Because of the current medical climate, many are keen to be proactive and boost the immune system naturally. This article outlines some things that you may want to do in order to increase your resilience against microbes. It’s important to know that a healthy immune system isn’t necessarily a strong immune system. The role of our immune system is to tolerate and understand when to react to an external threat or not. So the term – “boost the immune system naturally” which many look for – is misleading and this is why I prefer to talk about supporting your immune system.
Root causes of “dis-ease”
There are 3 main root causes of “dis-ease” – when the body is not at ease. Food that we may define as “crap”, i.e. food that doesn’t serve us. Food that not only doesn’t provide the required nutrients, but also that may be seen as a foreign invader, because to your body it doesn’t look like real food. Think “packaged foods” or “ultra-processed foods”.
The 2nd root cause is toxins. This is a large category. This includes pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other parasites, especially the kinds that can linger). But also chemicals in our food (from conventional agriculture), water, air, skincare and other products we use around our homes. Negative thoughts, self-talk and limiting beliefs are also seen by the body as a toxin.
The 3rd root cause is stress. Stress has many negative issues on our bodies and how it functions. Stress is not just something that “happens in our head” or that describes an inability to cope with the daily demands of life. Actually stress has a huge physiological impact. The stress hormone cortisol will have a massive role in some processes working or not working. And one of them is the immune system.
Impact of these 3 root causes of “dis-ease” on our immunity
As you can imagine, all our systems in our bodies are interconnected. So if something happens or doesn’t, this might have a knock-on effect to other systems. And therefore, in order to “boost the immune system”, we need to address a lot of the root causes that make our bodies less resilient.
Food provide essential nutrients for the good functioning of the immune system
If we eat foods that aren’t supportive of our health (this will look different for different people), we are not going to get the nutrients that we need for our immune system to function as needed. Poor food choices can also lead to poor digestion, which also means that we are not able to get nutrients from the food we eat – yet again a vicious cycle.
Toxins keeps our immune system on alert
And if we eat a lot of ultra-processed foods, we will also send our immune system on alert and it will be chronically activated to respond to these “foreign invaders” or toxins all the time. Not only that, but the air we breathe and the water we drink are full of toxins. And because of an immune system on alert to deal with food-like toxins, or the skincare products we use – or because it doesn’t receive all the nutrients it needs, it is not able to handle the real threats such as virus and bacteria. So again, we enter a vicious cycle.
Stress stops our immune system from functioning properly
The last category, stress, also has a really important impact on our immunity. As mentioned above, stress can virtually reduce your immune system to nothing. Because fighting off a virus or bacteria is not a priority when the body is on alert and needed to survive, it’s not an essential survival function, unlike cardiovascular, muscle power or breathing. So stress literally shuts down our immune system. It may look like different things. It may mean you are more prone to infections. But, it could also mean you never fall ill – or rather you do not feel ill (as the symptoms of an infection are not the infection itself, but the immune system responding to it). But the minute you slow down, like holidays or weekends, you catch a cold.
So managing your stress alongside reducing your exposure to toxins, as well as your ability to handle toxins and eating nutritious foods will go a long way in creating a healthy immune system.
The importance of our immune system
I’m not going to go deep into this, as it would be too long, but simply, our immune system is critical for life. Actually, if we had no immune system we would die. It defends us against all external threats and when these slip through the cracks, it is therefore to respond, heal and repair any injuries done.
If you’d like to learn more about how the immune system works, this article is excellent and goes into quite a few details, yet it is very readable even for someone without a degree in biology 😉
A healthy immune system is a tolerant immune system
The article mentioned above goes into quite a few details too.
What is important to state is that you do not want too strong an immune system. You want an immune system which responds appropriately to the threats – or doesn’t respond at all if it shouldn’t respond. But when an immune response is too strong, this could be leading to allergies, or even autoimmunity. In both cases, the immune system is responding to something it recognises as a threat – but isn’t. Likewise, a weaker immune system could lead to chronic bacterial or viral infections, which is another problem altogether. So again, to boost the immune system naturally or not is not necessarily our goal. Our goal is to have a healthy and balanced immune system.
How to build a healthy immune system
But there are a few things we can do to build our immunity. Obviously, continuing on our theme of the 3 root causes, in reverse order, here are some tactics you can put in place:
- reduce your stress or increase your resilience to stress: reducing our stress is not always possible, but what is critical is to ensure that we have restful breaks between phases of intense stress. Activities such as walking outdoors or having a hobby can be really helpful. Ensuring loads of good quality sleep. Reducing our intake of substances that are just “coping” strategies, such as alcohol, sugar or caffeine.
- reduce your exposure to toxins or increase your ability to detoxify the toxins: this is a large category and one you do not have full control over (e.g. the air that you breathe is somewhat outside your direct control!). But there is a lot you can do. For example: eat organic foods, free of pesticide and herbicides. Switching brands of skincare and personal care products for cleaner alternatives. Ditch the bleach for water, vinegar, essential oils and microfibre cloths, etc.
- increase the amount of nutritious foods you eat: a wholesome food diet (basically cooked from raw ingredients) is massively supportive of your immunity. We will go through a few specifics below. And it increase the nutrients you get, as well as reduce the immune response your immune system will mount against foods that don’t look like foods.
Specific nutrients that are supportive of immunity
There are a few nutrients that are particularly key to your immune system.
this will be the subject of a specific article, but Vitamin D is crucial to our immune health and sadly, because of our fear of sunshine and our love of sunscreen, we are not exposed to the sun enough to produced what we need to see us through winter. In high latitudes, our opportunity to do so is only limited to a few months a year. It’s hard to get enough Vitamin D from our foods, so during winter, it is crucial we supplement with it.
it is a crucial mineral for immune health. A lot of people have mild zinc deficiencies and this can lead to increase susceptibility to colds and other infections. It is also needed for growth and wound healing – another crucial immune function. The highest food source of Zinc is Oysters, otherwise beef, pumpkin seeds, pecans and quite a few other nuts.
it is a fat-soluble vitamin and therefore need good fat digestion and absorption and enough fat in the diet (low-fat diet? no great for Vitamin A!). Also Zinc and vitamin A work together, so zinc deficiency can lead to vitamin A deficiency. It’s really hard to get enough vitamin A from plant foods, as the beta-carotene needs to be converted into the active form. But it’s not impossible. The best source of vitamin A is liver, but if it’s a no-no, eggs and dairy (that’s a no-no for me!) are also a good animal source. Otherwise, colourful fruits and vegetables: carrots, apricots (fresh and dried), sweet potatoes, kale, mangoes, melon.
This is a well know vitamin for immune support. It is critical for the formation of White Blood Cells, a key component of your immune system. Yes, citrus fruits are a great source, but actually the food containing the highest amount of vitamin C (per 100g serving) are red chilli peppers! And a lot of other vegetables – the sweet red pepper variety is also great. Leafy greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are also a great source. Get eating these greens! If you don’t have much inspiration for vegetables, please download my free ebook on vegetables
Using essential oils for immune support
Another great way to support your immunity is to use essential oils. Essential oils work by balancing the immune system. They are fat soluble which means they can penetrate the cell membranes (made of fats) and they support the body naturally get rid of the pathogens.
Some oils are also hydrophylic (attracted to water) and they can also be supportive of threats that live outside of the cells.
How to use oils for effective immune support
- Topically: apply oils (diluted if need be) on the bottoms of feet, rub the oils down the spine or any area of concern (e.g. throat, abdomen)
- Internally: this is only true for dōTERRA oils or oils that have been prescribed and dispensed by a qualified aromatherapist. One can take them in a capsule or take a drop under the tong or back of the throat
- Aromatically: diffusing is very supportive of respiratory complains and it can also clear the air of pathogens
- Surface cleaning: essential oils are very effective for cleaning your home.
Examples of oils that can be used to support the immune system
Blend of wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary