In a world where hand sanitisers, masks and gloves have become the order of the day not forgetting the influx of doomsday messages from the media, one can easily get overwhelmed by the media and forget to listen in on nature and doubt the resilience of our bodies. Now more than ever before has it become apparent that you are your first line of therapy, before any other medical intervention, you are in control of your own health and well-being.
While we currently ought to sanitise our spaces and maintain social distancing, The immune system is not built off of washing hands or wearing masks, it’s built on being consistent with healthy habits, making wise food choices and practicing good hygiene.
Below are five simple ways to boost your immunity naturally.
VITAMIN D-The SUNSHINE Vitamin
As the world is becoming more digitised with office jobs, apps, online movie streaming, online shopping, virtual tours etc we are finding less reason and motivation to be outdoors resulting in most people not getting enough sun exposure to produce adequate vitamin D.
That Vitamin D contributes to bone health has become common knowledge, more research now shows that it also plays a vital role in immune response. Metabolising enzymes and receptors of Vitamin D are present in many cell types including the immune cells. It is obtained primarily via sun exposure and through dietary intake.
A deficiency in this Vitamin has been linked to various conditions such as fibroids, depression, autoimmune disease and an increased risk in infections. The skin, gut, liver, kidneys and parathyroid play crucial roles in the conversion of the vitamin to a hormone which the body can then utilise. Deficiencies can be the result of a number of reasons, e.g seasonal changes affect Vitamin D levels in the body. Research has shown that levels are lowest during winter season due to less sun exposure and highest during summer due to increased heat and sun exposure. Other determining factors are age, gender, body mass, and race.
Vitamin D has been used to treat people with infections, particularly in upper-respiratory infections. Multiple studies have correlated lower Vitamin D levels to increased risk in infections.
Getting daily sunlight (Ultra-Violet rays UVB) exposure, especially during the winter months can boost your immune response and lower chances of contracting infections such as the flu virus and other respiratory infections. UVB rays are at their peak between 10am and 4pm(this is when your shadow is shorter than your actual height). Aim to get at least 15 minutes of direct sun exposure, WITHOUT SUNSCREEN. If you have more melanin or a darker skinned, absorption takes longer so a 20-30 minute sun bath will help you absorb what you need.
Vitamin D supplementation may also be helpful in the treatment of immune-associated diseases, such as microbial infections and autoimmune diseases. Plant-based food sources of vitamin D are mushrooms, other sources are seafood and egg yolks but you can’t beat getting some warm radiant sunshine! If you are live in a colder climate or spend most of your time indoors, have your doctor check your Vitamin D levels and consider a Vitamin D3 supplement, especially one paired with Vitamin K2, these two work as a team to prevent calcification of your blood vessels and improve absorption. NEVER SUPPLEMENT BEFORE CONSULTING YOUR DOCTOR.
2. CHOOSE LIFE – EAT PROBIOTICS
Your gut flora is made up of a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria. Certain foods, medications, therapies and stress can destroy this much needed balance and lead to a host of health related complications. Antibiotics are a major contributor to digestive problems due to the havoc they wreak on the gut flora. They kill off both good and bad bacteria creating dysbiosis, the use of antibiotics for one week only can affect your gut flora for up to a year. Probiotics means pro-life, these are foods (and supplements) that support a healthy gut flora by contributing to it’s repopulation. Taking probiotics after a round of antibiotics, chemotherapy, radiation or following any stressful event can quickly help restore the damaged gut microbiota.
Ironically, it is fermented foods that help restore the balance in your gut. 80% of your immune system lies in your gut, what you eat directly affects your health and immune response. Fermented food such as yoghurt, cheese and plant based option like sauerkraut(fermented cabbage), kimchi, kvass(fermented beetroot juice) and kombucha contain beneficial bacterial species like Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria both of which are needed for a healthy and balanced microbiota. Fermented foods are also a source of Vitamin K2, Natto(fermented soy) in particular is a great source.
High fibre foods are both probiotics and prebiotics, they populate and feed healthy gut flora. Prebiotics are needed to feed your good bacteria. Nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, peas, brocolli, beans and lentils are rich source of fibre that restore gut function. Include fibre rich foods in your diet everyday.
3. JOIN THE ALLIUM FAMILY
Onions, garlic, scallions and chives are potent foods that that have antiviral and antibacterial properties, they are also immune boosting. Garlic a strong antioxidant and anti inflammatory has been used in cancer treatment, airway-inflammation and other inflammatory diseases. The fibre in these foods are prebiotics and eating them as raw as possible ensures you get the best of their medicinal benefits.
