all about fresh, whole foods as close to their natural form.
Consider your gut health
Our gut function and the environment is essential for good health as 80% of the immune system is located in the gut. The more you can improve your gut health, you can decrease your immune load. This then helps to increase your immune capacity for when you do have to fight infection or a virus such as COVID-19.
To start working on your gut health, focus on a wholefood diet rich in variety. Incorporate prebiotic foods such as garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus and legumes so that you can feed the beneficial gut bacteria. Add probiotic foods to your meals such as fermented carrots and sauerkraut. These foods carry a variety of bacterial strains that can enhance your gut population. They’re also easy to make at home and affordable.
If you are noticing a disruption in your gut health at this time, start nourishing your gut with slow-cooked, easy to digest foods. Think slow-cooked meats, warming soups and nutritious smoothies. You can also try a broth like this for added healing nutrients. The following lifestyle recommendations can also help.
Healthy lifestyle tips
Focus on being consistent so that you are not only getting enough sleep but of good quality.
Move daily whether that’s simply stretching or going for a walk, or doing a HIIT workout or weight training session.
- Balance your stress levels
Think about all the stressors in your life:
- Physical pain
- Go slow
- Practice mindfulness or grounding
- Focus on your health
- Have family time
- Get creative like gardening or painting
- Practice gratitude
- What are you thankful for?
- Change the way of your thinking
Remember, this is an opportunity to practice some self-care and love of others. A little bit goes a long way!