At the moment, advice on how to boost immunity is at the forefront of a lot of our minds.
In the midst of a global pandemic, you can understand exactly why there’s a lot of attention being placed on how we can boost immunity. The purpose of this article is to teach you what are the simple steps you can take to protect yourself from the vast number of viruses that we encounter on a daily basis?
As we enter ‘flu season’ boosting immunity takes on an even greater importance.
In the article, we’re going to look at 6 science-backed ways we can boost immunity, giving us the best possible chance of avoiding illness not just now, but in the years to come.
What is Immunity?
There are lots of different definitions of immunity, but here’s a simple but all-encompassing one I like…
“Immunity is the state of being immune from or insusceptible to a particular disease or the like. Immunity is the condition that permits either natural or acquired resistance to disease. The ability of a cell to react immunologically in the presence of an antigen.“
In a nutshell, immunity is the ability our bodies have to protect us against a wide variety of unspecified bacterial or viral infections. This immunity can be naturally present within us, or it can be acquired through vaccination.
Can You Really Boost Immunity?
The answer is absolutely, yes it can. We have a tendency to think that medical issues should be addressed with drugs or treatments, but in reality there are a lot of ways we can boost immunity naturally. In this article we’re going to explore a few of the simple ways we can boost immunity naturally with methods backed by robust scientific research and proof.
The ways in which we boost immunity are also the pillars of good health practice anyway, so taking steps to boost immunity will have a knock-on benefit for your overall health as well.
Science-Backed Ways to Boost Immunity Naturally…
Immunity is an ever-changing picture, so our actions and behaviours have to reflect the seasons and the conditions within which we are existing. We will experience fluctuating levels of risk depending on the circumstances, which is why the advice here has a few additional points to explain the reasoning.
So without further ado, here are science-backed ways to boost immunity…
Nutrition and Supplementation
There’s nothing mind-blowing here. It goes without saying that a healthy, well-balanced diet containing plenty of vegetables, fruit, good quality meat, fish and other protein sources will provide you with a large amount of essential vitamins and minerals, giving you a solid basis on which to build the rest of your healthy behaviours.
There’s also room however for supplemental vitamins A and D. Research shows that when these two are deficient, immunity is compromised. There’s also a call to add some zinc into your diet, because that has been show to boost immunity as well. If you’re not eating fish, take an Omega 3 supplement too – it has also been shown to boost immunity.
Get some sun exposure – vitamin D is very important. When sunlight and temperature drops rendering this form of vitamin D impossible, back up your requirements with a supplemental Vitamin D.
Sleep Properly or Damage Your Immunity
Sleep deprivation has a sudden and dramatic impact on immunity. What the research shows is that when we are sleep deprived there is a significant reduction in our immune function. By making sure we sleep for around 7+ hours per night we address this issue properly. Taking the steps to ensure we have enough good quality sleep is one of the most important and restorative things we can do.
A lot of us have terrible sleep patterns, but if we want to support and boost immune function, we have to address this issue. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our health, so by getting that right there are huge knock-on benefits for the rest of our health.
Solution: Follow usual good sleep protocol – cool room, avoid phone/tv/computer use in bed, don’t drink caffeine before bed etc. Usual suspects…
Stress and Relaxation
Similar to the sleep point, try to stay as relaxed as possible if you want to ensure excellent immune function. A meta-analysis of over 30 years of stress and immune function research shows without any doubt whatsoever that stress exposure impacts immune function, possibly because of excessive elevated cortisol.
Anyone who has undergone a period of stress will know exactly what it feels like to be ‘run down’. Taking the time to deal with emotions and not let stress get the better of you will pay dividends in the long term.
Solution: Get outside in nature. Talk to friends. Walk, listen to music, watch comedy. Do whatever you need to in order to relax and avoid stress.
Appropriate Exercise to Boost Immunity
Again, hardly a surprise here. The point is with exercise is that there’s almost no physiological function that isn’t improved by exercise in some form or another. In this context I almost think of exercise like a vaccine – it puts the body under a level of stress, but a stress level that the body can cope with and learn from, becoming physically stronger, healthier and more robust.
There is a word of caution here though – too much exercise has a negative effect on immunity. Research has shown that overtraining can be a bad thing when it comes to immunity, possibly because of a stress response. For tips to avoid overtraining and CNS fatigue, read here.
Solution: Exercise appropriately. If needs be, use a heart rate monitor to have it tell you how long you should be resting post exercise. Listen to your body – if it’s tired, give it a break.
This one goes without saying. As much as we all love a drink, the drink doesn’t always love us back. In small doses alcohol can improve overall wellbeing – it often makes us more sociable and it can help us to relax, but in reality it brings with it more negative health connotations than positive ones.
Interestingly what the research shows is that it’s not just a problem with chronic excess alcohol consumption – even binge drinking will impact immunity quickly. There’s also a potential problem with alcohol consumption disrupting the gut microbiome, which is a longer term problem to correct if that damage is significant enough.
Solution: Simple one – don’t drink much! If you do drink, keep it infrequent and not high dose. Try to reduce drinking during periods of high risk of viral transmission.
Reduce Viral Load
The term ‘viral load’ is a new one for many people – it wasn’t something that was in general use until recently. In a nutshell, viral load is the amount of exposure we have to viruses. I’ll explain using a candle analogy…
Imagine a lit candle. If you pass your hand through the flame quickly, you won’t burn yourself. The exposure to the heat was too limited to do damage.
Now, imagine holding your hand 6 inches above the same candle for 30 seconds. You’ll badly burn yourself. Same hand, same candle, same flame. The difference this time is the amount of exposure to the heat.
Our exposure to viral load varies – the reason we have a cold or flu ‘season’ in the winter is largely because we spend more time indoors and in close proximity to each other. Add to this lower vitamin D exposure, reduced exercise and Christmas parties etc, it’s no wonder the winter ends up being the cold and flu season!
Solution: If you work in an office or take public transport, you may well be better using a mask with a high viral filtration rating to protect yourself. Ignore the nonsense about it impacting your blood oxygen saturation. It’s twaddle. Double down on the other positive health behaviours.
Boost Immunity and then what? What’s Realistic?
In all honesty you’re not going to be able to defend yourself from all comers virus-wise, but you’ll at least give yourself a fighting chance of avoiding bugs if you follow this advice.
At very worst they’re the behaviours that constitute the pillars of good health, so by practicing these actions regularly you’ll be ensuring that you maintain excellent health. If enhanced immunity is a by-product of that, then you’re still winning.
In summation, I suppose we should look at boosting immunity in reverse – rather than look at enhancing immunity, perhaps stop performing behaviours that reduce our immune function. Once you do that, the additional aspects of boosting immunity such as supplemental vitamin A and D, supplemental fish oil and reducing viral load are the cherries on the cake!
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