Our immune system is fundamental to our survival and is there to protect our bodies against attacks from bacteria, viruses, pathogens etc. It is our defence system. When our immune system is weakened we are more vulnerable to illness and it takes us longer to recover. We often see this in hospitals, when people repeatedly get sick as their body has not had sufficient time to recover. We are surrounded by germs every day, and this is unavoidable. Some of this exposure is good, strengthening our immune system- this is why we get vaccinations. Too much exposure can be disadvantageous.
However, our lifestyle can affect how our body deals with this exposure. It’s important to maintain a balanced lifestyle in order to have a good immune system. For example, we often get sick during very stressful periods as our immune function is low. When we push our body too far, we end up getting burnt out. Sometimes this can be our body’s own way of telling us to slow down. Therefore, reducing stress can aid immune function.
Our diet is also a huge factor in our immune function. Certain foods can give our body the tools to aid our immune response:
Fruit: In particular citrus fruits, are vital because they are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C is important for the production of white blood cells which fight off infection within the immune system. Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant which fight off free radicals (which can cause disease) in the body. Citrus fruits can be increased in the diet by adding a squeeze of lime or lemon juice to a smoothie or salad dressing.
Red Peppers and Broccoli: Both contain high levels of Vitamin A and C. Surprisingly, red bell peppers contain more Vitamin C then citrus fruits. Vitamin C is not stored in the body; therefore, daily intake is essential. These are most beneficial when eaten raw, i.e. in salads.
Turmeric: This bright yellow spice is found in many curries. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is an immunomodulatory agent; this means it can stimulate immune response. You can increase your intake of turmeric by adding it to curries or stir fries, or even including it in smoothies.
Almonds: Vitamin E, like Vitamin C, is an antioxidant. It is a fat soluble vitamin so fat needs to be present in order for vitamin E to be absorbed. Hence, why it is found in nuts and seeds, like almonds. Almonds can be eaten by themselves as a snack or added to granola and eaten with yoghurt.
Green Tea: Packed full of flavonoids, green tea is a great immune system booster. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory benefits.
Small changes in your lifestyle can drastically improve your immune system and will be beneficial in the long run. While we cannot physically see our immune system’s reactions to these lifestyle changes, the impact is noticeable in our own health and wellbeing, particularly in Winter months, when flus and colds are common.
The lifestyle that needs to be led in order to have a healthy immune system is one that will benefit the body in other ways too. Eating a well-balanced diet, reducing stress levels, increasing exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are all important factors in a healthy body, a healthy immune system and a healthy life.