The immune system is the body’s way of protecting itself against disease and other potentially damaging foreign bodies. When functioning properly it identifies and attacks viruses, bacteria and parasites. The immune system is spread throughout the body, comprised of many types of cells, organs, proteins, and tissues that work together to keep us protected and healthy.

When your immune system is weakened, your body is far more vulnerable to viruses, parasites, and disease. There is no single magic pill that will give you a perfect immune system, however, there are many ways to support it & help keep it running in the best conditions possible.

1. Probiotic foods
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are good for you. They feed the microbiome good bacteria, which in turn keep your body working effectively. Did you know that around 70-80% of the body’s immune cells are found in the gut? [1] It makes sense to take gut health seriously.

Sources of probiotics include live yoghurt (most yoghurt is pasteurised, so make sure you buy one that states ‘live’), kefir, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, and tempeh. Make sure you buy these products from the fridge to ensure it is living! You should be able to find most of these at your local wholefood shop, but it could be worth making your own if you’re feeling adventurous or running out of activities to do with the kids! BBC Good Food has a very simple recipe for making sauerkraut available here. You’ll need leave the cabbage to ferment for at least two weeks, so now’s the time to get started!

2. Prebiotic foods
Prebiotics feed and encourage the friendly probiotic bacteria in your gut. The main source of prebiotics is dietary fibre. Make sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and pay particular attention to those known for high fibre.

Some of the best sources prebiotic fibre include oats, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, chicory root, dandelion leaves, apples, grains, nuts & seeds.

3. Sleep
Sleep enables the body and mind time to rest and repair. It is the time when the brain can process information & emotions gathered during the day, as well as when physical recovery can occur.

But how much sleep does our immune system need to run effectively? It is widely recommended that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

Top tips for a good nights sleep

  • Get to bed early: Research has shown that the sweet spot for deep restorative sleep is between the hours of 10pm and 2am.
  • Morning light: exposing your eyes and body to sunlight will not only help you wake up in the morning, but also helps the body maintain a regular circadian rhythm.
  • Wake up and MOVE: Regular morning exercise (outdoors if possible) will improve sleep rhythms by telling your body to release cortisol earlier in the morning, and produce melatonin earlier in the evening.
  • No caffeine at night: According to research, you should avoid consuming caffeine from around 2pm, or at least seven hours before bed, as it can otherwise negatively affect your sleep.
  • Screens off before bed: Melatonin is a hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark so turn of screens at least an hour before bed.

Essentially it is good practice to stimulate cortisol release early in the day, and to avoid creating stress in the evening. Melatonin and cortisol work together – in adults, the melatonin onset typically occurs during low cortisol secretion. Exercising earlier in the day, eating well and establishing a bedtime routine such as meditation, yoga reading a book will all help you ease into a restful sleep.

4. Breathwork
Breathwork has been incorporated into exercise and relaxation practices for thousands of years. There are many cultures with words for breath that reflect a deeper understanding and respect for the breath. In yoga, pranayama means ‘expansion of the life force and expansion of the breath’. Breathwork has seen a modern rebirth following the popularity of the ‘Wim Hoff method’, which has introduced thousands of people to breathing techniques, meditation and cold water dips/showers to strengthen the body and immune system.

The Wim Hoff Method app is a great place to start if you’d like to try some simple breathing exercises.

5. Supplements
Colloidal silver is the thing I’d first reach for if I were to contract the coronavirus. Many proponents claim that Colloidal silver kills bacteria and viruses on contact. I am no doctor but it had a profound effect on my health 15 years ago so I’ve just ordered another bottle.

The sun is now out again, but most of us are currently depleted in Vitamin D. Vit D + Vit K2 + magnesium, work together to make a strong stack that protects the immune system. Vit K2 is mainly sourced from animal based foods or fermented food (see probiotics in section 1). Cultured dairy is a great source so make sure your yogurt is with full-fat milk. Skimmed or fat free may contain only Vit 1 which won’t do it. Magnesium (chloride) oil is arguably the best way for the body to absorb. It is recommended to rub it on the soles of your feet before bed.

Olive Leaf extract are reported to be VERY powerful against any virus or bacteria. Do not take them if on blood thinners. I use Extract Super Strength 750mg, 60 Capsules, Standardized to 20% Oleuropein. https://www.about-olive-leaf-extract.com/natural-antivirals.html.

