The coronavirus (COVID-19) has recently been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. With a vaccine months, if not years away, it’s understandable that many of us are feeling anxious. But, there are actions we can take individually to help strengthen our immune system and better protect ourselves from developing more serious symptoms.
A robust immune system is critical to good health. Without it, you’re more susceptible to viruses, infections and other diseases.
Immune system explained
Your immune system is an incredible feat of nature. It’s a complex network of cells and proteins that protects us from infection caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxins.
When functioning correctly, the immune system identifies threats and neutralises them. It can then keep a record of the event, prompting a faster response should the same threat enter our body again.
The immune system can be divided into two broad groups:
- Our innate immune system – Everyone is born with this. It’s the body’s nonspecific defense mechanisms that jumps into action immediately or within hours of exposure to an antigen (a toxin or other foreign substance that causes an immune response). These include:
- physical barriers such as your respiratory tract
- defense mechanisms such as stomach acid
- immune responses such as inflammation.
- Our acquired immune system – We develop this throughout our lives as our body is exposed to foreign substances. The acquired immune system consists mainly of white blood cells (B and T cells), and it ‘learns and remembers’ how to attack and destroy foreign threats. The acquired immune response is much slower to respond to threats than the innate system.
The main components of the immune system are:
- Bone marrow – produces white blood cells.
- White blood cells – help fight infections by attacking bacteria, viruses and germs that invade the body.
- Antibodies – a blood protein produced to neutralise a pathogen.
- The complement system – eliminates microbes and damaged cells from the body, promotes inflammation, and attacks the cell membrane of a pathogen.
- The lymphatic system – the first line of defence against disease, it filters lymph fluid containing lymphocytes (B and T cells) to remove waste and fight infection.
- The thymus – where T cells are trained and developed.
- The spleen—acts as a filter for your blood as part of the immune system and helps combat certain kinds of bacteria.
- The skin – provides a physical barrier against infection and also contains parts of the innate and adaptive immune systems.
- The gut – lined with a barrier of antimicrobial epithelial cells and home to your gut microbiome which helps program the immune system.
As you can see, your immune system has many resources at its disposal to help protect you against detrimental foreign threats. However, for optimal immune function, it’s essential to make sure we’re supplying our body with the right tools.
How to boost immune function
Diet strongly affects immune health, partly by modulating gut microbiome composition (1). Your gut microbiota plays a crucial role in our immune defense and needs fibre and a diverse range of foods to thrive, so aim to get a good variety of plant-based foods in your diet every day.
Studies show vitamins A, C, E, B6 and B12 and minerals like Iron and Zinc are essential for optimal immune function and can be found in fruits, vegetables and quality animal products. Choose organic whenever possible for maximum nutrient density and to avoid exposure to herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, which can further strain your immune system.
Look after your gut
Your gut is a major entrance for pathogens, toxins and allergens, so keeping it healthy is vital to fending off disease. The majority of our immune system resides in our gut, along with the trillions of bacteria (3) that make up our gut microbiota. These bacteria have a big influence on your immune system and response, with some even producing antimicrobial chemicals that ward off unwanted pathogens.
The gut is also lined with epithelial cells, which form a protective barrier between our bloodstream and the outside world. Maintaining a healthy gut wall helps prevent foreign invaders from getting through into the bloodstream.
80% of your immune cells are located in your gut.
Symbiotic Supplements containing both probiotics and prebiotics, along with other vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids, can offer excellent support for your gut health and immune system function. These include:
- Saccharomyces Boulardii (Probiotic) – has been clinically shown to help neutralise bacterial toxins, improve gut barrier function, modulate gut immunity, and kill Candida.
- Vitafibre™ – Tapioca Root (Prebiotic) – Vitafibre is a premium isomaltooligosaccharide (IMO) prebiotic fibre—a non-digestible carbohydrate that ferments in the large colon. This fermentation process feeds your friendly bacteria, stimulating their growth and producing short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate. Butyrate is a preferred energy source of the mucosal cells that line your gut wall, contributing to gut barrier maintenance and supporting immune function.
- Glutamine – an amino acid widely recognised for its role in the gut. It’s the preferred energy source for your intestinal mucosal cells and supports gut immune function.
Prioritise your sleep
A good night’s sleep is essential to immune health. Studies have found that sound sleep improves immune T cells (4), which help fight off infection. In addition, cytokines (a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation) are both produced and released during sleep (5).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that more than 1 in 3 adults weren’t getting enough sleep (6).
For people who get inadequate sleep, stress hormones may inhibit the ability of immune cells to function as effectively.
“Exercise mobilises (white blood cells) by increasing your blood flow, so they can do their surveillance job, and seek and destroy in other parts of the body.”
– Professor Arne Akbar, president of the British Society for Immunology and a professor at University College, London.
Aim to be physically active every day, with a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (fast walking, dancing, cycling) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (running, boxing, body pump).
The best defense against infection is a strong immune system. By maximising its health and function, we’re arming our body with the tools it needs to fight back.