The immune system is made up of special organs, cells and chemicals that provide multiple lines of defence against invading disease-causing microbes, such as bacteria, viruses, toxins and fungi. Important players in the immune response are leukocytes, also known as white blood cells. These identify, attack and remove foreign pathogens from our body.
Whilst the immune system does a good job at protecting us most of the time, sometimes it can become weakened, making us more susceptible to illness. But, there are a number of things you can do to help strengthen your body’s natural defences.
A healthy diet is one of the best ways of supporting the immune system. Eating nutritious whole foods that contain plenty of antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, help protect the body from harmful free radicals. These are highly-reactive molecules in the body that can cause damage to cells and contribute to ageing, putting the body at higher risk of disease.
Fibre is another important nutrient for immune health, as it feeds the good bacteria in your gut. These bacteria are essential for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome that can help prevent harmful pathogens from entering the body through the digestive tract. Fruit and vegetables that are high in vitamin C can also help protect against minor illnesses such as the common cold.
Healthy fats such as omega-3 and olive oil have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Although inflammation is a natural part of the immune response, persistent chronic inflammation can suppress the immune system and increase risk of disease. Research suggests olive oil may help reduce inflammation, fight off harmful microbes, and lower the risk for diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Added sugars contribute to inflammation and diseases such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which all weaken the immune system. Therefore, limiting sugar intake is an essential part of an immune-healthy diet.
Alongside a healthy diet, it may also be beneficial to your immune system to take daily supplements.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and helps with the production of white blood cells.
Probiotics help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and promote the growth of natural antibodies and immune cells.
Zinc and magnesium are necessary for immune cell function and cell signalling in response to infections. They also help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
Regular exercise helps boost your body’s natural defences by reducing inflammation and promoting the regeneration of healthy immune cells. According to one study, even a single session of moderate exercise can improve immune health and the effectiveness of vaccines. Exercise alongside a healthy diet is a great combination for better immune health.
It is recommended that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Not meeting this requirement can weaken the immune system and has been linked to an increased risk for the common cold. This is because sleep is an important period of rest that allows the body to focus on producing immune cells, and frees up energy for the immune system to carry out it’s critical tasks. Sleep also helps strengthen immune memory, which means immune cells can recognise invaders they have come into contact with before and fight them off quicker.