Immune System Boost - 5 practical approaches
Rather than focusing on what is needed for an immune system boost, many people close their eyes and wish for the best when the body is under attack from pathogens.
Despite immune health being front and centre in discussions about the challenges we have been facing this year. The immune system still seems to be regarded as an abstract thing in the body. I can assure you, it is very real and needs vigilance and care.
So, how can we take care of and strengthen our immune system?
We are going to look at 5 practical approaches to making sure that our immunity is up to scratch when we do need it.
We covered the importance of sleep in a previous article. Ultimately, your body has stronger T cells when you get enough sleep. T cells are a type of immune cell that activate integrins, a sticky type of protein. That then allows them to attach to and kill infected cells. This is especially relevant to virus cells.
What happens if I don’t get enough sleep in the long run?
Chronic insomnia is something that does not only plague the new parent - up to 10% of adults experience it.
10 possible effects of long term insomnia
- Reduction in lifespan
- Reduction in natural killer cell production (NK Lymphocytes)
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
- Increased risk of insulin resistance
- Depletion of intracellular magnesium
- Impaired concentration ability
- Increased irritability
Adults need a minimum of seven hours sleep every night for improved health, well-being and immune function.
Exercise is a veritable multi-tool for a health and immune system boost. Generally, even mild exercise a couple of times a week can be of great benefit. There are several theories on why this happens:
4 ways exercise may provide the immune system boost you need.
- Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. Chances of you getting a cold, flu or other illness may be reduced.
- Exercise causes a change in antibodies and white blood cells. These are the body's immune system cells that fight disease. They circulate more rapidly, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before. However, no one knows whether these changes help prevent infections.
- The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection better. Many pathogens are sensitive to heat. When you have a fever, your body raises your temperature in order to try and kill invader cells. Generally, we would want to monitor our body temperature quite closely. We will talk about hyperthermia a bit later.
- Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Some stress increases the chance of illness. We discussed stress in an earlier article. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness.
Exercising outside, of course, has the extra benefit of Vitamin D!
Nutrition is the key element of any immune system boost.
One of my passions is looking at how we can incorporate food into our health regimes.
10 Food types that can aid in immune health
- Algae such as spirulina and chlorella
- Grasses such as barley grass (in juice form)
- Herbs such as ashwagandha and Siberian ginseng
- Mushrooms such as Reishi, Shiitake and Maitake
- Oils such as flaxseed oil
- Vegetables such as cabbage and garlic
- Yeasts such as brewer’s yeast
- Fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut
- Dairy foods such as yoghurt
- 250 mg fresh shiitake mushrooms
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 cups spinach
- 4 chopped green onions
- 2 cups salad greens
- 1/3 cup thinly sliced radishes
- 1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh carrots
- 1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds
- Place the mushrooms in a small bowl; drizzle with the olive oil and toss to coat.
- Put them in on a baking tray and grill uncovered for six to eight minutes or until tender. Remember to stir frequently.
- In a large bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, keeping the pumpkin seeds for last. Cover with your favourite vinaigrette and toss to coat. Add the mushrooms on top with some more vinaigrette and finally top off with the toasted pumpkin seeds.
- Add a bit of the below kimchi for a spicy boost.
Vegan Kimchi Recipe
This vegetarian take on the traditional fermented Korean dish is one that my family adores.
- 1 head of Napa cabbage, finely shredded
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger root, grated
- ¼ red onion, minced
- a small daikon radish, shredded
- 1 red chilli pepper, seeded and very finely chopped
- a tsp Himalayan crystal salt
- 1 tsp garlic, crushed
- dash cayenne
- Put the cabbage in a glass bowl with the salt and massage. This releases the fluid in the cabbage. Continue until the cabbage is covered in brine.
- Now mix all the other ingredients into the brine cabbage mix. Don’t be afraid to use your hands!
- Put the mixture with all the juice into a large glass jar. Press it all in firmly.
- It is important that the mixture remains submerged in the brine the whole time that it ferments. I put a smaller jar with water on it to stop anything from floating to the top.
- Cover the bottle with a clean cloth and place in a warm place, away from direct sunlight.
Of course, depending on where you find yourself in the year, the kimchi will take anything from 2 to 10 days to reach the right tartness for you.
Once you have found the spot of heaven on your tongue, close the container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to a month.
Detoxification as an immune system boost
Getting rid of toxins greatly helps the immune system with being able to stave off the attack. If there are fewer toxins in the body, it can spend more energy on protection. We covered the scientific parts of liver detoxification here.