A common and effective cold remedy: onion juice and honey mixture, 2-3tsp taken per day.
4. MOVE YOUR LYMPH
The lymphatic system is made up ducts, nodes, tissues, capillaries, vessels and organs, It operates much like the circulatory system and is a critical component of your immune system.
The two main functions this the lymphatic system are to remove waste from the body and to fight off infections. Lymphatic fluid which flows through the system consists of infection fighting cells that prevent and fight off infections in the body. This is the first line of defence in the body. The spleen which forms part of this system, contains lymphocytes and another white blood cells which destroy bacteria, dead tissue, and foreign matter and remove them from the blood passing through the it.
A stagnant lymph system is the breeding ground for disease such as autoimmune disease and grave conditions such a cancer. A sedentary lifestyle slows down lymphatic function.
Physical activity is the most efficient way to stimulate lymph flow and support the immune system.
How to move your lymph:
- Yoga- Chronic stress; chemical, digestive, physical or emotional compromises immune response and increases risk of infections. Yoga also relieves stress by regulating the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis which becomes burdened during stressful situations. Try this simple yoga flow to stimulate your lymphatic system.
- Lymph massage
- HIIT-High Intensity Interval Training
5. HOST A SNOOZE FEST
Sleep is often overlooked when it comes to immune support. Restlessness, insomnia, concentration challenges, trouble falling and staying asleep are symptoms of adrenal distress, this deprivation can lead chronic inflammation and a lowered immune response. Take this quick quiz to see if you may have adrenal fatigue.
Blue light from phones, laptops etc disrupts melatonin(sleep hormone) production. This is a hormone that controls the circadian rhythm(sleep-wake patterns). It also supports the immune system and reduces inflammation. Tuning off from the constant buzz can be challenging in today’s world; the constant influx of content on social media, laptops that blur the lines of rest and work hours, the ability to binge watch entire seasons in one sitting, 24hr fast food drives etc often leaves us overstimulated and bankrupt on sleep at the steep price of lowered immunity.
Cytokines are proteins the body synthesises during sleep, they regulate sleep-wake cycles and they target infections and inflammation in the body. The less cytokines produced the lower the ability to fight off infections like colds and the flu virus leading to low grade inflammation and an immunodeficiency.
Practice discipline, reset your circadian rhythm by being consistent with your sleep and waking hours. A full nights sleep of 7-8hrs gives your body the downtime it needs to fortify it’s defences against infections and fatigue related illnesses. Using Adaptogens like this Vitality Blend to manage your stress response, decreases inflammation, boosts immunity and improves sleep.
“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.” – Paulo Coelho
-Aranow C. Vitamin D and the immune system. J Investig Med. 2011;59(6):881–886. doi:10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755
-van Etten E, et al. Regulation of vitamin D homeostasis: implications for the immune system. Nutr Rev. 2008;66(10 Suppl 2):S125–34.
-Egija Zaura, et al. Same Exposure but Two Radically Different Responses to Antibiotics: Resilience of the Salivary Microbiome versus Long-Term Microbial Shifts in Feces. mBio Nov 2015, 6 (6) e01693-15; DOI: 10.1128/mBio.01693-15
-McFarland LV. Use of probiotics to correct dysbiosis of normal microbiota following disease or disruptive events: a systematic review. BMJ Open. 2014;4(8):e005047. Published 2014 Aug 25. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005047
-Marcel Roberfroid, et al. Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits. Br J Nutr. 2010 Aug; 104 (Suppl 2): S1–63. doi: 10.1017/S0007114510003363
-Mouna Moutia, et al. In Vitro and In Vivo Immunomodulator Activities of Allium sativum L. Volume 2018 |Article ID 4984659 | 10 pages | https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/4984659
-Randolph GJ, Ivanov S, Zinselmeyer BH, Scallan JP. The Lymphatic System: Integral Roles in Immunity. Annu Rev Immunol. 2017;35:31–52. doi:10.1146/annurev-immunol-041015-055354
-Arora S, Bhattacharjee J. Modulation of immune responses in stress by Yoga. Int J Yoga. 2008;1(2):45–55. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.43541
-Mark R. Opp, Cytokines and sleep. Sleep Medicine Reviews,2005: 9(5):355-364. doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2005.01.002.