Everyday Health, Immunity

How To Boost Your Immune System

Do you always feel like you are the one who catches all of the bugs going round? Do you feel that your suffering lasts for longer and is more severe than others who have been exposed to the same infections? If so, your immune system, your own defences against infectious disease may be in need of some help.

Symptoms such as a sore throat, runny nose and tummy upset, to name a few, are signs of infection: a successful attack from an unwanted virus or bacteria on our bodies. Often when we visit the doctor, they will offer us medication to ‘fight the bug’. This is one approach – another is to fortify our defences in the first place and naturally stop the infection. So what can we do to boost our immune system?

How does our immunity work?

Physical barriers

There are several surfaces that are open to the outside environment that create a barrier between the air we breathe and the food we eat and the internal workings of our body. These include: our airways ie. nose, throat and lungs and our digestive tract.

At a cellular level, every cell is surrounded by a membrane that protects it from attack, if this is compromised, the cell can come under attack from infection.

Chemical defences

When the body detects an invader, it scrambles together an army of disease-fighting cells (antibodies) which then travel to the place under attack and ‘neutralise’ the attacker. It is really very clever.

The success of these two systems dictates how ill a person becomes when exposed to a ‘bug’ or ‘invader’. One person may come down with a full blown cold for two weeks and another have a sniffle for a day or two.

It’s all in the defence. So here some key choices to make to ‘shore up’ your body from attack. They are roughly divided into physical and chemical barriers but really many of the recommendations help immunity in several ways.

Physical Barriers

Digestive health

The gastrointestinal tract (the complete route your food travels from mouth to anus) is a crucial physical barrier that keeps out foreign invaders. A compromised gut wall is a compromised immune system. This barrier is lined with cells that are glued together like a line of bricks. To stop this line from becoming broken or developing gaps you need to look after your gut. This includes: taking the time to eat your food and not eating on the run, chewing properly not gulping huge mouthfuls of foods, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least five a day) and a diet rich in whole grains to maximise fibre intake and flow rate, 1 ½ litres of water a day and going to the toilet when you need to. Read The Gut, the Bad and The Ugly for more advice.

The gut lining is then covered with bacteria making a second line of defence, provided these are healthy gut bacteria, vital to our ability to fight disease. They also produce chemicals that fight infection1.

Cell membranes

Every barrier around your cells is partially made up of specific types of fats, these are known as essential fatty acids, ‘good fats’ or Omega 3 and 62. This is one of the reasons why a good supply of these in the diet is essential for maintaining good health. Follow the recommended 2-3 portions of fish a week with at least one portion of oily fish to help your immunity. If you do not like fish, consider a good quality supplement.

Chemical Barriers

To give your body the best chance of producing anti-bodies that are specific to infections that have made their way through our physical barriers there are two simple principles to follow:

  • Reduce the workload of the immune system and lower its burden by avoiding poor dietary and lifestyle choices
  • Provide as many supporting nutrients to build the defences.

These two approaches are outlined within the following dietary and lifestyle recommendations for boosting your immune system inside physical barriers:

1.   Eat plenty of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables.
Why? They provide you with the best source of ‘antioxidants’, a group of immune boosting vitamins and minerals  that help to neutralise chemicals called ‘free radicals’ that are produced by foreign bodies.
Well known antioxidants include Vitamins A, C and E plus Zinc and Selenium help the body to produce its own internal antioxidant chemicals. We produce free radicals within our body from processes like making energy; we need a good supply to ‘mop up’ as many as possible. So aim for 5 a day as a minimum, and eat at least 30% of these raw. Antioxidants are easily destroyed by food processing, heating, freezing (not all) and deteriorate over time in ‘fresh’ food (so local and really fresh is best).The colour is key – bright and varied – this comes from the different nutrients that contribute to your immunity. It can sometimes be difficult to eat healthily all the time, if you feel that you do not always achieve a healthy balance diet, take a multivitamin and mineral supplement.

2.    Add large handfuls of fresh herbs to your food especially in salads.Thyme, rosemary, basil and many more all contain high quantities of immune-boosting antioxidants – and taste delicious.

3.  Spice up your palate:ginger, garlic, leeks, onions, red pepper (including chilli)3, cloves, turmeric, cumin, margoram fenugreek  and cinnamon4 all contain high levels of anti-oxidants. Some contain antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral chemicals in their own right and so can directly fight off infection.  Also onions, leeks and garlic contain a specific type of carbohydrate that helps to promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut5.

4.    Aim to use up as few resources as possible compensating for poor diet and lifestyle choices lower your immunity.Drinking excessive alcohol, smoking, over exercising*, additives in processed foods, saturated fats and hydrogenated fats all increase the use of antioxidants in the body, leaving less available to defend the body from infection. *Extreme aerobic exercise is known to lower immunity – although it does have many other health benefits.

5.  Eat less sugar. Sugar is treated like a toxin and needs to be neutralised just like the toxins produced by invaders, using up resources. Read Does coffee really boost your energy levels for more information.

6.  Get out in the sunshine, especially in the summer and go for a 30 minute brisk walk. This will ensure that you get some exercise, which will stimulate your circulation and help your immune system. Regular, moderate exercise is associated with better immunity6.  Also getting out in the sun for a few minutes without sun cream each day boost your Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important part in the production and regulation of antibodies in immunity and deficiency is associated with increased infections7.

