“Our immune system is a complex one, which involves many different parts of the body working synergistically together,” explains nutritional therapist Hannah Braye. On duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it’s no wonder it can become overworked at times, especially during the winter months when viruses are more active.
Rather than waiting for the first signs of a sniffle, its best to take preventive steps to support the immune system throughout the day, Braye says. Try these routine practices below to boost your immune system from morning to night.
Drink lemon water
“Drinking a pint of warm lemon water first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day. Not only does it help with hydration, but it is also thought to have a positive effect on digestion, preparing the body to receive food by stimulating digestive secretions,” explains Braye. “In addition, it’s also a simple way to increase your vitamin C intake – a key nutrient for supporting the immune system.” Lemon water also has a long-standing tradition in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine, as it’s believed to aid with cleansing and detoxification.
Incorporate live bacteria supplements
Most people are aware of the beneficial effects of live bacteria for digestion. However, “many don’t realise that they are also a great way to support the immune system (over 70 per cent of which resides in the lining of the gut and is supported by a diverse community of bacteria),” adds Braye. “Beneficial species of gut bacteria have been shown to influence both the innate and acquired immune systems. Taken over the winter months, they have been shown to significantly shorten common colds and reduce the severity of symptoms.” She explains that as different bacterial strains have individual beneficial effects, “multi-strain products such as Bio-Kult Multi-Strain Advanced Formula, which contains 14 different strains, are believed to have more positive benefits overall, supporting the immune system in a variety of ways.” There are different schools of thought as to when is best to take live bacteria supplements, however, some evidence suggests that taking them just before a meal (especially one that contains healthy fats) may enhance survival of the bacteria, Braye notes. Most people also find it easiest to remember to take supplements with their breakfast, encouraging compliance.
Make lunch colourful
With meal deals and packed lunches often consisting of sandwiches and crisps, many people’s lunches are distinctly beige and lacking in nutrients. “The different colour pigments in fruit and vegetables actually indicate the different health properties they possess,” Braye explains. “For example, orange fruit and vegetables are high in beta-carotene (the pre-cursor to vitamin A), whilst purple varieties contain proanthocyanidins, which are powerful antioxidants. As the immune system needs a variety of different nutrients to stay healthy, eating a rainbow of different colours every day is important.” So swap the soggy sandwiches for a fresh rainbow salad topped with good quality protein.
Take a walk outside
It’s easy to slip into the bad habit of eating lunch in front of your computer at your desk. However, Braye says, “not only is this bad for digestion, it also means you could be missing out on vital opportunities to support your immune system.” She reveals that getting outside and taking a walk each lunch break is likely to offer a number of health benefits, such as lowering cortisol levels, increasing vitamin D levels (another crucial nutrient for the immune system) and, “if you have access to a green space close buy, exposing your immune system to a wider variety of beneficial micro-organisms from the environment to help keep it strong and healthy.”
Eat a protein-rich snack
Many people get an after-lunch lull, which means that by 3 pm they’re reaching for the sugary cakes and biscuits. Instead, make sure you always have protein-rich snacks on hand. “Not only does protein help stabilise blood sugar levels, reducing energy crashes, but it also provides the building blocks for many of the body’s immune cells, and diets too low in protein have been shown to have a negative impact on immunity. Unsalted nuts, seeds, boiled eggs, oatcakes topped with smoked salmon or mackerel, veg sticks with hummus, and chia pudding are all good protein-rich snack options.”
Fit in some exercise
Fitting exercise around work, family and social life can be tricky. Some people find they are more likely to make it to the gym or an exercise class if they go straight from work (so they don’t get side-tracked by things at home). “While if you do fall ill it’s best to rest up until you are feeling better, regular moderate exercise has been shown to have immune-enhancing effects and to have a positive impact on the gut microbiome in some individuals,” says Braye. “Why not join MoveGB to gain the benefits of a variety of exercise classes in your local area so you can decide what type of exercise you like best?”
Eat dinner early
“Avoiding eating too late at night is thought to have a number of benefits in terms of digestion and quality of sleep,” reveals Braye. “Emerging research also indicates that having a prolonged overnight fast of 12-16 hours, (known as Time-Restricted Feeding or Intermittent Fasting), may also have a number of other wider health benefits. For example, TRF has been shown to stimulate autophagy, the process by which the body breaks down old cells (including old immune cells), so the components can be recycled into new ones. In this way, fasting is thought to ‘cleanse’ cells of damaged molecules and organelles.” If you tend to work late or have a long commute, Braye suggests batch-cooking some evening meals that can quickly be reheated and eaten when you get home.
Go to bed early
Sleep and the immune system are closely linked. “For example, studies have shown that participants who had a good night’s sleep after receiving vaccinations created more protective anti-bodies than those who were sleep-deprived, indicating a specific role of sleep in the formation of immunological memory,” Braye tells us. “Prolonged periods of not getting enough sleep are therefore likely to have a negative effect on immune function. Sticking to a regular bedtime and avoiding blue light from electronic devices for at least an hour before bed helps to regulate circadian rhythms and production of melatonin (the sleep hormone).” Soaking in a magnesium salt bath and reading a book may also help you to drop off.
From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK