Colds, flu, stomach bugs and more… a healthy immune system is important for every one of us, helping to keep us fighting fit in the face of those viruses and bacteria that can be harmful to our health.
A strong immune system can help us to keep bugs at bay, while minimising the effects of those that do find their way in, keeping colds from lingering and making sure that everyday illnesses do not develop into something more sinister.
So how do we keep our immune system working at its best?
Is it in the daily choices we make? Can we eat ourselves immune? Do supplements really help? Or is a good immune system all down to genetics?
Innate and adaptive: two sides to immunity
Our immune system is made up of two parts.
We are born with innate immunity, the first line of defence against those childhood bugs that hit from the minute you leave the womb, out in the big wide world.
Immune system cells called phagocytes are one of the soldiers of this part of your immune system, surrounding and attacking invading bugs to keep you well.
Produced by B-lymphocytes, these antibodies build up over time in response to exposure to bugs.
A healthy immune system will therefore provide a defence against certain viral or bacterial strains after we are first exposured to them (backing up the theory that most of us are unlikely to catch the same cold twice – sadly there are umpteen different cold viruses).
Vaccinations similarly prime your body to produce antibodies in response to certain attackers, giving you a further line of adaptive, or acquired, immunity to those attackers if we encounter them sometime.
Eating for health: the immune system diet
While eating a certain food cannot totally protect you from illness, there are some foods that may help to keep your immune system working well.
For example, did you know that the old wives’ favourite, citrus fruit, really does give you a healthy dose of vitamin C, a lack of which can lead to impaired immunity?
Elsewhere, broccoli and spinach are both high in antioxidants and vitamins, which all help to support your immune system.
Garlic is also considered to be great for the immune system. This is because the sulphur-producing compound allicin – the same stuff that causes the dreaded garlic breath – has been seen to boost the response of white blood cells that are part of the immune system.
Supplements for immunity
If there are vitamin-rich foods that can help to strengthen and maintain our immune system, it stands to reason that certain supplements can do the same, cutting out the middle man and providing a direct dose of immune system support.
Many vitamins and minerals are vital for the immune system to function properly, including vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc.
And likewise, live bacterial cultures can help you to maintain a healthy immune system, 70% of which is now known to be located in your gut, where those friendly bacteria do their work.
Bringing together the naturally occurring PB-VIR bacterial strain and good old-fashioned vitamin D, this live culture supplement is formulated with your immune system in mind.
Why is vitamin D so important?
Vitamin D just is not that easy to naturally find in our day to day lives. This is because, unlike other vitamins that are chiefly derived from our diet, our bodies produce some vitamin D in response to direct, natural sunlight.
Come October, as soon as we are plunged into autumnal darkness, our levels of vitamin D may well start to dwindle. In fact, vitamin D deficiencies are so common that many national governments and health services in Northern European countries recommend taking a daily supplement to boost your natural levels.
What else can I do to boost my immunity?
Boosted immunity is a bit of a myth – there is no way to push your immunity higher than its natural level.
However, you can support a healthy immune system with a balanced diet packed with vitamins and minerals (we recommend leafy greens, citrus fruits and oily fish) alongside plenty of moderate exercise.
Also vital to a well-functioning immune system is sleep.
Many of us overlook the necessity of a good night’s sleep, underestimating the influence that quality rest has on our immune function.
Research suggests that quality sleep reinforces your immune defences and that energy usually poured into muscle activity is diverted to the immune system during rest.
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