10 ways to support your immune system

Your decisions change how your immune system protects you
Ian Locke
Ian Locke
Dec 8, 2020

Supporting our immune system so it can keep us as fit and healthy as possible is a no-brainer, even more so in the current Covid-19 environment. During every day, we make decisions which either support or hinder our immune system and at Thrive, we believe in valuing health above all else, so it’s no surprise that we want to help you make better decisions.

The steps which follow fall into two categories:

  • Actions to encourage your immune system to work better; and
  • Actions which aggravate your immune system.

Our immune system is incredibly clever and complicated, and most people don’t give it a second thought. Now it’s time to show it some love.

Keep your immune system fit and healthy

Your decisions affect how well your immune system protects you

1. Get more sleep

We need 7-9 hours of quality sleep each and every night for our bodies to be completely rested and ready to tackle whatever the day throws at us. Short sleep increases our susceptibility to colds and the flu as it messes with our immune system.

If you’re not getting your 7-9 hours, then try the following:

  • Prioritise sleep over almost everything else.
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet.
  • Go to bed at the same time each evening.
  • Set the alarm for the same time each morning.
  • Stop using all screens 1-2 hours before bed.

2. Reduce your stress

Short bursts of stress are natural and healthy, but being regularly stressed for extended periods (even if you feel you are dealing with it well), is not.

Our bodies release a hormone called cortisol when we’re stressed, which has the effect of turning down our immune system. As we need to deal with the stressor in front of us, we don’t need our body to say “oh, I feel a little off-colour; let’s rest”.

The best way to avoid this happening is to reduce your exposure to stress in the first place. Part of that is recognising when you are stressed and either avoiding it or choosing to react to it in a different way.

The list of undesirable stressors includes lack of sleep, poor diet and excessive exercise, which all hit your immune system in their own right.

3. Look after your gut

The health of your immune system is massively dependent on the health of your gut. You can support your gut by:

  • Eating a nutritious diet, minimising highly processed foods and diet drinks.
  • Adding prebiotic foods such as leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, onions.
  • Including fermented foods in your diet, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha.
  • Reducing your stress levels.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Sleeping well and for long enough.

4. Love your skin

Your skin is a major part of your body’s protection against environmental nasties as it forms a physical barrier. If you neglect it, it can get dry and cracked.

As with any cracks in defences, its effectiveness is weakened, so up your self-care routine and look after your skin. We’re not saying that Coronavirus can be absorbed through the skin, but we all know how broken skin can get infected by other nasties, forcing your immune system into action when it needn’t be.

5. Tighten up your nutrition

Just about every person we’ve worked with admits their diet could be better. What’s interesting is that most also know exactly what changes they need to make to be fitter and healthier. Being willing to make those changes is more challenging.

Foods to eat more of:

  • Fruit and non-starchy vegetables
  • Lean protein, ideally from organic sources

Foods to eat less of:

  • Anything which causes you gastric distress (e.g. bloating, burping, indigestion, etc.).
  • Highly processed foods.
  • Sugar.
  • Vegetable oils.
  • Foods cooked with high, direct heat (e.g. fried foods).
  • Refined flour products.
  • Processed meats.
  • Artificially sweetened foods.

6. Consider nutritional supplements

Even the best diets struggle to provide all the nutrients we need for optimal living. If you want to give your immune system a helping hand, then consider the following supplements:

  • Vitamin D3. This time of year, it’s hard to produce as much D3 as is optimal. It’s been associated with improved immune health and a reduction in upper respiratory infections. Consider taking 5,000 IUs per day.
  • Multivitamin. We believe most people should take daily, high quality, multivitamins as they provide more of what we need for our bodies to work as intended.
  • Probiotic. If your gut has not been at its best recently, then you may benefit from a surge of good bacteria from probiotics.  VSL3 is a favourite of Thrive.
  • Vitamin C. Whilst it’s not effective at helping you avoid colds or flu, vitamin C is good for reducing symptom duration, meaning your immune system can return to normal sooner.

7. Reduce caffeine intake

Caffeine has been shown to dampen down the immune system. Whilst we’re trying to help your immune system calm down, it’s not a great idea to do this artificially in case it misses something it should be dealing with.

The solution is to reduce caffeine consumption, but also tackle anything else which may be triggering an immune response (e.g. eating foods which really don’t agree with you).

8. Stop drinking alcohol

Both regular and binge drinking have been shown to negatively impact the immune system. It affects the structure and integrity of the gastrointestinal tract, meaning that a leaky gut is more likely to occur, ramping up our immune system.

There is no physiological need to drink alcohol (unless you’re addicted) and pretty much all of the previous touted benefits of drinking a glass of red wine a day have been debunked.

Just as the symptoms of Coronavirus include shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, alcohol consumption has been shown to impact our airways too. It affects the function of cilia, tiny hairs lining our lungs and respiratory tract which help keep airways clear of mucus and dirt.

9. Stop smoking and vaping

Tobacco smoking weakens our immunity against infections. There’s not much more to say really.

Vaping is widely regarded as a safer option to smoking, but that does not remove it from all health risks.  The body of research on vaping is still growing, but it is believed that vaping can damage immune system cells in the lungs and boost inflammation.

Basically, you’re better off not smoking tobacco or vaping.

10. Prioritise moderate exercise

I’ve saved this for last as it interacts with so many of the other suggestions. It’s also a bit of an odd one as exercise creates inflammation and we’re trying to minimise it. However, exercise done properly and not to excess only creates short term inflammation which our bodies use to improve and develop. It also helps us sleep better, manage stress more effectively and we are more inclined to eat nutritiously than if we don’t exercise.

The best exercise is the one you’ll actually do. That may be brisk walking, running, swimming, hitting the weights in the gym, group classes, HIIT, or any manner of things – to get immune function benefits, it really doesn’t matter. However, if you don’t recover well from exercise, get too many aches and pains or are fatigued all the time, then you should pull back a little.

What’s your action plan?

Nothing we’ve covered will guarantee you will be free of infections, illnesses or viruses, but making better decisions will go some way to minimising their impact. And remember that if this all seems too much effort, any improvement in the decisions you make will have some impact.

Let us know which steps you’re going to take.

Are you ready to thrive?

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