Let’s make ‘boosting’ your immunity a thing of the past, and instead turn our focus to strengthening it for a longer term approach!
Immune-boosting ginger shots and green juices packed full of ‘superfoods’ may offer some benefits as part of your healthy lifestyle, but products marketed to give you a ‘boost’ don’t help you support your immune system to perform at its highest.
In fact, there’s no such thing as ‘boosted immunity’; no real short cut at all to a healthy immune system. Unfortunately the idea that you can give your immune system a jump start isn’t backed by scientific evidence.
A lot of the symptoms you experience when your body’s immune defences are triggered are those you’d associate with the illness itself. So the sniffles, body aches, fevers and fatigue aren’t actually caused by the virus or bacteria infiltrating your system, but are in fact part of your immune response—they each serve a particular purpose in making your body a less desirable environment for a virus to survive, while also signalling to your conscious mind to slow down and recover. Boosting your immune response in this instance wouldn’t actually serve much purpose—and could actually make you feel worse.
Many of the products that claim to boost immunity also claim to reduce inflammation. But inflammation is an important part of fighting off external threats, as it’s these inflammatory chemicals that tell immune cells where to go.
So what’s the answer?
The immune system is not just one single part of your body—it’s actually an entire network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to protect you from external threats such as bacteria or viruses. This is why a more holistic approach is beneficial, as there are so many elements to consider when building a strong and effective immune system.
What can you do to strengthen your immune system?
- Quit smoking (or continue to not smoke!)
- Establish a balanced diet with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals
- Try to stay active
- Reduce or cut out your alcohol intake
- Prioritise your sleep
- Practise personal hygiene
- Practise stress management techniques
The main takeaway is that if you want to give yourself and your immune system the best chance of protecting you from future illness, then your lifestyle needs to play a huge role.
Scientific studies have shown that smokers are significantly more likely to develop illnesses or disease than non-smokers—anywhere from 2.5–6 times. Smoking is associated with a huge range of health concerns, so almost any health advice will likely include reducing how much you smoke.
Eat a balanced diet
High volumes of processed foods can negatively affect your immunity, so to support optimal function of the immune system, you need a diet high in nutritious foods offering a variety of vitamins and minerals.
It’s also believed that the typical Western diet (high in refined sugar and red meat; low in fruit and vegetables) can cause disturbances in gut health which is associated with suppressed immunity.
Research shows that acute exercise (moderate to intense exercise for less than 60 minutes) is important for stimulating immune defences. Establishing a routine with near daily exercise (don’t be scared off by this; it doesn’t have to be intense exercise all the time!) can lead to an enhanced immune system over time.
However, there’s a fine balance between being active and highly active. Some studies have shown that high exercise training workloads (for example, athletes preparing for competitions)can increase risk factors for illness due to increased physical stress and muscle damage. The main message here is if you want a strong immune system, more isn’t always betterjust try to be consistent and keep it moderate!
Reduce alcohol intake
You knew this was coming… we are OYNB after all!
Consuming alcohol, especially in large volumes or regularly over time, can temporarily knock out your immune system as it impairs your immune cells’ response to external threats.
By reducing your alcohol intake, you’re limiting the damage that alcohol can do to your microbiome, immune cells and the incredibly important fine hairs in your airways that help to clear pathogens—all of which assist in strengthening your immunity.
Prioritise your sleep
Sleep is a vital human process which not only allows your body to rest and recover, but also to slow down and focus on other critical tasks. These important tasks include revving up your immune system to produce cytokines (associated with inflammation) which assist in recovery, repair and fighting off an infection.
Practise personal hygiene
This one may seem obvious (and you’re probably even more conscious of this than you would’ve been a few years ago), but we can’t downplay the importance of good personal hygiene for keeping yourself and others around you healthy. While exposure to some germs helps your immune system recognise threats in order to fight them off, personal hygiene stops your body from being overwhelmed by the germs it comes into contact with.
Regularly washing your body, but specifically body parts (like your hands) that repeatedly come into contact with external surfaces, can be crucial in preventing the spread of germs and viruses.
Practise stress management
It has been well documented in scientific literature that stress can have a negative impact on immunity, as it can cause dysregulation of specific immune responses. That’s why regularly practising stress management techniques, and creating a healthy work-life balance where possible are important steps in taking care of your immunity and overall health.
The way forward!
As we’ve discussed above, there are so many factors that go into strengthening your immunity. While it’s difficult to measure if your lifestyle adjustments are having an impact on your immune system, a holistic approach to protecting your health is definitely more effective than so-called ‘immune boosting’ products. Just try to implement small, incremental changes for your health and wellbeing over time, and reap the health rewards!
An entrepreneur and former senior oil broker, Ruari gave up drinking after excessive consumption almost cost him his marriage, and worse, his life. Going alcohol-free improved his relationships, career and energy levels, leading to him founding OYNB to provide a support network for others.