Our immune system is there to keep us healthy. Its primary function is to identify foreign substances that may cause harm to the body and eliminate these. Strengthening the immune system isn’t always front of mind, but there are a few simple lifestyle adjustments we can make to do just that.
1. Don’t Skimp On Sleep
Research has shown that sleep helps to boost our immune function by strengthening the body’s natural defence mechanisms. During sleep, our bodies produce cytokines, these are proteins that target infection and inflammation.
Chronic sleep deprivation can reduce the production of these proteins, making us more susceptible to infections. A study published in Arch Intern Med found that those with less than seven hours of sleep a night were more likely to develop a cold than those who slept for eight or more hours.
2. Stay Hydrated
Water is a component of lymphatic fluid. This fluid contains specialized white blood cells, called lymphocytes, that help to fight infection. As lymphatic fluid circulates, it helps to flush toxins and waste products from the body. The lymph system is made up of around 96% water, so even mild dehydration can have an effect. Water also helps to maintain the health of mucous membranes, the moist linings of the nose, mouth, throat and lungs.
When the body is dehydrated, the mucous membranes become dry and are less effective at trapping foreign particles, which can lead to respiratory infections. Similarly, dehydration can cause mucus in the respiratory tract to thicken, making it harder to clear the airways, increasing the risk of infection.
3. Take Those Vitamins
Micronutrients act as immunomodulators, these are substances that modify the immune system to help the body respond to disease or illness. A review exploring the immune-boosting functions of vitamins and minerals found that they can both stimulate and suppress immunological responses.
They achieve this by providing antioxidants that reduce cell damage caused by free radicals and by assisting in T cell synthesis. Conversely, deficiencies of vitamins and minerals in plasma can lead to reduced immune system performance and function. Certain vitamins and minerals can only be obtained through consuming nutrient-rich foods, so it’s worth assessing your diet to ensure you’re consuming enough.
- Vitamin C - Most commonly recognized as an immune booster, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which helps to protect cells from oxidative stress. It is also involved in the production of white blood cells, helping to fight off infection. Alongside orange citrus fruits, you can get your fill of vitamin C from bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cabbage.
- Vitamin B6 - B6 plays a role in the production of antibodies which help to fight infection, as well as in the regulation of the immune system. You can up your B6 intake by incorporating chickpeas, salmon, chicken breast and potatoes into your diet.
- Vitamin E - According to researchers, vitamin E is one of the most effective nutrients known to modulate the immune system. This is because it helps to keep the T-cells functioning at their peak. Increase your intake by adding almonds, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil to your diet.
- Zinc - Zinc is an anti-inflammatory, crucial to the functioning of the immune system. Not only does zinc activate enzymes that break down the proteins in bacteria, making it harder for bacteria to spread, but supports the growth and function of immune cells. Oysters are known to contain the most zinc, but if you aren’t a fan of seafood, you can find zinc in beef, chickpeas and oats.
4. Stress Less
Stress is a natural response to challenging situations, characterized by physiological changes, such as the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
While this response is necessary for survival, chronic stress has been shown to negatively impact the immune system, causing a reduction in white blood cells, such as T-cells, which are crucial for fighting off infection. Additionally, stress can cause the overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can lead to the development of chronic inflammation.
5. Get Your Sweat On
A study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science, found moderately intense exercise to increase the circulation of immune cells in the body, stimulating cellular immunity. Exercise has also been shown to reduce inflammation by lowering levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, boost the production of antibodies and improve sleep which, as we know, is crucial for optimal immune function.Sweat out those toxins in our Workout Leggings and Active Long Sleeve Top.