Our immune system is working hard everyday - and now more than ever. Our body’s immune system is extremely complex, it is comprised of constant interactions between our glands, hormones, proteins, chemicals, white blood cells and probiotics. These all work together to protect our bodies from infections - think of them like your personal warriors, their primary role is to ward off enemies. Your white blood cells are key to your immunity, think of these as operating on two levels, your wellness warriors and your gladiators. If your warriors cannot fight the infection the gladiators are called in and the body’s response steps up until the infection is destroyed. All of this requires the body to have good fuel/energy to allow it to perform this defensive role - this is where food, sleep, exercise, rest and the other lifestyle choices outlined below are essential.
To support our immune system the first place to start is with a good diet.
1. Food First:
Top foods to include in your diet that can help enhance immunity as follows: garlic, ginger, onions, turmeric, chicken or veg broth (ideally organic sources). Herbs - sage, thyme, oregano.
A special note on garlic - it is a potent tool against bacteria and viruses, stimulating those key warriors in our immune system. Use it as often as you can in your cooking or eat raw garlic.
Ginger - add this to breakfast, start your day off with the warm lemon and water and throw it up a notch by adding sliced fresh ginger.
Fruit & Vegetables - Look for the rainbow of these and ideally seasonal too - varying your intake of different fruits & vegetables will introduce different probiotics (see below) into your gut which is an added bonus for immunity. The more colourful the better - coloured foods contain flavonoids - these are very effective anti-oxidants that help protect our bodies from inflammation and oxidative damage. Always think of the rainbow and look for all colours when selecting your fruit and vegetables. The list is endless here but for some top foods include berries, kiwi’s, carrots, broccoli, dark green leafy veg like kale, spinach. If you can’t get fresh go for frozen.
Nuts & Seeds - they may look small but another great add to your daily nutrition. Brazil nuts, cashew, hazelnuts, chia, pumpkin, hemp, flaxseeds..the list is endless and you can include in breakfasts, lunches, dinners and for ready to go snacks.
I would encourage you to reduce sugar and processed foods where you can as they may encourage unwanted inflammation.
‘What is oxidative stress’
Before we go any further - let chat about anti-oxidants & what is oxidate damage/stress.
Anti - to fight against, to go against, to prevent.
Oxidant - an agent that causes oxidation of molecules in our bodies that create free radicals.
Free Radicals - by products of the every day working of our bodies. The cells in our bodies contain ‘mitochondria’ which are thousands of small powerhouses that work hard to burn oxygen to make energy. Think of all fuels - they come with a by product - this is called a Free Radical. These by products sometimes referred to as ‘unstable molecules’ can damage others cells in the body - this is called Oxidative Stress/Damage. Now free radicals are not all bad, they can play a role in fighting infections and help cells work effectively. However, left unchecked, they can cause issues. This is where anti oxidants comes into play - they neutralize the free radicals and you will be thrilled to know our bodies produce the key one which is ‘Glatathione’. However our levels can be depleted for several reasons, most common are poor diet, chronic stress, chronic disease and/or infection.When it comes to anti oxidants, like most things in life, they work best as a team - so a team of anti oxidants will have various jobs to complete and work together to achieve the desired end result - protecting your body . This is why variety is essential.
Antioxidant rich foods: Green tea, turmeric, strawberries, blueberries, raw cocoa. Antioxidants can also increase our bodies levels of good bacteria - especially Bifido and Lacto groups.
2. Move toward a stronger immune system - get outdoors - Daily.
Now more than ever we need nature - we need the calming impact that it creates on us. Regular daily exercise will help you through the next few weeks. When you are outdoors remember to be present, enjoy the fresh air, enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. Listen to the birds, listen to the wind in the trees, the water flowing. My routine currently is a 3 mile run in the mornings with the boys and it’s a great start for all of us to the day. Just remember to practise social distancing!
You can also practise yoga at home, do on line fitness class via youTube, brisk walking for 20-30 minutes - find what you enjoy and I would encourage you to incorporate it into your routine and ensure you get outdoors daily.
3. Sleep - maintain a routine
This isn’t a holiday - life is continuing as normal and it is important to keep a routine going. This will help you greatly in the weeks ahead. So don’t lie on, don’t binge watch Netflix - keep to your normal hours. Go to bed on time and get up at the same time every day, our sleep has its own routine and rhythm and circadian rhythm is more important now as it will allow our bodies to recover from the day and give our immune system the time to do it’s magic and keep us strong. Lack of sleep will increase cortisol levels which in turn adds to your stress so sleep is critical now. Also when your sleeping, your body is producing a protein called ‘cytokines’ which helps our bodies fight infection….so plenty of reasons to keep to a good sleep routine.
