5 Top Tips to maintain a Healthy Immune System with Dr Jenna Macciochi
What actually is the immune system?
Although we speak about our immune system as though it is one thing, it's a beautifully complex collection of multiple different types of cells (called white blood cells of which there are many, many types), tissues like the gut and organs including the bone marrow, spleen, lymph nodes. It can be found everywhere in the body but tends to be clustered at the barriers to the body - for example the digestive tract and lungs - where there is greatest exposure to things in our environment that could make us sick like germs and pollutants. It also includes things like mucus and the microbiota (good bacteria found on us and in us) as these work together with immune cells to protect us. Rather than a binary switch that we want to turn on, 'boost' even, it's more like a set of rheostats that need balancing, not boosting. Switching on when appropriate and off again when not needed.
As we step into the new year, we are still in the middle of winter snot season with many viruses preferring to circulate during cooler climes. This is why you are 80% more likely to get a cold during winter. While I’d argue that taking care of your immune system should be a priority for life and longevity, not just for the seasonal colds and flu (or the latest pandemic), we should all be taking extra steps to safeguard out immunity this winter.
There is a plethora of things that can influence our immunity. Some, like genetics, we can’t control but there are lots of things we can do. Here are five tips to help keep you well this winter, even though you might just feel like hibernating until spring.
- Focus on your overall dietary pattern, rather than a few ‘immune boosting’ superfoods. Make sure it is plant-rich and low in ultra-processed foods. Be sure to hit optimal daily protein and healthy fats like omega 3’s.
- Don't consistently over or under consume calories. Mounting an immune response is energetically costly. If we are under eating calories consistently then this could have a negative impact on our ability to fight infections. On the other hand, if we are consistently over consuming calories, this excess energy has to be stored and this can deregulate our immune system.
- Focus on quantity and quality of Sleep. Sleep is really key in the functionality of our immune system. Melatonin that we produce when we go to sleep is very restorative and anti-inflammatory. There is not a magic number for everyone, but best is to maintain a consistent bedtime and wake time and calibrate based on how refreshed you feel upon waking.
- Move more, move more often and move in lots of different ways. Just like we need diversity and abundance in our diet, we need this in our movement patterns too. It’s great if you already exercise regularly but remember to move your body regularly throughout the day and break up sedentary periods.
- Don’t underestimate the impact of stress. We don’t always consider the negative effect stress can have on your immune function. It might often feel stress is psychological, but it's always biological. There's lots of stress chemicals that are released into our bloodstream when we feel really stressed which have directly suppressive effects on immune function
For more immune-nourishing tips and tricks follow:
Grab a copy of my Winter Wellness Guide here: