I strongly feel that it is more important to build your own defences than just to rely on a vaccine to keep you well. Developing a strong immune system is easier than you think and I have narrowed this approach down to 6 simple steps. Read on if you would like to know what they are and how you can take control of your own health.
A word on vaccines
Before I lay out these steps I want to explain that I am not an anti vaxxer. However, I do believe that we musn’t fall into the trap of thinking that a vaccine is the be-all and end-all that will bring safety and certainty.
Viruses are too clever for us to just quash them outright. That’s why, with all our scientific advancements, we have never and will never come up with a cure for the common cold.
We can create as many vaccines as we like, and the pharmaceutical companies will grow grossly richer and richer, but we will never keep up with the multiple mutations or stealth tactics of viruses. We will also never be prepared in advance with a vaccine or drug to deal with novel viruses that will keep on emerging as part of our physical existence.
So what’s the answer?
We must respect our own immune systems, look after them and keep them in tip-top shape. We must appreciate that we all have amazing defences within us that are constantly surveilling the environment for threats and dealing with them second-by-second. If we didn’t, we would all have perished the moment we were born.
We are perfectly capable of dealing with viruses, and it’s common knowledge that the coronavirus is unlikely to be fatal. Recent statistics rate the risk at 2%. Generally speaking, those that fall victim have a compromised immune system in some way.
So then it is clear that we have to build our own immunity and look after this wonderfully effective system. A few basic strategies can go a long way in ensuring robust defences.
Easy ways to build immunity
1. Follow a basic Mediterranean diet
2. Deal with your stress
3. Get enough sleep
5. Look after your microbiome
6. Get outside
1. Adopt a Mediterranean diet
You can be quite relaxed and not follow this diet religiously. It is more a question of gently modifying your lifestyle to include clean, natural wholefoods every day.
There are a few key elements of the Mediterranean diet that you should aim to include, as follows:
As many plant foods as possible, especially those high in polyphenols.
Polyphenols are a family of phytochemicals that have powerful antioxidant properties and boost your gut flora. They are also vital for a well-functioning immune system.
Good sources include:
Good quality extra virgin olive oil (Australian is the best)
Nuts and seeds
Herbs and spices (fresh and dried)
Also choose fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C, needed to make and mobilise white blood cells. Best sources of this tried and trusted nutrient include:
Capsicums (especially red and yellow)
Grapefruit and other citrus fruits
Fish, especially oily fish such as sardines, salmon, gem-fish, rainbow trout, and barramundi. Fish provides important nutrients for your brain and liver and the essential fatty acids it contains are essential for a well-balanced immune system.
Also consider taking a good quality fish oil, such as the Herbs of Gold brand.
Legumes e.g lentils, soy beans, butter beans, chick peas, borlotti beans. Legumes are a wonderful source of soluble and insoluble fibre (essential for healthy gut flora which plays a big role in immunity), plus vitamins and minerals.
Good quality meat. You need protein to be able to make immune cells. Meat also helps you build and maintain good muscle mass – this is an important part of your defence system as you can draw on the amino acids contained in muscle at times of illness.
Meat is also a great source of zinc, vital in building healthy white blood cells and promoting good immunity.
If possible, choose grass-fed meat as these contain good amounts of essential fatty acids.
Eggs. Eggs are another great protein source. They also contain choline, a nutrient that helps control inflammation and oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress occurs when we do not have enough antioxidants to quench free radical production in cells. Free radicals result from various biochemical reactions in the body and from exposure to certain environmental substances such as nicotine, alcohol, chemicals and excessive sunlight.
Oxidative stress damages cells and tissues and can lead to chronic disease. Researchers have found that reducing oxidative stress can improve outcomes of Covid patients in hospital.
2. Tackle your stress
The impact of stress on your immune system cannot be underestimated. Stress can suppress your immunity and create chronic low-grade inflammation.
Inflammation is needed to help fight disease but ongoing inflammation causes chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes and leads to worse outcomes in patients who have coronavirus.
Stress also messes up your microbiome, crucial for immunity.
If your life is stressful consider a good stress supporting supplement that includes herbs such as:
· Withania (Ashwaganda)
· vitamin C
· B complex
I always get every patient to introduce a daily stress management practice. The best ones are:
· 15 minutes meditation as soon as you awaken
· Belly breathing (hand on belly, breathe deeply and watch it rise)
· Nostril breathing (Pranayama – see YouTube for lots of videos showing you how to do it)
· Gratitude journaling.
3. Get some sleep
Sleep is the main time when your body does its work of repairing and detoxifying. Poor sleep depletes your immune defences. If this is you, consider why you might not be sleeping.
If it is stress, see above for ways to achieve more inner peace and calm.
According to traditional Chinese medicine principles, the liver does most of its job of detoxifying at between 1 and 3 a.m. So if you are waking in the early hours of the morning, it might mean your liver needs more support.
Consider a supplement that contains:
· Milk thistle
· Turmeric (curcumin)
· Dandelion root
· Globe artichoke
Another reason for waking up is when you are experiencing a blood sugar drop. Try having decent amounts of protein in your evening meal (at least 100 g of poultry, meat or fish; 150 g tofu or legumes) or consider boosting your meal with a small protein shake. Also, avoid too many sugary snacks in the evening.
Recent research suggests that exercise increases antioxidant production and reduces oxidative stress.
And, as we said earlier, muscle provides a store of amino acids for your body to use to make immune cells when you are sick and aren’t able to eat properly. So building and maintaining muscle should be an important part of your immune strategy.
Moving and being generally active helps lymph move efficiently through the body. Your lymphatic system helps remove toxins from the body and also plays a role in fighting off disease-causing pathogens.
5. Look after your microbiome
If your body were a kingdom, your microbiome would be the residing royal family. Gut flora plays incredibly important roles in maintaining all systems of the body, including the immune system.
Among their many functions, they promote differentiation of white blood cells for a broader immune response and they regulate our immune system by boosting activity when it is needed and calming immune activity when there is no real threat.
Research has shown that giving probiotics to Covid patients when in hospital decreases fatality risk.
Ensuring plenty of plant foods in your diet helps provide prebiotic fibre to help nourish beneficial bacteria.
Also consider a daily dose of one or more of the following fermented foods:
Yoghurt with live bacteria
A good broad-spectrum probiotic is also worth investing in, for example, Orthoplex Multiflora.
6. Get outside
It’s important to get outdoors every day. This not only reduces stress levels, it also boosts vitamin D levels.
The Cancer Council recommends you stay protected when the UV index is above 3, but just a few minutes in the sun in summer will help maintain vitamin D levels. In winter, 10-30 minutes in the sun when the UV index is below 3 will do the trick.
Also consider 1000 iu of vitamin D supplementation every day, especially in winter, for example Bioceuticals vitamin D3 spray.
Here is a quick summary of all the practical measure we have talked about:
Eat plenty of plant foods, good quality meat, fish, eggs and legumes.
Ensure you are getting enough vitamin C and D, plus zinc. Combine good food sources with supplementation. I would also recommend you supplement with a probiotic and a good-quality fish oil.
Manage your stress levels and take a herbal stress supplement if you think you need it extra help.
Get plenty of sleep, sunshine and exercise.