Immunity is a hot topic year-round. But as winter approaches, it becomes even more important for us to keep our health in tip-top shape to ward off the flu and other infections.
Understanding the immune system and how it works will help you do just that. Our body’s immune system is an intelligent network that is ready to protect us from various attacks each day, whether it’s from viruses, bacteria or toxic substances. However, we need to take care of it to keep it functioning well.
Want to know the best part? There are plenty of natural ways to boost your antibody production to help you ward off viruses and illness throughout winter and beyond. So whether you already show signs of a strong immune system, or are constantly falling ill, here are some great ways to build up your immunity – and these tips actually work!
Natural ways to boost your immune system
Health benefits of sleep
Did you know that poor sleep can suppress your body’s ability to function to its full potential? This, in turn, will dampen your immune response, making you more susceptible to bacteria and viruses.
Research has shown that getting seven to nine hours of sleep, plus the odd nap here and there, is key to keeping fit. So find a night-time routine that works for you and ensure you get plenty of rest.
Stress is never good for your health, but it can be particularly detrimental to your immunity. When you feel anxious or stressed, your body’s levels of lymphocytes – the white blood cells that help fight off illness – drop, leaving you more susceptible to catching a virus. Learning how to manage stress is a great way to ensure your immunity isn’t compromised.
Effects of exercise on the immune system
If you’re feeling under the weather, or it’s the height of winter, it could be tempting to skip your workout in favour of hunkering down with a cosy blanket. But exercising just a few times a week can reduce the amount of colds you get in a year, according to Kajsa Ernestam, in-house dietitian at the health app Lifesum.
“Regular exercise helps your lungs get better at handling oxygen and become quicker at delivering it to the rest of your body,” Kajsa says. “Your immune system is very similar to this organ, which means that regular exercise provides your cells with a boost, helping them to work better and faster, which is essential when they’re faced with bacteria. Doing as little as 20-30 minutes of daily exercise such as walking can hugely improve your body’s defences.”
Does drinking water boost your immune system? You bet! The benefits of hydration are never-ending, and drinking two litres of water each day will keep your body fighting fit. Water helps flush out toxins and provides support to the lymph, which is directly related to your immune system.
It’s also advised to limit your alcohol consumption, particularly if you’re showing signs of a weakened immune system. You’ll need to boost white blood cells to stay healthy, and alcohol stops these cells from functioning efficiently.
So if you’re wondering how to strengthen your immune system while you’re sick, ditch the alcohol and ensure you stay well-hydrated to give your system a good boost.
Laughter is the best medicine
“It sounds a little silly, but laughter may increase the production of antibodies and white blood cells in your body, plus reduce hormones associated with stress,” says Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, GP at Your Doctor. “Not only does laughing help you mentally, but also physically! Many argue that a positive state of mind keeps you well and improves the recovery from sickness.”
Your cold and flu season survival kit
Food is medicine, and a healthy immune system needs regular nourishment. Want to know the best part? A balanced diet packed with a rainbow of fresh produce will taste great while also keeping you fighting fit. Your immune boosting diet plan starts here!
Foods that fight viruses
A diet that contains anti-inflammatory ingredients can vastly reduce your chances of infections, so be sure to fill your plate with vitamin-rich wholefoods and fresh produce at every meal.
Dr Riccardo advises eating seven portions of fruit and veg a day, and swapping white carbs for wholegrains. Avoid sugar, too, as just 10 teaspoons a day can impair the ability of white blood cells to fight viruses.
What’s more, 70 percent of your immune system is in the gut. So keep your digestive engine ticking over by incorporating fermented foods and probiotic supplements into your diet to keep the good bacteria in your tummy topped up. Good sources include probiotic yoghurts and ingredients such as kimchi.
Fruits for the immune system
Oranges are often the first thing to spring to mind when it comes to immune-boosting fruits. But there is plenty more powerful produce that’s worthy of adding to your diet, whether you want to snack healthily or sip on immune booster juices.
