Everyone seems to have a theory on how to boost the immune system to ward off diseases, especially when it comes to cold and flu season, when people try to avoid friends and colleagues going down with the lurgy.
The immune system is complex and works 24/7 to maintain health in the body. Eating a healthy diet abundant in colour-rich vegetables and fruit and supplementing wisely will go a long way in providing the nutrients it needs to work effectively. But what are the other things that you can do, not just to ward of colds and flu, but to optimise your immune system so that it can battle any infection, protect the body against foreign organisms and maintain the body by eliminating any damaged or cancerous cells?
- Fast to rebuild your immune system
A recent study found that fasting for as little as three days can regenerate the entire immune system. Withholding food kick starts stem cells into producing new white blood cells which fight off infection. And at the same time the body gets rid of the parts of the immune system that might be old or damaged.
A more popular way of fasting is to go without food, or calorie containing drinks, for 16 hours (including sleep) and have lunch as the first meal of the day. For example, fasting from 8pm to 12 noon equals 16 hours of fasting and an 8-hour eating window. It is referred to as the 16:8 intermittent fast.
- Meditate to improve resilience
The immune system and the brain are in constant communication which means that your thoughts, moods, sensations and expectations are transmitted to your immune cells. When you meditate, the activity in the part of the brain that acts as a command centre for the immune system increases. Increased activity in this area helps make the immune system act more efficiently and produce more defence cells.
Set aside 10 minutes, or more, each day to build your meditation practice.
- Add fermented foods to your diet
It is estimated that around 80% of your gut is in the immune system, and if fed poorly your gut will be left with few defences, easily overwhelmed by bad bacteria and wide open to disease triggering inflammation.
Adding fermented foods such as live yoghurt, sauerkraut and kimchi to your diet introduces millions of beneficial bacteria, called probiotics, to our already present gut flora, which plays a key part in maintaining the body’s immune function.
Introduce fermented foods in small amounts at first on a regular basis so that your digestive system gets accustomed to them. Then eat them once or twice daily with meals for best results. You can also try a daily probiotic supplement to help boost the beneficial bacteria in your gut and enhance your immunity.
- Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D
Vitamin D boosts the immune response, but more than one in four of us are deficient in this vitamin as we cannot rely on the sunshine alone. Being deficient in vitamin D is associated with a higher risk of autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis as well as an increased susceptibility to infections.
Unless you get plenty of sunlight directly on your skin you may not be getting enough vitamin D. This is especially true during the winter months where supplementing is recommended by Public Health England. Taking a daily vitamin D supplement, containing the natural form of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the most effective way to increase your body’s vitamin levels and boost your immune system.