It’s not just sleep to think about when it comes to routine, it’s daily life. Try to stick to your normal routine before Covid19 entered our lives and this will help you on many levels. Keep your diary going and your to do list and have a daily plan of action/goals. All these small steps will help keep us moving forward.
If you are struggling with sleep have a read of the many articles I have written on magnesium as this may be of help to you now. Mag365 is an excellent addition at this time.
4. Mental Wellness
Given the current situation we are all going to feel an element of stress over the coming weeks. It’s time to delve back into your strategies and tools and retrieve those that you know have helped in the past. Stress, as we know, increases the levels of cortisol released by the adrenal glands. The stress hormones will reduce the effectiveness of our immune system by lowering the production of white blood cells that fight infection.
Some essentials are:
Breathing - taking a moment, go back to your breathing as much as you can. Taking deep breaths from your stomach and taking a few moments out of your day to relax. Keep in simple breath in for 4, breathe out for 7.
Meditation - continues to be one of the most effective ways to de-stress. It’s time to download those apps like Calm etc. or listen to some calming music. Several studies have shown that meditation can help protect your immune cells and reduce inflammation.
Magnesium - top up with magnesium rich foods or take Mag365, magnesium will help greatly at this time.
Be Positive - reduce the media content you are watching and remember like all things this too will pass.
What do you enjoy doing? It may be reading, listening to music, drawing, whatever it is start doing it now..
5. Be regular
A vital step in immunity is ensuring your bowels are regular, this will help release toxins from your body and keep your energy flowing as it should. Ideally a daily bowel movement without straining or any discomfort with the feeling of the bowel being totally empty. In theory we should have a bowel movement after every meal, the very act of eating creates a wee like effect to happen in our bowels which moves wastes product through our bodies down to our bowels. It’s long been ingrained to ignore these messages, so our digestive system becomes sluggish. If you think of a baby or young child, they will generally have a bowel movement after each meal - this changes as we get older as we hold on/control this process more. Also please ensure to go to the toilet when you need to and avoid putting it off - this is not good for your body and can in time led to constipation.
Water and fibre intake are essential steps in ensuring good bowel health, regular intake of water throughout the day will help here and will also keep your body well hydrated. Fibre goes back to ensuring a plentiful diet of fruit and vegetables enhanced with probiotics foods.
Probiotics are not just important for digestion, and good gut health - they reach much further across our entire bodies. The two heavy hitters - Lacto acidophilic and bifidobacteria, for instance, have been shown to have anti-viral properties and may help reduce the length of a viral respiratory infection. Probiotics produce antibodies and these anti bodies attach on to foreign/unknown bacteria or viruses and encourage your white blood cells to attack them. So, two key actions (1) production of antibodies that attach onto the virus and (2) releasing a chemical which encourage the production of white blood cells. White blood cells are key in helping the body fight against viruses and bacteria. When looking at foods think of prebiotics too - these are like fertilizers for probiotics.
Probiotics: fermented foods (yogurt, milk kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut etc.), vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds. (I would encourage you to select natural yogurt with no added sugar).
Prebiotics: lentils, beans, garlic, leeks, bananas, broccoli, beetroot, parsnips, onions, artichoke and oats.
Simply at this time you want to load up on fresh fruit and vegetables, more fibre basically. Wholegrains are your friends too and if possible, use brown rice instead of white, try quinoa and other grains.
What else can I do to help my warriors & gladiators?
Zinc - An unsung superhero of the immune system
This is a trace mineral you want to pay attention to - your immune system cannot operate at peak performance if you lack zinc. Many chemical reactions in our bodies need zinc in order to perform effectively - over 200 in fact. A zinc deficiency therefore can impact several reactions in the body. It is well known as an important disease fighter and a protector of our immune system. It encourages our production of immune cells giving us a better defense against viruses. Also known for its ability to help with respiratory tract infections. It is worth noting our ability to absorb zinc declines as we get older, so a conscious effort is required to ensure we have enough in our diets. If you don’t have enough zinc in your body and infection hits, then inflammation can spread to other parts of your body.
Zinc rich foods: Pumpkin seeds, nuts, egg yolks, cheese, fortified foods, wholegrains, seafood especially oysters.
