Taking steps to support a strong immune system is always important .
Our immune system is made up of cells, proteins, tissues, and organs that defend us against external agents like viruses and bacteria. If it is not properly maintained, our immunity can get low and then any bit of rain can make us sick.
However, few people know that simple habits, like getting more sleep or exercising, can also boost the body's ability to defend itself.
Here are some tips on how to improve immunity for people of all ages. Healthy eating is key, but there are many more. Let’s take a look?
1. Consume more natural vitamins
Vit C - a powerful antioxidant, cell protector and immune booster as well as helping increase iron absorption and prevent scurvy, bleeding gums. Try eating: Pineapple, kiwi, lemons and oranges, red peppers are all rich in vitamin C.
Vit E - thought to have a preventative function in heart disease and clot formation, it is supportive to the immune system, helps prevent inflammation and promotes eye health. Try eating: Dark green vegetables, sunflower seeds, avocado and almonds are all valuable sources of vitamin E.
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids - key in the structure of every cell wall. Helps maintain your heart, lungs, blood vessels and immune system as well as being a valuable source of energy. Try eating: Oily fish such as tuna, sardines and salmon and for a vegan source try flaxseed oil.
Vit D - crucial for a vital immune system, helps control infections and reduces inflammation and helps to support strong bones by increasing calcium absorption - take a supplement for ease and sufficient amounts (ask your health professional for the correct amount to take for your situation). Try eating: foods such as cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, eggs (contained in the yolk). As discussed, a walk in daylight every day is also very helpful to increase Vit D synthesis in your body.
Zinc - helps boost your immune system, optimises your metabolism and cell growth and has a special function in maintaining a healthy sense of taste and smell. Try eating: chestnuts, whole grains, chickpeas, oysters and pumpkin seeds are all good choices to help increase the consumption of zinc in the body.
All these vitamins are essential for strengthening the immune system.
2. Make the most of herbs and spices
From a herbalist’s perspective, we have many herbs and spices that help to support the immune system & peripheral circulation (the body’s warmth regulation), as well as our nervous system.
Turmeric has an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial action. Try making: A Golden Milk- whisk 1tsp turmeric powder, pinch ground ginger(optional), pinch ground cinnamon (optional), pinch chilli powder (optional) into 1 mug of hot dairy free milk of your choice. Add one tsp honey to taste and drink hot- delicious!
Ginger, besides eliminating bacteria that are harmful to the organism, it warms the body, has known anti viral properties and increases the body's natural defences. Try making: Hot Ginger lemon - Grate 1 tsp fresh ginger into a mug of hot water, add ½ freshly squeezed lemon, sweeten with honey to taste. Drink hot. Enjoy :)
Onions and garlic not only give a special taste to food, but are also anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal agents. Eat liberally cooked and raw in your food to boost your immune system.
Finally, propolis, for having a powerful antioxidant action, is one of my favorite supplements to boost immunity. Try: some from your local beekeeper!
Other herbs to consider are:
Elderberry syrup/ extract - traditionally thought to boost your immunity, reduce inflammation, reduce stress and protect the heart and help with symptoms of flu and other respiratory illness. Try: make your own in summer (watch this space for recipe and method) or try Pukka, Viridian or Sambucol.
Echinacea - research suggests that Echinacea extract might assist with symptoms of respiratory infection and the common cold, when taken at the onset of the symptoms and can help increase immune function. Try: Irish Botanica/ Bioforce Echinacea drops.
Carrageen Moss (Chondrus crispus) - Excellent old Irish home remedy for coughs, sore throats with expectorant and antiviral function. Rich in Vit A, B12 and iodine as well as calcium, iron and magnesium.
Check out this wonderful article with recipes on Carrageen Moss by renowned food writer and seaweed enthusiast John Mc Kenna in the Irish Times:
This information is a guide for informative purposes only.
As always consult your doctor, qualified medical herbalist or other trusted health professional if you require specialist advice for your body and health status.
3. Do not miss out on the sun- or in Ireland daylight ;)
Vitamin D is mainly obtained from the sun, so it is advisable to spend some time in the sun every day, without sunscreen, preferably before 10 am or after 4 pm. Vitamin D is essential for maintaining bone health and maintaining a healthy immune system.
4. Stay hydrated
Hydration is essential for the proper functioning of the body, especially of its defense cells. A daily intake of at least two liters of mineral or filtered water is sufficient for building a good immunity. Teas, juices and vegetable milks are not included in this calculation.
