How to "Boost" your Immunity

Health, March 25, 2020

Don't throw your money away on pills and potions (pebbles) to help your immunity until you have the big rocks in place

During the winter or a global pandemic there is an increase in advertisements promoting potions and pills that will either help you get better when you are sick or will help prevent you from getting sick. They claim taking this vitamin or these special lozenges will "help strengthen your immunity". On the whole, the immune system does an awesome job of protecting you against disease causing microorganisms, and when it fails and a germ gets past the defenses you will get sick. Before you shell out your hard earned money on pills lets talk about the most effective ways to actually boost your immunity. You might be surprised that most of them won't cost you anything. The immune system is exactly that a "system". It is not a single entity, and to be functioning optimally it requires real balance with a more holistic rather than reductionist outlook.

Your best first options are to choose healthy lifestyle options. Let's start with the supposedly "common sense" stuff (if it was more common society would have FAR fewer health issues). Sometimes I feel common sense should be rebranded a super power.

- DON'T smoke

- Eat a diet high in plant based whole foods, whole grains, and low in saturated fat.

- Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 150min a week (this can be broken into micro-chunks of exercise)

- Maintain a healthy weight.

- Drink alcohol in "moderation". Don't just look at guidelines (heavily influenced by the alcohol lobby). The healthiest amount is probably nil (unrealistic in today's society so just treat alcohol as a "treat" or consume when "celebrating" not as your ONLY stress reliever or relaxing agent).

- Reduce stress and get better at dealing with stress.

- Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night, and work on good habits to promote sleep.

- Wash and dry your hands well, and try not to touch your face

Don't throw your money away

We are a society that loves quick fixes, short cuts, and taking pills and supplements. Many products that are advertised claim to "boost or support immunity", but this concept makes little scientific sense. "Boosting" certain cells in your body isn't always a good thing. Trying to increase cells of your immune system is complicated as there are so many different cells with particular roles to respond to certain microbes. The body is continually generating immune cells, and no scientist knows how many cells or what the best ratio is for the immune system to be at its optimum germ stopping best. Giving your body the best possible wellness environment with daily habits is the best way to ensure ongoing wellness.

EAT your vegetables

There is evidence to suggest that various micronutrient deficiencies (eg Iron, copper, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and Vit A B6, C, and E) can alter immune responses. Eating a high nutrient to kcal diet is an easy way to contribute to a robust immune system. The most nutritious food on the planet is fresh, seasonal vegetables, and fruit; nuts, seeds, and legumes. Basically eating a plant based diet will help your immunity. Focus on a wide range of produce and you will cover your micronutrient needs with a much-reduced need for supplementation. 


Vit D

As the COVID-19 Pandemic started to take hold more evidence came out on the importance of Vit D (sunshine vitamin) in our immune defence especially in the case of viral infections. One particular study lead by Prof Phillip Calder (University of Southhampton) also cited vit C, zinc, and omega 3 (Nutrients, 2020, 12 (4), 1181). Researchers in Dublin have also stated  that deficiency in Vit D plays an important part in the severity of COVID-19 infections.  The researchers from Trinity College in Ireland went so far as to suggest that governments needed to recommend Vit D intake and supplementation especially if unable to get outside during lockdown. Vit D refers to two biologically inactive precursors D3 (also known as cholecalciferol) and D2 (also known as ergocalciferol). Both are transformed into the non active "storage form" and the active form. Our bodies manufacture Vit D on exposure to sunshine so it's very important to get out and get your dose. 


Other ways to help your Immunity

1) Meditate - it has been shown that your immune system responds to thoughts, so meditation creates a positive mental environment for the immune system to flourish. A recent study (Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation, Davidson RJ et al, Psychosom Med 2003, Jul-Aug; 65 (4):564-70) showed that after weekly meditation for 8 weeks, 48 workers had significantly higher levels of antibodies compared to the control group. Meditation has also been shown to stimulate specific immune system brain regions (increases in electrical activity in the pre frontal cortex, the right anterior insula and hippocampus - these areas act as a command centre for the immune system)

2) Cold water - one of the simple theories behind exposing your body to cold water is that you gain vitality and resilience through managed stress. So by briefly exposing your body to stressors like cold water (or intermittent fasting and high-intensity exercise) you enhance your ability to deal with stress and enhance your well-being. This is not a new concept. In 1849 a German priest Sebastian Kneipp successfully treated his tuberculosis (incurable condition back then) by plunging into the frigid Danube river several times every week. His 1886 book "My water cure" was an international best seller. Cold water therapy isn't for everyone. The spike in blood pressure isn't recommended for people with high blood pressure, hardened arteries, or Raynaud's disease. 

So the next time you catch a cold don't blame your lack of pills and lotions, start to introduce some daily enhancing habits that will not only strengthen your immune system but work on overall wellness. Stop throwing money away on the small pebbles to build the wall of your immunity and work on the big rocks with daily enhancing habits.

Brad Dixon is a sports physiotherapist, coach, and wellness advocate based at EVERFIT Physio & Coaching. His passion is helping people strive for their potential with promotion of enhancing daily habits. The power is in your hands! Walking the talk helps deliver the message more authentically. If you want to connect with Brad he is at, and on Facebook, Strava, and Instagram (everfitcoaching).  


My book 'Holistic Human - Expansive Wellness Habits for thriving humans on a healthy planet' is available through my site for NZ and Australia