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Support a healthy immune system

A healthy immune system is vital to achieve and sustain optimal health. On a daily basis we are exposed to hundreds if not thousands of different germs and bacteria, which our body’s defense mechanism, or immune system, fights off. When our immune system is working well, we don’t even know about it, but when the immune system is put under stress or becomes comprised, that’s where we can start to get symptoms of poor immune function such as catching the office cold or tummy bug.

The idea of boosting our immune system is certainly very appealing! But the immune system is precisely that – a system, which requires balance and harmony. In order to support this there are a number of dietary and lifestyle changes we can make.

Eat a rainbow everyday: eating a colourful variety of fruit and vegetables each day naturally increases your intake of important antioxidants and phytochemicals vital for healthy immune function. Adding herbs and spices such as turmeric and ginger to your cooking is also an excellent way to achieve this rainbow.

Eat protein with every meal: protein provides the building blocks for growth and repair in the body. Good sources of protein include eggs, fish, free-range poultry, lentils, nuts, seeds, wild fish, quinoa and grass-fed red meats.

Eat wholefoods: eat as close to nature as was intended by including whole grains like brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, millet. They are an excellent source of B vitamins, minerals and fibre. Fibre is a great energy source for the microbiome in our gut which is where a large part of our immune system is located.

Increase sources of naturally fermented foods: these are rich in bacteria, which help to colonize our gut with beneficial gut flora. Sources include sauerkraut, kefir, yoghurt, kombucha. kimchi, miso and natto.

Reduce stimulants: sugar, caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol are not our immune systems friends. Alcohol requires a huge amount of energy and nutrients in order to be metabolised, which are directed away from supporting body systems like our immune system.

Regular moderate exercise has been shown to support a healthy immune system, however, intense over-exertion has been shown to compromise it. Maintain variety with your exercise regime and try not to over exert yourself, especially if you feel tired or stressed. Opt for more gentle forms of exercise such as yoga or Nordic walking. Being outdoors in nature whilst exercising has the added bonus of reducing stress hormones and calming our sympathetic nervous system activity.

Get adequate sleep: sleep and the circadian rhythm exerts a strong regulatory influence on immune function. Trying to stick to our natural sleep cycle is hard in today’s society of being ever ‘on-call’ and living in an urban environment with bright night lights and loud noises. Try to limit exposure to screens and technology in the evenings in order to allow the brain to calm down and process everything it has taken in during the day, aim for between 6-8 hours sleep per night.

Stress management: Although our immune system adapts to stress, over long periods of time this can weaken the immune system response and lead to an increased risk of low immune function and developing other chronic health conditions. Stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, tai chi have been shown to improve our body’s adaptive response to stress and increase immune function.