5. Exercise regularly
The positive effects of exercise on the body include stress reduction and increasing the production of antibodies. Go for a walk or jog in nature or do your breathing exercises in your backyard. Using simple props, such as a rope or a chair, or even your own body weight, you can easily create your own personalised 30 minutes of physical activity each day even when you are confined to the house.
There is an array of online classes available run by professionals to suit every fitness and body type needs.
Although chores such as sweeping the house and cleaning the bathroom help, they do not replace regular exercise ;)
6. Have a good night's sleep
Studies show that people who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep.
Make sure you get at least 6 to 10 hours of sleep every night depending on your age. If you cannot, rest your body and mind as much as possible. Having a good night of sleep helps balance your emotions and contributes to the production of immune-depressing substances, such as cortisol in your body. If you find it difficult to establish a healthy sleep pattern try these simple steps for yourself:
- Switch off all screens at least ½ hour before sleeping. Keep your mobile phone out of the bedroom. Invest in a noiseless alarm clock if needed.
- Unclutter your mind e.g prepare your clothes for the next day, write down all unfinished tasks so you don’t play them over in your head, keep a bedtime journal or gratitude diary, air your room, shake and smooth your bed covers.
- Have a ‘mini me bedtime ritual’- take a shower, make a hot water bottle, make a calming cup of herbal tea, listen to white noise or a sleep time meditation.
- Try to get to bed by 10-11pm to optimise on deep sleep REM cycles.
If necessary seek help from a trained counselor or sleep therapist, either face-to-face or virtual.
7. Consume less processed food
Eating enough nutrients as part of a varied diet is essential for good health and optimal cell function, including that of immune cells.
Diets that lack variety and nutritive value, esp. if they consist primarily of ultra-processed foods, can negatively affect a healthy immune system. It is also believed that a Western diet high in refined sugar and red meat and low in fruits and vegetables can promote disturbances in healthy intestinal microorganisms, resulting in chronic inflammation of the gut, and associated suppressed immunity. Fast food and frozen foods, such as pizza and lasagna, are filled with dangerous preservatives. The preservatives in these foods cause infections in the body, lowering immunity.
Instead choose: a varied diet that suits your body type including plenty of fresh local and preferably organic foods such as fresh fruits and veg, foods rich in probiotics such as live yoghurt, fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha, wholegrains and unprocessed high quality protein and fats.
8. Stay away from alcohol and cigarettes
The use of legalized drugs like alcohol and tobacco, as well as the use of illegal drugs, lower the body's immunity, leaving it more vulnerable and predisposed to infections. To keep your body healthy, try to reduce or overcome these habits as much as possible.
9. Stop dieting
Avoid extremely restrictive diets whilst you are trying to strengthen your immunity. Ensure you keep a balanced diet without omitting essential nutrients. A diet that cuts calories too much also reduces your body's natural defenses.
10. Increase your consumption of whole leaf teas and herbal infusions
Antioxidant rich infusions such as green tea, hibiscus, pomegranate, ginger, turmeric and lemongrass/ lemon verbena can help improve your metabolism which help to boost and protect optimal body functioning as a whole.
Remember, teas/ herbal infusions are not a substitute for the two litres of water daily, they are supplementary aids to strengthen immunity and energise your body.
Some nice ones are:
- Ginger Zest- Warming Spice Tea with Ginger, Cinnamon, Elderflower and Liquorice
- ‘I am’ Be Better, Root Chakra Tea with Ginger, Cacao Peel, Cinnamon, Liquorice, Cardamom and Clove- Gold Star Winner 2021 Great Taste Awards
- ‘I Know’ Be Better, Crown Chakra, Green Tea Chai- Gold Star Winner 2021 Great Taste Awards
- ‘I Speak’ Be Better, Throat Chakra Tea with Lemongrass, Hibiscus, Lemon Verbena, Ginger and Orange Peel
As you can see, taking steps to help strengthen your body's immunity is something we all can try. Creating positive daily habits and taking good care of your diet helps a lot.
Karin Mueller is co-owner of Solaris tea and has been working in the field of wellness and health for over 20 years now.
She is a Medical Herbalist (BSc Hons), practising Midwife (BSc Hons), Massage and Spa therapist and experienced course facilitator and teacher on a wide range of topics related to mindfulness, meditation and women’s health.
She is currently also studying in the ‘Medicine of Light’ school to deepen her spiritual practise.