Have you ever noticed that when you've been working hard, as soon as you get a day off you end up sick? This is a strange consequence of living under stress. Perversely, cortisol the stress hormone suppresses your immune system, however when you relax your depleted reserves are more vulnerable to illness. So, with Christmas holidays just around the corner, it's worth putting in a little extra effort into supporting your immune defences.
What Builds Immune Strength?
Getting the right nutrients is a good start to building your immunity. This means eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, getting enough protein and avoiding foods that deplete your nutrient status. Of particular importance are fruits and veggies full of vitamins A and C. These include all the orange vegetables containing lots of beta-carotene, carrots, pumpkin and sweet potato along with green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach. Fruits like rock melon (cantaloupe) and apricots are also high on the list which is good news as these summer fruits are starting to appear in the market now. You'll know if you're having too much beta-carotene as your skin takes on a slightly orange tint. Don't worry if this happens, it's not dangerous and also quite hard to do for most people. Just cut back on the carrots for a while 😉 Eating the minimum recommendation of 5 serves of veggies and 2 serves of fruit each day is good insurance for your immune resilience.
What Does 5 Serves of Veggies Look Like?
Fitting your quota of veggies into your day doesn't have to be hard. A serve is 1/2 cup of cooked veggies or 1 cup of salad greens. Chickpeas, beans, lentils and tofu also count towards your veggie quota, so a 1/2 cup serve of these with a meal gives you a source of vegetarian protein, fibre to build your immune-enhancing digestive flora and a tick in the veggie column. Definitely worth adding to your diet if you can.
So, imagine you ate these veggies as part of your meals today:
Grilled tomato and 1/2 cup cooked spinach = 1.5 serves of veggies with breakfast
1 cup of sweet potato, pumpkin and rocket salad with 1/2 cup of chickpeas = 2 serves of veggies with lunch
3/4 cup of cooked veggies in a stir fry with your choice of protein = 1.5 serves of veggies with dinner
Look at that, you just ate your 5 serves of veggies! That wasn't too hard, was it?
Look After Your Digestive Flora
Your digestive tract is actually home to 75% of your immune cells. Keeping your digestive bacteria healthy and happy goes a long way to strengthening your immune system. What happens when your digestive bacteria are in a bit of a mess is that your immune system gets busy dealing with the inflammation and unhelpful bi-products already in your digestive tract and doesn't have much left over to deal with invading pathogens. Keeping your digestive system cool, calm and collected means that you will have greater resistance to whatever's going around and that your are more capable of bouncing back sooner.
Get Plenty of Sleep
While life is terribly exciting and none of us want to miss out on a second, it really is a good investment to shut your eyes for at least 8 hours every night. One of the best rewards you can give your body is a good night's sleep. Taking time to wind down in the evening and putting a limit on bright lights and screens can help get you there easier too. If you find yourself nodding off in the evening, take that as a hint to put yourself to bet earlier. Catching that moment in your sleep-wake cycle also takes advantage of your natural rhythm that may otherwise take another 90 minutes to come around again.If you can't meditate, sleep. It's not optional when it comes to supporting your immune system.
Avoid Sugar (and Alcohol)
The immune system has been found to be impaired by up to 75% for 4-6 hours after eating refined sugars. Yes, this is scary! If you are feeling unwell or run down it is easy to turn to the biscuits, chocolate or even ice cream for a pick-me-up energy boost, but this is a false economy. While you might feel better temporarily as the pleasure centre of the brain lights up in much the same way as narcotic drugs like cocaine triggers, and glucose floods your system, the energy boost quickly bottoms out, leaving you more depleted, and even worse, more at risk of immune compromise than before. It's easy to recognise the sugary treats in the form of lollies and cakes but also look out for the hidden sugars will also punch your immune system in the face. This includes having too much fruit juice, sweetened soy milk or big serves of high-GI fruits like dates or other dried fruits.
The best way to tackle a sugar addiction is to add in replacements before you reduce and eliminate sugars altogether, which is sometimes the most effective way to go. Have fresh fruit on hand, invest in some stevia to sweeten drinks, or try naturally sweet carob or liquorice root as another way to get your sweet hit. Snacks like nuts, carrot sticks and protein based snacks including eggs, chickpea salads and dairy, such as yoghurt which includes bonus probiotic bacteria digestion, along with flax meal (also called ground linseed) and a few raspberries can help satisfy cravings. Also, remember to exercise and drink plenty of water.
What's That About Alcohol Being Bad For Immunity?
Unfortunately, along with sugar, there is overwhelming evidence that alcohol suppresses the immune system, including early responses to bacteria and viruses and the tumour surveillance system – the defences that keep cancer cells from multiplying. Having more than recommended levels of alcohol, which by the way is 1 standard drink for a woman and no more than two standard drinks for a man, decreases your ability to activate germkilling cells. So where does that leave us for the party season? If you're concerned about your immunity make good choices. Be moderate in your alcohol and sugar consumption
So where does that leave us for the party season? If you're concerned about your immunity, make good choices. Be moderate in your alcohol and sugar consumption, eat plenty of veggies and get lots of sleep. If you've been under the weather for a while and finding it a little tough to get on top of things, picking up every sniffle that goes around, you might need a bit more support. Come chat to us about how you can strengthen your immune system naturally. Give it a little love and you'll find many bonuses – improved quality of life being one of them.