What type of detox will work for me?
There are several ways one can approach detoxification and support the liver. This depends on what you want to achieve.
It is also important to remember that the detox effects will be different from person to person.
Two ways to aid the body in detoxification
Far infrared sauna
The far infrared sauna has shown to help the body eliminate toxins through the skin by helping the body to sweat more. Some studies also indicate that the use of far infrared sauna helps with getting rid of heavy metals. If you take niacin before your sauna session, the flush is quite an interesting experience! Just make sure that you are aware of the effects and the feeling of flushing.
Intermittent fasting is more than just a passing fad. By going through stages of fasting, one can help your body detoxify better.
Supplementation for immune system strength
Vitamin D3 is especially important for immune health. Individuals who have impaired vitamin D3 may have twice as many upper respiratory tract infections as those with higher levels. Clinical studies have validated vitamin D3’s ability to reduce the risk of colds and flu. This is a particularly important supplement in integrative medicine and optimal levels are always aimed for.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant like Glutathione and helps convert vitamin E to its active state. It supports the integrity of the epithelial layer as it aids in the production of collagen and therefore provides a protective barrier immunity.
Echinacea has been shown to exert significant effects on the immune function in many scientific investigations
Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceous)
Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceous) is a traditional Chinese medicine used to treat different viral infections including the common cold. Clinical studies have shown it to be effective when used as a preventive measure against the common cold. It has also been shown to raise white blood cell counts in chronic leukopenia (i.e. Impaired white blood cell levels).
Research has shown that Astragalus works by stimulating several factors of the immune system. It appears to stimulate white blood cells to engulf and destroy invading organisms and cellular debris. It shows to enhance the production of interferon (a key natural compound produced by the body to fight viruses).
Beta-glucans have been shown to be an effective immune system boost in several double-blind studies interested in preventing colds, flu and other viral infections. Studies showed fewer people missed work or school due to colds.
There were no incidences of fever in these studies and there was an increase in quality of life, including physical energy and emotional well-being. Medicinal mushrooms like maitake, shitake, reishi and cordyceps possess significant immune-enhancing effects. Much of this activity is due to the presence of beta-glucans. Clinical studies have shown that mushroom beta-glucans activate white blood cells and signalling by enhancing Natural Killer cells, Tumour Necrosis factor, T-helper cells and interleukins.
Probiotics refer to health-promoting bacteria products containing species like Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium. These combinations of probiotics can be valuable aids for an immune system boost.
Vitamin A is important for the structure and function of the mucosa, thus barrier immunity. It aids in the normal function of Natural killer cells, macrophages (specialised white cells) and the antibody response to the antigens. It supports inflammation (Th2) response.
Vitamin E is an important fat-soluble antioxidant. It protects cell membranes from free radicals. Vitamin E increases the signalling by Interleukin-2 and improves the cytotoxic effect of the natural killer cells. It enhances T cell-mediated functions and lymphocytic proliferation.
Vitamin B6 regulates inflammation. It plays a role in the endogenous production of amino acids which is the building blocks for cytokines and antibodies. It assists with lymphocyte proliferation, differentiation and maturation.
Vitamin B12 aids in the Natural Killer cell function. It is an immune modulator in cellular immunity especially effects of cytotoxic cells and CD8+ T-cells.
Vitamin B9 (Folate) maintains the innate immunity, thus the Natural Killer cells. It plays an important role in cell-mediated immunity. It facilitates a good antibody response to antigens.
Zinc is an antioxidant mineral, especially against reactive nitrogen and oxygen species. It modulates the release and the proliferation of CD8+ T-cells. It maintains skin and mucosal membrane activity. Zinc plays an important role in cellular growth and differentiation of immune cells and increases the differentiation and turnover time of cells. It is required for T-lymphocyte development and activation
Iron regulates cytokine production and action. It kills bacteria by increasing toxic hydroxyl radicals. It also increases reactive oxygen species to kill pathogens. Iron is important in the differentiation and production of T-cells. It is an important component in enzymes functioning in immune cells.
Copper is a mineral-free radical scavenger that has antimicrobial properties. It accumulates at inflammatory sites to increase Interleukin-2 production and response which aids in T-cell proliferation. It plays a role in antibody and cellular immunity.
Selenium is important for enzyme functions that act as redox regulators and cellular antioxidants. These seleno-proteins are important for antioxidant defence systems affecting leucocyte and natural killer cell function. Involved in T-lymphocyte proliferation. Plays an important role in the humoral (antibodies) system.