Medicinal mushrooms are another great way to really supercharge your immune system. I use a pre-made blend of Reishi, Turkey Tail, Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s mane and Agaricus from Detox Trading. Boil a spoonful of the mix with a tiny bit of coconut oil, before adding warm frothed nut milk and a tiny bit of honey & cinnamon to taste.

6. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is well known for its ability to support the immune system. As well as being essential for the growth and repair of tissue, it is also an antioxidant and fights free radicals in the body. It’s easy to find supplements but even better if you can eat foods that supply this vitamin. Good sources include broccoli, dark leafy greens, cauliflower, citrus fruits, strawberries, red & green bell peppers, and papaya.

7. Meditation
It’s widely accepted that meditation can reduce stress and calm the mind, which is true, but many studies now suggest that it can also benefit the body. Rudolph Tanzi, who holds positions both at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a statement. “Meditation is one of the ways to engage in restorative activities that may provide relief for our immune systems, easing the day-to-day stress of a body constantly trying to protect itself. The prediction is that this would then lead to healthier aging.” It makes sense that any restorative practice that brings the body into a state of rest will help the body to heal & repair itself.

One of my favourite meditations is to sit in a chair with the eyes closed, and simply imagine tracing a figure of 8, breathing in on the upward curve, and breathing out on the way back down. If you’re new to mediation and need some guidance, the Headspace app has some great free beginner programmes.

My personal routine is to meditate in bed for 15 minutes in the morning and the evening with Zen12 brainwave entrainment. Technology has moved on since the early binaural beat soundtracks of 20 years ago. There are quite a few out there now that include options with guided meditation, music, sounds of nature or even white noise mixed with pulses at different frequencies in each ear. It is the differential between these pulses that encourage the brain into deep meditative states akin to Buddhist monks. It is said that 15 minutes of Zen12 meditation is equivalent to 1 hour of deep meditation.

8. Exercise
Physical activity is a powerful way to help out your immune system. It promotes the circulation of antibodies and white blood cells, which means they may be able to detect and attack threats to the body quickly. Being active also lowers stress hormones (such as cortisol) which will reduce your chances of getting ill.

But go steady. Whilst it might be tempting to squeeze in a HIIT session in the morning and a long run before dinner, it more important than ever to exercise in moderation at the moment. If you push yourself too hard, the stress on your body will actually depress the immune system. Aim for 30-60 minutes of some form of activity every day, and vary workouts to include cardio, strength, and restorative sessions.

9. Drink water
Keep sipping the good stuff! As well as keeping you hydrated, water carries oxygen to your cells, and flushes toxins from the body. Water enables the kidneys to remove toxins by helping them clear out waste products. The immune system also uses lymph to circulate white blood cells & nutrients throughout the body. Without lymph, white blood cells would not be able to travel through the body to fight disease. And to produce lymph, your body needs water.

Another way that water boosts your immune system is through continuously cleansing the body. Just as we wash our hands in order to clean of bad bacteria & germs, we need to do the same for our internal organs. Adults should be drinking 2-3 litres of water per day. Mix it up with herbal teas if you get bored of straight water.

10. Avoid sugar
We all know that sugar is bad. The amount available in modern food is nowhere near the minimal amount that we would find in the wild. While sugar gives you a nice quick hit of energy, refined sugar has some nasty side effects on the body:

  • Feeds bad bacteria: as mentioned earlier, around 70-80% of the body’s immune cells are found in the gut, and bad bacteria FEEDS on sugar.
  • Empty calories: unlike naturally occurring sugars in fruits & vegetables, refined sugar is nutritionally empty which means energy is released far too quickly and will not sustain the body for long. Do you fill your body with useful nutrients or empty calories?
  • Inflammation: refined sugars also create unnecessary stress on the body through causing inflammation. High fructose intake has likewise been shown to increase several inflammatory markers in mice and humans [2].

Whilst it is challenging to stay calm during the current situation in the world, anxiety and worry won’t help anyone. Take each day as it comes, do what you can, and try to maintain a calm, balanced, positive outlook. Your body is a beautiful machine. Look after it.

[1] A.K. Abbas, A.H.H. Lichtman, S. Pillai, Cellular and Molecular Immunology E-Book, Elsevier Health Sciences, 2017.

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24366371