How to achieve and maintain a strong immune has become a vital topic in these pandemic times. If we can boost our immunity, we needn’t get sick. Once we know the basics, this is an easy thing to do.
Let’s start by looking at how our immune system works. We are blessed with an incredibly complex and efficient system for protecting our bodies from disease. Our immune system is so sophisticated that it can recognize a harmful bug, like a virus or a bacterium, shortly after it enters our body and begins to produce antibodies to destroy it. It does this by producing specialized cells, known as killer cells, which seek out and destroy the dangerous bugs. What’s even more amazing is that it never forgets and the next time that bad bug appears, our immune system will instantly recognize it, produce the necessary antibodies and quickly begin to fight it. Here’s a link to a great little video that explains how the immune system works in more detail.1
Interestingly, ±70% of our immune system stems from our gut, so ensuring a healthy microbiome is crucial. Microbiome is the word used to describe the environment of our gut. Amazingly, we have more bacteria in our gut than we have cells in our body, some estimate over a kilogram of them! Their health and composition affect every aspect of our health. We need to have more ‘good’ bacteria than ‘bad’ in our gut and this balance is critical to our well being. Here’s a link to a very interesting article about our microbiome.2
Diet, what we eat, has a profound effect on our immunity,. Nutrients are the building blocks of a strong immune system and we need to supply them from the food we eat. Modern Western diets play havoc with our immune systems. The preponderance of refined, processed and packaged foods has left many people overfed and under nourished. The nutrient density of our fruits and vegetables has declined dramatically over the last 5-6 decades. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends that we eat 9 – 14 servings of colourful fruit and vegetables each day (does anyone?). Just a decade or so ago they were recommending 5 – 9 servings! The increase is to make up for the decline in nutrient density – the fruits and veg we eat now have far lower levels of vitamins and minerals than those our parents ate!
Sugar is a major enemy of our immune system. It depresses it and promotes the growth of bad bacteria in our gut. Unfortunately, this is not limited to the number of teaspoons of sugar we put in our tea or coffee. Refined carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, etc.) are very quickly converted into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream. One study showed that a big jolt of sugar, like that obtained by drinking a fizzy cooldrink and eating a chocolate bar, can significantly depress the immune system. Worse still, the study found that the effect can last up to 5 hours!3 In addition, high fructose corn syrup (a cheap sugar substitute made from the stems of maize plants found in just about every processed and packaged food), also increases the risk of heart disease and liver damage!4 Then there are all the transfats, preservatives, additives and colourants in our modern diet. Is it any wonder that we’re far sicker than ever before, in spite of all the advances in medical science?
So diet is critical to having and maintaining a strong immune system. Fresh fruits and vegetables, unrefined carbohydrates and good quality protein are essential. It’s also a good idea to supplement to bridge the nutritional gaps caused by the decreased nutrient density of today’s foods. When choosing nutritional supplements remember that cheap, synthetic supplements have very little benefit. Many are derived from petrochemicals and are not recognized by the body, resulting in poor absorption and a huge spill off. Look for supplements made from organic, whole food sources that have genuine scientific back up in terms of bio-availability and effectiveness.
Here are some nutrients that are proven to help boost your immune system.
Vitamin C is one of the rock stars of the immune boosting nutrients. Not only is it a very powerful antioxidant, it’s also antiviral, antibacterial and anti inflammatory. The great thing is that, because it’s water soluble, you can’t overdose on Vitamin C. Your body can only absorb so much at any one time and the excess is eliminated in the urine pretty quickly. If you did take a massive amount, about the worst thing that could happen is you’d get diarrhoea. The best Vitamin C supplements are slow release, allowing small amounts to be released over number of hours. If you can’t get slow release forms, rather buy a low dose version, about 250mg per tab, and take one every 3 – 4 hours. This way you’ll always have some present in your system to protect you. As regards the current covid19 virus, the recommendation from leading doctors and scientists is that you take 1000 – 2000mg per day to help protect against being infected.5
Zinc is one of the most important minerals needed by the human body. It’s involved in over 100 enzymes, it speeds wound healing, it’s required for protein and DNA synthesis and much more. As far as the immune system is involved, it plays a vital role by slowing the replication of a virus in the cells. One of the worst features of the current virus is that it multiplies very quickly in the cells it infects, causing a cytokine storm and overwhelming the immune system’s ability to combat it. By slowing this process down, zinc gives the immune system time to produce enough antibodies to deal with the virus.6 It also helps with the sense of smell and taste, which are often affected by the virus. Current recommendations are that you take 30 – 40mg per day.5
Research into Vitamin D and its role in combating viral infections goes all the way back to the 1930’s. Today there is a large body of research showing that Vitamin D plays a major role in boosting immunity and fighting infection7. There seems to be a definite link between Vitamin D deficiency and complications arising from infection by the virus and many doctors are advising that we supplement with Vitamin D. The recommendations are that you take 1000 – 3000iu per day, depending on you skin colour and the amount of sunlight in your location.5 Darker skins do not manufacture Vitamin D from sunlight as effectively as lighter skins do. It’s a good idea to include Vitamin A with the D, so we take a Vit A&D supplement. Vitamin A strengthens the epithelial tissue (the lining in our eyes, nose, throat and lungs), which are the entry points for the virus. The two combined have a synergistic effect and provide good protection from infection.
Research is showing that probiotics play a major role in keeping our immune systems strong.8 A good probiotic needs to have multiple strains of bacteria that are live when you take it. Carefully read the label: ‘live at manufacture’, ‘live when packed’ and similar statements do not mean the bugs are live when you swallow the capsule. Next, make sure the capsule has an acid resistant coating to prevent it from being dissolved in the stomach. Stomach acid can destroy the fragile bacteria and nullify any benefits you’ll get from taking the probiotic. Lastly, look for one that has a targeted delivery system that ensures that the different strains are delivered to the areas in the intestine where they are most effective.
The last thing to consider is exercise. There have been numerous studies showing that even moderate exercise plays a major role in strengthening our immune systems. With the enforced lockdowns due to the pandemic, researchers have been re-looking at the benefits of exercise. There is quite a large body of new research confirming that exercise, whatever form it takes, will benefit the immune system and help protect against infection.9, 10 The bottom line is that getting active is good for your immune system and health in general.
The exciting thing is that there are things we can do to help us strengthen, and maintain, a healthy immune system, giving us the best possible chance of preventing infection. We’re not helpless, at the mercy of the virus, we can fight back! We can take charge of our health and continue to be healthy and safe.
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