7.   Make sure that you have some protein in every meal; protein contains the building blocks for repair, growth and healing. Insufficient protein has been associated with lowered immunity7. Sources of protein include: Turkey, Chicken, Fish, Eggs, Tofu, Quorn, Beans, Lentils, Cheese (including cottage cheese), or lean red meat (once a week). Yoghurt or soya/dairy milk for breakfast. For more information about vegetarian protein, read high protein vegetarian foods.

8.   Drink plenty of water, about 1 ½ litres a day or 8 large glasses. Not having enough water is associated with depleted immunity8.

And finally…..get some sleep, between 6-8 hours is enough for most people. Your body needs to rest to in order to have time to repair itself8, the exact mechanisms of this are not known but there is a correlation between immune health and adequate sleep. (Learn how sleep hygiene can help you have a good night sleep).

Conclusions

The recommendations above do not offer an insurance policy against avoiding all infections but will give an otherwise healthy person a good chance to fight off the bugs. If you feel that you have an underlying health problem or are ‘just not right’, it is very important that you see your doctor. Suffering from ongoing infection can be a sign that something else is wrong, insist on proper testing and that the doctor gets to the bottom of any health concerns. They are there to offer a service to you.

To summarise here are the top tips for defending yourself against infection:

  • 2-3 portions of fish a week with at least one portion of oily fish
  • eat plenty of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables
  • add large handfuls of fresh herbs to your food
  • spice up your palate
  • poor diet and lifestyle choices lower your immunity
  • eat less sugar
  • get out in the sunshine (15 minutes of unprotected exposure is plenty and less if you think you will burn)
  • go for a 30 minute brisk walk
  • make sure that you have some protein in every meal
  • drink plenty of water, about 1 ½ litres a day
  • get some sleep

References:

1 Isolauri E, Sütas Y, Kankaanpää P, Arvilommi H,  Salminen S, 2001, Probiotics: effects on immunity, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 73, No. 2, 444S-450s
2 Yaqoob P, 2003,Fatty acids as gatekeepers of immune cell regulation, Trends in Immunology, 24:639-645
3 Tzung-Hsun T, Tsai P-J, Ho S-C, 2005, Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of several commonly used spices, Journal of Food Science, 70:93-97
4 Srinivasan K, 2005, Role of Spices Beyond Food Flavoring: Nutraceuticals with Multiple Health Effects, Food reviews International, 21:167-188
5 Plummer N, 2006, Bowel Ecology: Probiotics and Prebiotics, lecture notes from 10.12.06
6 Shephard RJ, Pang N, 1999, Exercise, Immunity, and Susceptibility to Infection: A J-Shaped Relationship?, Physician and Sportsmedicine, 27:47-48,50-52,54,59-62,65-66
7 Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH, 2007, Contribution of Selected Vitamins and Trace Elements to Immune Function, Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 51:301-323
8 Penkman MA, Field CJ, Sellar CM, Harper VJ, Bell GJ, 2008, Effect of hydration status on high-intensity rowing performance and immune function. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 3:531-546
9 Motivala SJ, Irwin MR, 2007, Sleep and Immunity: Cytokine Pathways Linking Sleep and Health Outcomes, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16:21-25
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Disclaimer: Seven Seas Life is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The articles are based on peer reviewed research, and discoveries/products mentioned in the articles may not be approved by our regulatory bodies, you will find no mention of Seven Seas products within the pages of the Seven Seas Life Section..Read more

Disclaimer: Seven Seas Life is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The articles are based on peer reviewed research, and discoveries/products mentioned in the articles may not be approved by our regulatory bodies, you will find no mention of Seven Seas products within the pages of the Seven Seas Life Section..Read more

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Comments

  1. Sugar says:

    Wow! Great thinking!

  2. mian sohail nisar says:

    i have sleeping problem,feeling tide,and weekness every day and my age 49 year pleace help me with thanks

  3. SevenSeasLife says:

    Hi Mian

    Sorry to hear about your problems.
    Please read our article of Good Sleep Hygiene
    For further advice I suggest you speak to your Doctor or Healthcare professional.

  4. Michael says:

    Can I take seven seas [........] one aday everyday throughout the year ? Please email back thank you mike

  5. SevenSeasLife says:

    Mike, Thanks for the question. A member of our Nutritional Advisors Team will contact you via email with a response. Kind Regards. Seven Seas Life Team

  6. Sona says:

    Can I have Seven seas cod liver oil capsules everyday? I have low B P. So I want to know more about this, like will I have any problems with that?

  7. SevenSeasLife says:

    Sonia, We make a number of different formulations of our Seven Seas Pure Cod Liver Oil Capsules which are available in different International Markets. Unfortunately form the information you have provided we cannot determine which specific formulation you are referring to. However, please contact a member of our Nutritional Advice Team at email: info@sseas.com. They will be able to look into the matter for you and advice you appropriate on the product in relation to your medical condition. However we would always suggest that anyone with a medical condition, or taking medication, contacts their health professional before taking supplements. Seven Seas Life Team

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