In the world of supplements Zinc is like Magnesium in some respects - Zinc Bisglycinate is a very good form and surpasses the various forms of zinc you might find in other supplements.
If you have a sore throat zinc lozenges can be very soothing.
‘Vitamin C and zinc play important roles in nutrition, immune defence and maintenance of health’
Our bodies do not produce Vitamin C so we need to get it through our diet - as a powerful antioxidant it is essential at this time. Vitamin C is always my go too at the first signs of a cold - load up on the Vitamin C foods listed below and if you have an infection then it’s always good to top up with a Vitamin C supplement. A higher dose taken over a few days can dramatically reduce the duration of a cold.
Top Foods: citrus fruits, berries, goji berries, kiwis, tomatoes, apricots, peppers, leafy greens and sweet potatoes.
If not via foods, then Camu Camu is an excellent form of Vitamin C. My family and I are all taking this daily at the moment. You may also come across Liposomal Vitamin C, this form contains the normal vitamin C but it is coated in what is referred to as a ‘phospholid layer’ allowing the vitamin c to be absorbed more efficiently into the bloodstream.
Vitamin D - the Sunshine Vitamin
Difficult to get given the climate in Ireland and also hard to get via foods (salmon, egg yolks and some mushrooms). There is ample research showing the extension of Vitamin D past bones to its ability to enhance our immune systems. This is back to white blood cells again - current research tells us that T cells (a special type of white blood cell) which help destroy the ‘foreign invaders ‘ (bacterial or viral) need Vitamin D as part of this process. An insufficient amount of Vitamin D therefore leaves the T cells in hibernation and not out in the body patrolling against disease.
‘Scientists have found that vitamin D is crucial to activating our immune defenses and that without sufficient intake of the vitamin - the killer cells of the immune system -- T cells -- will not be able to react to and fight off serious infections in the body. The research team found that T cells first search for vitamin D in order to activate and if they cannot find enough of it will not complete the activation process.’
This is one essential supplement to take at this time - my personal preference is for an oral spray as it bypasses the gastric acid in the stomach and goes direct into the bloodstream. One Nutrition D# Max, an Irish brand is the one I use, it is an excellent oral spray.
Oil of Oregano
Not just the lovely herb for adding to your dishes - it has strong antibacterial and anti-viral properties. It is a great source of anti-oxidants so another aid to your internal warriors This has been used for respiratory illness for decades. For dosage and methods of use follow the instructions on the pack as different sources vary.
Well known for its ability to boost the immune system and its ability to fight infection. Echinacea can help our bodies defences and helps stimulate those essential white blood cells (warriors) to control bacterial and viral infections.
Note: If you have an underlying auto immune disease you should check with your GP before taking echinacea as it may over stimulate the immune response.
Elderberry & Beta Glucans
A powerful combination and hard to get through diet alone, so this is a supplement worth looking at. Beta Glucans are like the warrior’s shield - a protective mechanism for the body, stimulating the immune response and enhancing the body’s Natural Killer Cells. Elderberries (Sambucus nigra berries) packed with Vitamin C, fibre and anti-oxidants are anti-viral, helping fight free radicals and inflammation. They two in combination work extremely well. Currently my boys are taking Sambucol daily as a preventative and immune boost, this is available in most chemists, health stores and Supervalu.
Foods containing beta glucans: mushrooms, seaweed, oats.
As most of you know I am a lover of essential oils and at the moment we are steaming nice combinations in the morning and in the evening. Right now I have Rosemary on it's own as it's great for memory and concentration. The boys are loving this addition to their new day - checking all the smells and then choosing which ones they like. Essential oils can transform your mood, brighten your day, change the atmosphere in a room and each contain different properties that make them all legends in their own right. Hop over to my lovely friend Fiona for her tips and advice on using oils at home.
Sip on green tea during the day - another antioxidant and can help strengthen your immune system. Peppermint tea or fresh mint tea is also another good addition at this time.
Loads up on red onions - quercetin is not a very well-known flavonoid (phytonutrient/plant chemical) but it is another powerful antioxidant.
Foods: grapes, kale, cherries, red onions and red wine.
Keep Safe, Keep Handwashing, Keep Social Distancing, Keep nourishing those Wellness Warriors in your body and Keep Smiling.
Please note the advice given here will not prevent you from getting Covid19. If you do get it or want to enhance your immune system then the tips outlined here are a good place to start.
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