How to Support Your Immune System with Sarah Ormerod
Full disclaimer: there is no magic pill, food or formula that can prevent any exact illness, sorry! But there are ways you can support and help strengthen your immune system by choosing to eat the right foods and follow a few simple lifestyle choices.
We spoke with Nutritional Therapist and Founder of Thryve Nutrition, Sarah Ormerod, mBANT CNHC, to give us the real low-down on supporting our immune system when we need it most.
Q: These last few weeks has left most of us looking for ways to stay resilient, look after our health and the people we love. What’s your top-line advice for staying healthy?
A: Sadly, there is no food or supplement that can protect you from getting the coronavirus. First and foremost, follow the guidelines provided by the Government and Public Health England to the letter; wash your hands and adhere to social distancing rules. Nevertheless, there are some things we can all do to support our immune function and the body’s resilience when it comes to fighting infection and dealing with stress and anxiety.
Q: What actually is the immune system?
A: The immune system is like your body’s private army, ready to jump into action and remove anything it doesn’t recognise. It is an incredibly complex system, but put simply, it is made up of two lines of defence; the physical barrier, which stops pathogens entering the body. This includes the lining of your gut, your nose, tears and skin are all part of this defence mechanism. When this doesn’t prevent infection, the second line, known as ‘cellular immunity’ will kick in. This is made up of many types of immune cells which seek to kill and destroy invading pathogens and bacteria.
Q: So how can we support the lines of defence, get them well balanced and working effectively?
A: Opt for a diet rich in colourful fruit and vegetables, packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants all contributing to a healthy immune system. These may be harder to get hold of right now, so also consider frozen options like stewed fruit to make it last for longer and soaking dried fruit when fresh isn’t available. Açai berries in particular are renowned for their powerful antioxidant content, a great addition for keeping the immune system supported. Blended into smoothies, Açai bowls and recipes, you’ve got a tasty powerhouse, fun to make and easy to store frozen for longer periods of time.
Q: Can you give us a run-down of some nutrients to pay particular attention to?
- Vitamin C, which can be found in citrus fruits (orange, lemon, limes, grapefruit), kiwis, strawberries, broccoli, sprouts, red and green peppers and berries. It enhances the effectiveness of our first line of defence and effectiveness of the immune cells responsible for eliminating free radicals
- Vitamin A, found in Açaí, orange and yellow fruit and vegetables such as butternut squash, carrots and sweet potatoes as well as broccoli, spinach and dark green leafy veg. It helps keep the body’s first line of defence healthy by regulating something called secretory IgA.
- Vitamin D found in mushrooms (the plant-based source) as well as oily fish and egg yolks. Living in the UK, the NHS recommends supplementation of a minimum of 1000iu between October and April, particularly when the immune system may be compromised.
Q: Other than our diet, what lifestyle choices can we make to boost our immune system right now?
A: Manage stress. Stressful situations stimulate cortisol, the stress hormone, which when chronically raised can impact on immune function. Build some calming activities into your day; conscious breathing exercises, yoga, listening to calming music, drawing, breathing in some fresh air if you can and carving out time to speak to loved ones. Find what works for you and make it a priority.
Increasing your intake of foods rich in magnesium and B vitamins such as green leafy veg (spinach, kale), nuts and seeds, cruciferous veg (broccoli, cabbage, sprouts) legumes and seafood will also help to balance the nervous system.
Prioritise sleep. Strong evidence exists that sleep enhances immune defence and helps healing. When we don’t get enough our infection fighting antibodies and immune cells are compromised. Aim for 7-8 hours a night, keep a regular sleep/wake cycle with the aim of being asleep by 11pm as the immune system is believed to recharge between 11pm & 2am.
About the author: Sarah Ormerod, founder of Thryve Nutrition is a Nutritional Therapist (mBANT CNHC), based in Edinburgh, Scotland, specialising in nutrition for endurance sport.
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Sambazon. Photo by Kleen Kitchen.