First of all, stock up on fresh blueberries. These little purple powerhouses are packed with antioxidants that help increase your body’s production of natural killer cells. Add blueberries to smoothie bowls, overnight oats and fruit salads to gain their nutrients.
Pineapples can also help boost your defences, while strawberries actually contain more vitamin C than oranges! Why not whip up this tropical immune boosting smoothie bowl?
Superfoods for the immune system
When it comes to creating an immunity-boosting meal plan, ensure you include plenty of ingredients that boast antiviral benefits.
Spinach is one such ingredient, which contains antioxidants to fight free radicals, as well as vitamin C to help ward off infections. It’s also a great source of iron, along with lean red meat, fortified cereals, pulses such as chickpeas and lentils, and eggs. For a quick and easy meal, whiz them up into an immune boosting soup with low-salt vegetable or chicken stock.
Another powerful ingredient to up your intake of is ginger, an essential addition to any flu survival kit. Containing the active ingredient gingerol, it’s a super booster with powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Simply grate or juice fresh ginger root with a squeeze of lemon and a spoonful of Manuka honey. Take as a concentrated shot, or add hot water for an immune boosting tea.
Similarly, turmeric boasts anti-bacterial and antiviral properties, and can even stimulate the body’s immune system to kick it into action when you have a cold.
Pumpkin seeds are also a great addition, owing to their high zinc content.
Finally, almonds are said to be the best nuts for the immune system. Whether you snack on them raw or blitz almond milk into smoothies, they’re a great source of cold-fighting vitamin E, which helps to protect cells from free-radical damage.
If you’re looking for some great immune boosting recipes, try this Blueberry and Almond Butter Pancake recipe, a vitamin-rich Spinach & Pineapple Smoothie Bowl, or whip up one of these comforting and healthy soups.
Herbs for cold and flu
You may be excited to hear that there’s an abundance of plants and herbs to boost the immune system. It gets better: these remedies not only work, but they’ll aid relaxation, too!
“Take a soak in the tub with some Epsom bath salts, lavender, eucalyptus oils and a splash of baking soda,” recommends nutritionist Lizzie King. “Not only is this a bit of warming comfort, it’s also really relaxing and great to help clear your airways. Black elderberries are also a highly concentrated source of antioxidants, flavonoids and virus suppressants, and the extract is used in so many cold and flu remedies now.”
To ease the first signs of congestion, use a diffuser with a combination of essential oils for the immune system, including lavender or Olbas oil.
Immune boosting vitamins
Here’s the deal: when it comes to warding off illness, just think about the whole alphabet. Why, you ask? Because vitamins A, B, C, D and E are all beneficial, as is zinc!
Vitamin A is found in an array of colourful fruit and veg, including red pepper, sweet potato, kale and apricots.
“Zinc and B vitamins are both important for activating immune defences,” explains Keeley Berry, nutritional expert at BetterYou. “Zinc, plays a role in several immune mechanisms within your body, specifically helping white blood cells to produce antibodies to fight off winter bugs.
“B vitamins are essential for energy production, with vitamin B12 being great for boosting your immune system and helping to combat tiredness and fatigue.”
You might be wondering, should I up my intake of vitamin C or D for my immune system? The answer is both!
The good news is that as long as you have a colourful diet, you’re likely to be getting plenty of vitamin C. The bad news is that’s not really the case with vitamin D.
Known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’, vitamin D is one of the best antiviral vitamins. As Dr Keeley explains, it’s crucial for activating our body’s immune defences. Our body creates this vitamin from exposure to the sun, which makes it particularly challenging for us to get a good level of vitamin D in the UK, particularly during the dreary autumn and winter months. So if you’re looking for top supplements to boost your immune system, it’s worth finding a suitable vitamin D one, particularly between October and April.
Finally, vitamin E is another important immune system booster. It’s found in foods such as almonds, peanuts and pecans, as well as salmon, brown rice, asparagus and carrots.
So pack your diet with plenty of colourful foods, get plenty of rest, exercise regularly, and your immunity levels will be sky high in no time!