Bitesize Tips for Building Resilience: Five Simple Strategies to Strengthen your Immunity | Emma Bardwell
Robust immune health has perhaps never been more important. As we collectively recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and our lives start returning more to how they were before lockdown, it’s vital that we work on building our resilience to viruses, bugs and infections and improving our wellbeing for the better. Our health is one of our most precious assets and taking control of it will look different for each of us, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Leading UK nutritionist and Linwoods Health Foods ambassador, Emma Bardwell discusses how building up your defences is far more straightforward than people think, and highlights how they can start today with a few simple dietary tweaks.
A Balancing Act
A cursory glance on social media reveals lots of wellness enthusiasts talking about ‘boosting’ immunity. The fact is we can’t or shouldn’t try to ‘boost’ our immune systems. When operating at its best, the immune system is a finely tuned orchestra of cells and organs, molecules and tissue that needs to be perfectly balanced to work effectively and protect you properly. ‘Boosting’ immune function might mean turning up the volume so your system becomes imbalanced and potentially in crisis, which could it turn impact your health. Instead, we need to care for the immune system – giving it the right food, recovery time and environment – so it functions optimally.
Oestrogen has a beneficial effect on immune cells, which means women who are going through menopause or are post-menopausal have even more of a need to hone in on staying fit and healthy, inside and out. Oestrogen also influences our good gut bacteria (collectively known as our microbiome), so when hormone levels decline, many women find they’re more susceptible to infection and we see a rise in autoimmune diseases in women in their forties and above.
Five Simple Strategies to Strengthen your Immunity
1. Building a diverse microbiome is one of the most effective ways of strengthening your immune health. In fact, when you check out the overwhelming evidence now emerging, it’s hard to overstate how important good gut bacteria are to your health. The American Gut Project found that people who consumed at least 30 different types of plants a week had more diverse gut bacteria. So, an easy – and enjoyable – way to keep your trillions of gut microbes happy is by eating plenty of plant-based fibre, which they then feast on to increase their immune supporting prowess. Think vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.
2. Certain micronutrients are critical to a well-functioning immune system. In particular vitamins A, C, D, E, B6, B12 and the minerals folate, zinc, copper, selenium and iron. You can get all of these, with the exception of vitamin D (more on that below), from a diverse diet. If you’re vegan, vegetarian or have a particularly stressful or time-poor lifestyle, you may need to consider looking at fortified foods or supplementation.
3. Vitamin D has a considerable influence on our immune cells, yet one in five of us is said to be deficient. We make it when our skin is exposed to the sun but many of us aren’t getting enough. And while you do find vitamin D in some foods – egg yolks, mushrooms, oily fish – it’s not usually enough. That’s why, in the UK, we’re advised to supplement with 10mcg (400IU) from October-March, but people with darker skin, the elderly and those who spend a lot of time indoors might benefit from supplementing year-round and may well need a higher dose (your GP can check your levels if you’re unsure).
4. Regular movement is associated with better immune function as it stimulates or kickstarts certain immune processes. According to a 2010 study of over 1,000 adults, people who exercised for a minimum of 20 minutes a day, five or more days per week, reported 43% fewer days of upper respiratory infections than those who were sedentary. And if you exercise outside, even better. Fresh air and being in nature are not just health promoting as they reduce stress and lower inflammation, they’re also thought to enrich the diversity of our good gut bacteria.
5. Sleeping is like a nocturnal salve that enhances every system in your body – including the immune system. When we sleep our bodies undergo a whole raft of processes that helps us recover and recuperate from the day. Chronic sleep deprivation puts you at increased risk of disease and infection, so it makes sense to prioritise shut eye as much as you do nutrition and exercise. Other factors that help promote good sleep are: avoiding alcohol, not eating too close to bedtime, exposing your eyes to sunlight first thing in the morning and brain-dumping any worries or intrusive thoughts in a journal before bed.
Linwoods Immune Support has been specifically formulated to help support the maintenance of the normal function of the immune system. It’s rich in fibre (each serving contains 3.5g) and has 100% of the recommended daily intake of B12 and vitamin D. It also features a host of immune supporting vitamins and minerals, including omega 3, selenium, iron, zinc and vitamin C. It’s delicious sprinkled on porridge, soups and salads, stirred into yoghurt or blended as part of a smoothie.