Updated: Jun 13
Let's get this underway by addressing the fact that we cannot prevent catching the flu, getting a virus or even Covid 19. Undoubtedly, at some point in our lives, bacteria will have had a negative impact on your health.
There are many factors that determine how our body responds to pathogens. Some of these factors cannot be controlled such as:
Innate defence response (physical, chemical and protective cells)
However, there are some factors which we are able to influence, such us:
Nutrient deficiencies (particularly Vitamin C & D, Zinc, Iron)
A recent case report investigated how a patient recovered from the SARS-CoV-2 infection with mild symptoms. They found that
“a robust immune response across different cell types was associated with clinical recovery, similar to what we see in influenza” (1).
The researches concluded that the patient had large numbers of numerous specialised antibody cells which were critical at fighting off the virus.
To increase white cell production (your immune defence system) we need to improve our immune system functioning. To optimise the immune system we must engage and be consistent with a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
Prioritise the big stuff but start small. No need to be a perfectionist.
Here are my 5 “big” ways to optimise your immune function, better prepare your body to fight invaders and reduce your susceptibility to infection:
1. Body Composition
Being overweight/obese inhibits vital hormones that play a big part in immunity. Chronic inflammation impedes the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to infection. Additionally, any health conditions that arise from being overweight/obese (heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes) further increase the risks.
Check out my fat loss cheat sheet to get the most out of your training and nutrition:
We know exercise is a good immune boosting activity and promotes natural killer cells. So get started. It is true that chronic long-distance steady state cardio can be an immunosuppressant and weaken the immune system but the chances are you are not an ultra-marathoner, so there’s no need to worry about your 1-2 hour cardio sessions.
3. Sleep / Stress
Too little sleep and too much stress means a higher concentration of cortisol which is known to inflame the immune system. Aim at 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
4. Eat Veggies and Fruit
Getting rid of nutritional deficiencies by eating colourful fruit and veggies means you will get higher doses of important vitamins and minerals necessary to reduce susceptibility. Juice them if you don’t want to eat them, just ensure you juice a high:low ratio of veg:fruit (meaning more vegetables than fruit).
Increase intake of the following:
Vitamin C - oranges, lemons, citrus, red pepper, broccoli
Vitamin D - be outside or take a Vit D3 supplemen, or grass-fed liver, fish or cod oil
Zinc - whole grains, scallops, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas
Iron - liver, red meat, spinach, tofu, dark chocolate, legumes
5. Gut health
Despite common belief that gut health originates, well, in the gut, it actually starts in the mouth (2). In fact, 70% of the immune system is found in the gastrointestinal system, which means that the mouth, oesophagus, stomach and large and small intestines are responsible for your health (3). So, eat pre- and post-biotic foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, yoghurt (unflavoured and no sugar) and other fermented foods.
I hope this has been useful for you, as I said, there are many factors to consider when talking about the health of your immune system. To achieve and maintain a health body composition read this post. If you have gotten out of shape due to the lockdown and want to know how to get back into exercise click here. Also, I wrote an article on nutritional deficiencies with popular diets. For more information on stress and how it correlates to health and fat loss go here.
Gemma, Nutrition Strength