After a year of being in and out of lockdown, our bodies have become accustomed to living in our secure little bubbles. Whilst this has been good in one way, as we have not been exposed to nearly as many pathogens as normal so haven’t gotten sick, it’s also causing a bit of an issue now that things are returning to normal and we’re getting back out there.
As we start seeing people again, many of us will find that we’re fighting off coughs and colds as our bodies attempt to remain healthy. Our immune systems appear to be more susceptible to invaders as they have not been primed to defend themselves. This is a similar kind of theory to the Hygiene Hypothesis, which essentially says that being too clean can lead to the development of allergies and immune-related conditions – something that we’re seeing an increase of in the Western world.
Fear not though, as there are some small tweaks you can make to your diet and lifestyle that will help to support your immune system and keep you feeling in top condition for all those upcoming socials. Check out my top 5 tips below:
1. Get some sunshine!
Many of us will know that sunshine is the best way to increase our vitamin D levels (bring on the summer!). Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased susceptibility to infection and autoimmune diseases, so it’s important to supplement through the darker months (Oct-Apr) as recommended by the NHS. You can also get vitamin D from fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolks and dairy.
2. Give your gut some TLC
A little-known fact is that 70% of your immune cells are located in your gut. Our immunity therefore has a very close relationship with our gut microbiome – the good and bad bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeasts etc. that live inside us. Try and increase your fibre intake by aiming to eat around 30 different plant foods per week. You could also try to include some fermented foods in your diet to increase the numbers of good bacteria living in your gut.
A little-known fact is that 70% of your immune cells are located in your gut.
3. Max out on fruit and veggies
Colourful fruits and vegetables are packed full of nutrients like beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E, which are all powerful antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress in the body. Additionally, vitamin C is incredibly important in fighting respiratory infections and can actually help to reduce the duration of the common cold. Plant foods also contain polyphenols that help to regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation which is often the source of many illnesses. We can’t make vitamin C ourselves, so it’s vital to eat foods like red peppers, citrus fruits and broccoli to ensure we’re getting enough.
4. Prioritise sleep
Getting enough sleep ensures that our innate and adaptive immune system have a chance to function effectively. Many people think that they do just fine on a few hours sleep a night, but the risk of infections is higher in those who sleep less than 6/7hrs per night. Studies have also shown that getting a poor night’s sleep after a vaccine resulted in a weaker immune response. Improve your sleep by stopping any caffeine consumption after 3pm, reduce your exposure to blue light in the evenings, and create a relaxing bedtime routine.
Many people think that they do just fine on a few hours sleep a night, but the risk of infections is higher in those who sleep less than 6/7hrs per night
When we have short-term stress, our immune systems actually function better for a short period of time. The problem is that most of us are chronically stressed, which results in a negative effect on our immune response. Additionally, psychological stress impairs our ability to produce antibodies in response to a vaccine, which is pretty important right now. It’s therefore in our best interests to try and take some time to activate our parasympathetic nervous system and destress - things like yoga, meditation and walks in nature have all been shown to help.