In our current climate of COVID-19 I think one of the priorities is that we try to keep our immune system as strong as possible. From a food point of view this means cutting down our sugar intake as much as we can. Excess sugar in the body will stick to our white blood cells that are travelling in the blood stream, if you have a white blood cell with a glucose molecule stuck to it, it cannot do its job properly, seeking out viruses and pathogens to destroy them. In my experience, sugar is a really hard food to cut down on especially if we are eating it to comfort ourselves but it can help if we try to make all of our snacks savoury and only have pudding as a treat not every day. With regard to fruit intake this also contains sugar so I would recommend that people do not have more than two portions of fruit a day. The best types of fruit are berries (perfect for this time of year) and other fruits that are grown in the northern hemisphere eg apples, pears, cherries and plums as opposed to tropical fruit which are grown in much more sunshine and therefore are a lot sweeter.
An additional thing that we can do to help our immune system is to look after our gut bacteria as they play an important role in helping our immune system. Eating foods to help feed the good bacteria is key. These are foods like garlic, leeks, onions, asparagus, sweet potato, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens. If we take care of and feed our good bacteria it means that they can keep the harmful bacteria in our gut under control. The harmful gut bacteria like eating refined carbohydrates and sugar (another reason for cutting down on the sugar) so if we can switch our diet to eating more vegetables and less white bread, white pasta, white potatoes etc the better. It is also important that we are eating good quality protein as this acts as the building block for our immune cells. This includes meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds and some legumes. Having some protein at every mealtime also helps to keep our blood sugar levels even which again helps our body run more smoothly and supports the immune system.
Keeping our immune system strong with sleep
Sleep is another factor, vital for helping to prevent chronic disease but also very important to help keep our immune system strong. When we are short on sleep the amount of infection fighting antibodies that we normally produce and release is reduced. We also produce more of the inflammatory cytokines when we are sleep deficient – more inflammation makes us tired and run down with a greater tendency to body aches and pains. Ideally, we should be getting an absolute minimum of 7 hours sleep a night, but this also depends upon the quality, if you are waking through the night and not being able to get back off then this also has an impact. Sleep can be affected by many different factors but not eating lots of sugar and refined carbohydrates helps in addition to having some protein at every meal. Food however is not always the answer to sleep issues, our stress levels can also play an important role in the quality of our sleep.
Stress and our immune system
Our 21st century environment exposes us to far more stress than is healthy for us. When our body runs the stress response and switches into fight/flight mode (because our body thinks it is in mortal danger) all of the body’s resources go into fuelling the muscles for fighting or running away from that perceived danger. This means that the immune system gets put on the back burner, it is not important for our body to be fighting an infection when our life is in danger. The more that we can keep our bodies calm and positive the better. One of the best ways for doing this is to be aware of our breathing, making sure that we are breathing properly deep down into the diaphragm (lie on your back and practise filling the balloon) and then make the out breath longer than the in breath. Start with in for 4 and out for 8, with practise you can increase this further and may even get to in for 4 and out for 16, but don’t push it ,this is supposed to be relaxing you!
Laughter is a huge immune booster – clinical trials have shown that when patients do laughter therapy it boosts their levels of Natural Killer cells – these are one of the major components of our immune system that fight off viruses. Watch funny films or funny clips on youtube, put up funny pictures or sayings around the house and most importantly hang out with funny people. During lockdown you may have to do this on Zoom/FaceTime etc but you can still get that laugh in.
Boosting our immune systems
There is so much that we can do to boost our immune systems so that they are strong enough to battle off any viral infection without us having to get really sick. As we know from the media it is mostly people with underlying chronic problems that are really struggling. If you want to learn about healing chronic disease please read my book – I WISH MY DOCTOR HAD TOLD ME THIS – there is more to our healing than medication in order to empower yourself to get optimally well.
Kate Chaytor-Norris DipION, mBANT, CNHC
Nutritional Therapist and Nutrigenomics Practitioner
Tel: 01325722453 / 07889174297