Six ways to support your immune system

The ‘super six’ immunity boosters

The human body is a marvellous machine, consisting of many complex and interactive systems. The immune system, for example, underpins our overall health and wellbeing.
And although we can’t actually see it, it’s crucial that we nurture our immune system so it can protect us in return.

What is the immune system?

In a nutshell, your immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defend the body again infection. Every day, an array of bacteria, chemicals, viruses and cancerous cells try to breach the body’s defences. Fortunately, a healthy immune system is always on high alert, effectively patrolling, locating and destroying these unwanted antigens via our bloodstream.

Most of the time, we’re unaware of the constant micro-battles that take place inside us. But when your immune system is weakened, or the antigen is simply too much to handle, we can get sick. Looking after yourself and paying particular attention to the needs of your immune system is fundamental to your health. To make things simpler, we’ve compiled the ‘super six’ – an easy to remember top-tip list. Why not start today?

1. Stress

Work, money, relationships…being stressed about being stressed. Stress is rife. But what’s it got to do with immunity we hear you ask?

Just as all rivers flow to the sea, pretty much everything we do or eat leads back to our immune system. When we’re stressed, the hormone cortisol is released which can suppress the body’s ability to produce lymphocytes – specialist white blood cells which help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte level, the more likely you are to succumb to viruses, including cold and flu.

Prioritise pockets of relaxation. Try a guided meditation app, listen to your favourite music or simply slow down and gaze out the window for ten minutes and focus on your breath. The frenetic pace of modern life has wound our minds and bodies up so tightly, it’s critical that we find the time to slow down and relax before it makes us ill. Yoga, hot baths and a good stretch will all help you find your inner zen.

2. Sleep

Sleep glorious sleep. What’s not to love about hours spent in a warm, soft bed where your mind and body have time to heal? It’s alarming therefore, that many of us suffer from poor sleep and insomnia. Most people need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly and maintain good health.

Your vital organs carry out essential maintenance during sleep which they simply can’t do when you’re awake. Your liver, for example, works best at night and will happily detox in the small hours leaving you refreshed by the morning. But if you’re not getting enough shut-eye, it can’t carry out this crucial function. Equally, eating a heavy meal late at night or drinking too much alcohol or caffeine before bed will play havoc with your system, leaving you fatigued and foggy the next day.

In addition, insufficient rest means your body makes fewer infection-fighting proteins called cytokines which target inflammation. Cytokines are produced and released during sleep which means scrimping on slumber will hit your immunity twice as hard. If you find it difficult to get enough quality sleep at night, try grabbing naps in the day. 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted snoozing will give your body the boost it needs.

3. Stomach

Or more specifically, the next stage of the digestive process – the gut. 80% of the entire immune system is housed here, so it’s important to make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet and nurture your microbiome. Try to bolster your daily intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. Not only will they provide your gut with fibre , you’ll benefit from a range of vitamins and minerals. Leafy greens, bell peppers, kiwi and citrus fruit are packed with vitamin C which helps with immunity, while cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower contain plant-based compounds that may help lower inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer.

Shitake mushrooms contain protein, fibre and are packed with B12 – a vitamin powerhouse that is crucial for your metabolism and immune system.

4. Supplements

At Balance Box, we’re fans of getting vitamins and minerals through fresh and delicious food. But that’s not always possible, so taking high quality supplements is a great way to keep your body healthy.

Vitamin D is a hot topic at the moment due to the ongoing research linking low levels as a potential risk factor for COVID. It’s cheap, very hard to overdose on and has no side effects. If you’re not doing so already, we recommend you start taking 1000 iu daily as soon as possible. Doctors have recommended taking vitamin D for years between October and March when the days are short and dark. It’s a fat-soluble compound, so make sure you take it with something oily like avocado or a few olives.

A zinc supplement is another great option for this time of year as it’s been found to help produce and activate T-cells – a type of white blood cell that plays an essential part in our immune system. Consider also magnesium which will help your nervous system unwind and improve sleep.

5. Serotonin

Serotonin is often called the ‘happy hormone.’ It’s an important neurotransmitter that can affect our overall wellbeing including mood, digestion, sleep and memory. Studies have shown that serotonin plays a critical role in the function of a healthy immune system and fortunately there are many ways you can raise levels through diet and exercise.

Foods that can increase serotonin include eggs, cheese, turkey, nuts, salmon and tofu. A daily 30-minute brisk walk or jog, preferably outside in nature, will improve levels by triggering the release of tryptophan into your blood – an essential amino acid that is essential for the production of serotonin.

6. Stay away from…

Yes, it’s coming up to Christmas, but go easy on alcohol, sugar, processed foods and late nights. They might feel good at the time but over-indulging will play havoc on your immune system and leave you wide open to infection. Go to bed a little earlier when you can, introduce non-alcoholic drinks into your weekly shop and make a little time for relaxing baths and long walks. If ever there was a year to hit the brakes on excess, 2020 is it.

At Balance Box we love creating freshly prepared meals to your door. We use seasonal produce and we always include a wide variety of gut-loving fruit and vegetables. If you’re prioritising your health this winter, hop over to our menu page and choose your box – no shopping, no chopping, no cooking – just tasty, nutritional meals ready to eat in minutes.