8 Tips to Strengthen Your Immune System Naturally
- Physical activity
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Omega 3
- Omega 6
Being Ready to Fight Off Anything That Comes Your Way
Today we find ourselves in unprecedented times with our beloved Aotearoa in level-4 lock-down status and we’re being asked as a nation to #stayhome to fight an invisible war. The worldwide Covid-19 Pandemic has breached our borders and is sweeping through our communities, so you wouldn't be alone if you said you’re feeling a bit helpless to combat this ‘war’.
However, control is not entirely out of your hands. Besides following the government’s safety guidelines, you also have the power to prepare your body to go into any fight. Not only are we faced with the threat of Covid-19, we are also at risk of the seasonal flu, as we’ve all begun to feel the arrival of Autumn in the air.
Boosting Your Immunity
Kia Hauora, Kia Kaha - These are our key ideas to stay healthy and keep your immune system strong and ready. The below tips are pharmacist recommended and all information has been sourced from reputable studies & sources.
Let’s begin with some of the simplest, yet most beneficial, things that you can do for your body: Moe & Kori Tinana (Sleep & Exercise).
Moe - Sleep
The optimal amount of sleep for most adults is 7-8 hours of good sleep each night.
Sleep has the power to affect your immune system, both good and bad. Studies show that people who don't get high quality sleep or even enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how quickly you recover, if you do get sick.
With all of us on lock-down in our homes with significantly reduced work/life pressures, now is a unique opportunity to get your body in a great sleep routine. Here are some tips for getting better sleep:
- Go to sleep at the same time each night, and get up at the same time each morning.
- Avoid naps after 3 p.m.
- Stay away from caffeine and alcohol late in the day.
- Avoid nicotine completely.
- Commit to regular exercise.
- Reduce screen time within the last couple of hours before bed.
Kori Tinana - Physical activity
Studies have shown that people who follow a moderately energetic lifestyle, benefit most from starting (and sticking to) an exercise program.
The Maori proverb “Tama tu tama ora, tama noho tama mate” is now more relevant than ever - “An active person will remain healthy while a lazy one will become sick.” Evidence shows that a physically active lifestyle reduces the risk of contracting a range of infectious diseases, including viral and bacterial infections.
There are many theories about what exactly physical activity does to fight off illness; here are a few as reported by MedlinePlus.gov:
- Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illnesses.
- The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection better. (This is similar to what happens when you have a fever.)
- Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Stress increases the chance of illness, so lower stress hormones may protect against illness.
Commitment to regular physical activity/exercise can also reduce the risk of chronic health conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic inflammatory disorders, so it’s important to add physical activity into your permanent routine.
What Foods Can Strengthen Your Immune System?
Essential Nutrients to Feed Your Body
Essential nutrients are compounds that the body can’t make, and they must come from food or in supplement form. These nutrients are vital for disease prevention, growth, and overall good health.
Vitamin C is an essential micronutrient, powerful antioxidant (meaning it mops up disease and cancer-causing free radicals) and is a cofactor for many enzymes in the human body.
There are a number of studies indicating Vitamin C supplementation for improved immunity, reduced severity and treatment of both respiratory and systemic infection. As part of your immune system, white blood cells require Vitamin C to function. Vitamin C deficiency causes reduced immunity and makes you more susceptible to infection. Also when we are fighting off an infection we use significantly more Vitamin C due to increased inflammation and other metabolic requirements.
Besides taking a vitamin C supplements, these natural sources of Vitamin C can easily be added to your diet:
Fruits high in Vitamin C:
- Citrus fruits and juices: orange and grapefruit
- Kiwi fruit
- Berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries
Vegetables high in Vitamin C:
- Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower
- Green and red peppers
- Spinach, cabbage, turnip greens, and other leafy greens
- Sweet and white potatoes
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
Zinc is important for immune function, growth and reproduction.
A recent cochrane review found that when taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, zinc can significantly reduce duration and severity of the common cold.
Zinc is maybe one of the more overlooked little minerals. It’s an essential piece of our immunity as it is a cofactor for up to 300 enzymes in the body, including the important antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase.
Most of our dietary zinc comes from animal sources, so it may be a good idea to load up on some supplements. When using supplements, be sure to stick to the recommended daily intake and instructions on the pack as there is such a thing as zinc toxicity!
Foods that are great sources of Zinc:
- Hemp seeds
- Walnuts and cashew nuts
- Chia seeds
- Ground linseed
- Pumpkin seeds
- Wholemeal bread
Vitamin D has been shown to be beneficial for both the innate (fast acting, nonspecific reaction to infection) and adaptive (specific immune response to something we have been exposed to before) immune response.
Multiple cross-sectional studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D result in poor immune function, increased upper respiratory tract infections and influenza. Vitamin D is unique as it is considered to be both a vitamin and a hormone (or a prohormone, meaning it has hormone-like functions).
When taking vitamin D supplementation it is crucial to take the Vit D3 form; this form is 87% more potent as serum and produces a 2 to 3-fold greater storage of vitamin D.
Curcumin (referred to as a Nutraceutical) displays anti-inflammatory, hypoglycaemic, antioxidant, immune regulating, wound healing and antimicrobial activities.
Turmeric has a long history in Indian, Chinese and Southeast Asian cultures. Studies have shown curcumin has poor bioavailability, due to poor absorption, rapid metabolism, and fast elimination through conjugation in the liver and excretion in the faeces. Researchers have investigated the benefits of administering curcumin with other substances to increase systemic bioavailability. One substance that has been studied is the alkaloid piperine, a component from black pepper (Piper nigrum) which is known to inhibit hepatic and intestinal glucuronidation (conjugation).
In short, consume turmeric with black pepper!
Omega 3 & Omega 6
These essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are required for growth and maintenance of the immune system at a cellular level.
It’s important to ensure your diet includes both of the omega 3 & omega 6 EFA’s because we cannot synthesise them within our own bodies. On their own, omega 3 helps maintain heart, brain and joint health, and Omega 6 helps regulate hormonal balance and skin health, but these two EFAs must work in balance with each other in our bodies. Both the total fat intake and the ratios between fatty acids influence the activity of immune cells.
Our suggestion? Incorporate Hemp Seed Oil into your diet! It has a 3:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, which is considered optimal for human health, especially playing a role in the regulation and development of immunity. Add it into your smoothies in the morning, or replace the oil in your favourite salad dressing with Hemp Seed Oil - our favourite is The Brothers Green New Zealand Hemp Seed Oil!
Keeping Your Immunity Optimised
Now that you’re armed with these tools to keep your immunity optimised, your body should be ready to give its best fight to anything that comes its way.
Let us know how you’re incorporating these nutrients and lifestyle changes into your daily routine -- show us some of your favourite immunity recipes with the above nutrients, or be sure to tag us in to your social media posts with @koaka_nz.