Who hasn’t succumbed to some virus or bug since mid December? I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t been shot down by some nasty critter... me included. This was inevitable after working in a germ zone for the past 10 days. I had considered going to work wearing a face mask aka Michael Jackson in an attempt to avoid the dreaded lurgy.
However when you’re all touching the same surfaces all day long, it was nigh on impossible to avoid, and my immune system finally had more than it could defend from. I was in bed all day yesterday but delighted to report I’m on the up already and so grateful that my immune system is awesome!!
I know at this time of year it’s harder than ever to avoid catching something. If you work in an environment with other people, commute on public transport or have kids at school, you’re going to be challenged in the immune department on some level. The point is, are you going to be down and out for a few days, or WEEKS!
The strength of your immune system depends on a few factors; your diet ofcourse, lifestyle, frequency of antibiotic therapy, exercise and state of mind.
Lets look at the bleedin obvious; diet. You are what you eat, it is that simple. Your body needs nutrients from fruits and veggies to support the immune system, it also needs iron and enough protein to build anti-bodies (See previous blog on plant based protein if you're vegan). So if you’re eating a ‘beige’ diet with little colour, or a meatless diet without eating beans and pulses, your ability to fight disease is going to be compromised.
Lifestyle comes into play too, there are several ‘anti-nutrients’ which will reduce your levels of vitamins even if you ARE consuming enough. Vitamin C for example is depleted in the body by smoking, too much sugar and alcohol. Stress increases the need for vitamin C tenfold, so if you’re in a particularly stressful job, or phase in your life, you should consider increasing your Vitamin C intake.
Why is vitamin C so important? It‘s a vital component of your natural killer cells, part of the innate immune system.
”Innate immunity refers to nonspecific defense mechanisms that come into play immediately or within hours of an antigen's appearance in the body. These mechanisms include physical barriers such as skin, chemicals in the blood, and immune system cells that attack foreign cells in the body. The innate immune response is activated by chemical properties of the antigen.”
Imagine a germ entering your body, the first thing our immune system sends at it are NK cells, so the more you are able to produce, the better chance you have of nipping the infection in the bud, or at least fighting it off quicker. Ta Dahhhh!
Then there’s vitamin D, not a fat lot of sunshine around in the Northern hemisphere this time of year! Even though it is fat soluble and you SHOULD have enough stored in your liver following the summer months, it’s not always the case as most people are covering up with SPF’s these days and not allowing the UV through the skin for the synthesis of this crucial hormone-like vitamin. Food wise it’s the fats from animal foods that contain vitamin D, so once again, on a plant based or low fat diet you need to supplement. In fact I would recommend everybody does through the winter, it’s a very important part of your immune system, especially if you have an autoimmune disorder.
Antibiotics? I think we all know that they work on bacterial infections well enough, and thank goodness! Miraculous discovery but sadly we are not provided with enough information on the side effects of antibiotics.
If you've had to take a course, you MUST take a course of good PRO biotics afterwards. Another vital part of your immune system is your microbiome; your gut bacteria, and unfortunately antibiotics are not specific about the bacteria they kill, they wipe out everything, the good guys as well. This leaves you weaker, and vulnerable to further infections.
It’s a sad state of affairs that our medical profession doesn’t address this, they’re not trained to. Some GI specialists will recommend and prescribe probiotics for some patients, but generally at GP level they are ignored.
What about Yoghurt and the likes of ‘Yakult‘ etc? Certainly consuming live bacteria will help maintain a healthy gut microbiome, but are not enough following antibiotics.
Exercise and state of mind? Really?
Yes really! There is enough research and evidence out there to prove that the fitter you are, the more robust your immune system. Up to a point that is, because over-training can weaken immunity and actually make you more prone to infections. How many top athletes do you hear of on a fine line between super-fitness and Illness? So
moderation is the key here.
As for state of mind, absolutely. If you’re depressed, so is you’re immune system.
Interestingly there is also increasing evidence which shows how a compromised immune system also affects mental health.
You wont find any help with that at the surgery, trust me, so best look after your immune system and your gut health if you want to become more resillient at this time of year, indeed all year round, and do what your Gran said; “Eat your Greens!”
If you need any help supporting your immune system, please do get in touch. I can consult 1-1 via FaceTime or Skype if not local.