Is one of your New Year resolutions to nurture your immune system? With news about the latest mutations of the virus causing COVID-19, having a healthy immune system is more important than ever.
In this blog, you’ll discover why your immune system is your best friend and protector against viral infections and how to support your internal army.
Your immune system stops invaders like viruses from accessing your body, and if they breach these defences, actively hunts down and destroys them, preventing them from reproducing inside you.
If a virus enters your body, it will try to get inside your body’s cells, reproduce and invade other cells.
Your immune system has two main arms. Your innate immune system reacts to and attacks anything damaging your body. Your adaptive immune system contains cells capable of remembering specific invaders, producing antibodies so they’re recognised in future.
This immune memory is often referred to simply as ‘immunity’. If you’ve had a virus in the past, your immune system will be primed to attack it, because you’ll have produced antibodies against it the first time around. Vaccinations encourage the body to produce these antibodies, too.
In the case of COVID-19, being vaccinated or having caught it in the past doesn’t seem to prevent you from catching it again. But it does mean your immune system is prepared to protect you better, so the likelihood is you won’t become as seriously ill.
The army forces in your immune system consist of various types of white blood cells with all sorts of different functions, not simply these memory cells. So having a healthy immune system means more than having antibodies. Plus, antibodies do fade over time.
How your immune system is faring will determine the severity of your symptoms from a viral infection and whether you’re able to fight it off quickly.
When you’re infected by a virus, it makes copies of itself inside your body’s cells. But the system isn’t infallible – some of these versions aren’t exact changes, but contain misprints in the virus’s genetic code. These are mutations. Some don’t give the virus any advantage, but once in a while a mutation can help the virus survive better or be transmitted easier. Because they’re slightly different to the original virus, mutations can mean they’re less likely to be recognised by your immune system. Mutations are the evolution of a virus over time and this natural process is to be expected with all viruses.
How far a virus changes from its original state due to mutations can determine how effectively your immune cells can recognise it and take action accordingly. Those viruses surviving best fool the immune system by going undercover.
Coronaviruses including SARS CoV-2 seem to be especially prone to mutating.
You might not connect your immune system with your gut, but probably the most important step you can take to support your immunity is to nurture your gut. The bacteria in your gut microbiome are closely related to cells in your immune system. They teach them which substances are dangerous and which aren’t, and influence the production of white blood cells and how quickly they mature. This ensures your immune system is neither underactive nor overactive, as well as being as efficient as possible.
Your friendly gut bacteria feast on fibre, so including a wide variety of plant-based foods in your diet can help them to thrive.
A well-fed army is an effective fighting force. Your immune system warriors need optimal nourishment.
Some of the nutrients immune cells need to work well include zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D and omega 3 oils. Meanwhile, sugar and processed carbohydrates wreak havoc on the health of your gut bacteria and are low in immune-friendly nutrients.
Stress hormones hinder your immune system. Great anti-stress techniques include meditation yoga, tai chi and massage.
Moderate exercise has consistently been found to support immunity.
Having enough quality sleep is a no-brainer. Too little sleep means immune cells lose direction. Avoid caffeine and screen time in the hours leading up to bed – your body needs cues to wind down in the evening.
Traditional winter remedies include extract of black elderberry, echinacea and astragalus root.
If you want your immune system to be in the best possible shape to naturally fight off viruses and bacteria, nature has provided a great toolkit for you. Because your immune health varies from day to day depending on its environment and the nutrients it receives, you have a great opportunity to influence how well it protects you.
An in-depth consultation will examine your immune health, your microbiome, diet and lifestyle and provide you with a completely personalised programme to support your immunity through this winter and beyond.
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