As avid supporters of World Health Day, we are keen to raise awareness about health and well-being; encouraging people like you to be the best versions of themselves. A strong immune system is a sure indicator of good health. A healthy immune system is an integral part of keeping us well, for example, by helping to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms associated with illness. So, do you have good immunity? Here I run through 6 tell-tale signs of a strong immune system, and detail my top tips if you suspect you need a little extra support.
As we continue on through a global pandemic and have recently celebrated World Health Day 2021, immunity is still very much top of mind. Here I run through some signs that indicate a strong immune system, including:
You have good gut health
You recover well from colds and flus
Plus, the addition of some helpful practices which can help you to achieve more optimal immune health:
Follow a healthy diet
Drink more water
Have a laugh!
First, lets start with the signs that are suggestive of solid immune function:
1. You have good gut heath!
As is inevitable in many of my blogs, it's time to turn your attention back to your digestion. Did you know that up to 80% of your immune system is thought to reside in your gut? Therefore, it makes sense that a healthy digestive system is indicative of healthy immune functions. Crucially, research has shown that a wider spectrum of good gut bacteria is a sure sign of healthier immune responses. 2
Need a helping hand?
So, how can you tell if you have a wide range of good gut bacteria? The key is eating variety. As a rule of thumb, I ask that people aim to eat at least 30 different fresh foods per week, and then add a whole new set on your next week's shopping list! Some fresh foods that act as prebiotics include bananas, chicory, apples, artichokes, leeks and asparagus; all of which will help to keep your gut happy; whilst good quality fermented foods such as sauerkraut should be added sparingly too.
2. You recover well from colds and flu
Signs of a strong immune system can include eating a varied diet, drinking enough water and sleeping well. However, whilst many might assume that falling ill isn’t a sure sign of strong immunity, how well you recover after being ill can be a better indicator of how well your immune system is working.
Whilst your immune system is designed to help prevent the invasion of bugs, every now and again one might make its way in and you’ll find you succumb to the symptoms of an unwelcome cold or flu infection. This is quite common so don’t fret, however, most of us should hope to starting feeling better after a few days. If instead your symptoms are lasting a lot longer, say, over a week or two, then it could suggest that your immune system is struggling to get over it.
Need a helping hand?
If you’re frequently ill, or struggle to get over infections once you’re struck down, then it’s possible that your immune system could need some support. Whilst the advice throughout this blog is a good place to start, a herbal remedy such as Echinaforce may also be a useful addition to your regime.
My Top Tip:
Echinaforce Echinacea is licensed to help fight the symptoms of cold and flu, and can also help to support the immune system by increasing your resistance to infection. Please note that if you have a current infection and your symptoms last longer than 10 days whilst taking echinacea, you should stop taking it and visit your doctor for advice. If your doctor has any real concerns, they can run different tests to look at your immune system more closely, for example, looking for the presence of certain antibodies against infection.
If you're consistently eating well, then you can almost guarantee that your immune system is reaping the benefits. However, what constitutes as healthy? Unfortunately, there are a number of different 'versions' of healthy out there, some that perhaps don't always meet a nutritionist's seal of approval! When it comes to a diet for supporting the immune system, some tick boxes are as follows:
Ensure you are eating the rainbow! Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables including lots of leafy greens, broccoli, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, citrus fruit and berries. These options are particularly rich in both vitamins A & C, which your immune system will thank you for.
Next, vitamin D is important too. This nutrient is perhaps less readily available in foods so you really need to be eating a varied diet including oily fish, eggs and mushrooms, to help hit the mark and ensure you benefit from vitamin D's protective, immune-modulating properties.1
Limit your consumption of pro-inflammatory food options including high amounts of sugar, omega-6 dense vegetable oils, caffeine or alcohol.
Need a helping hand?
If you’re keen to improve your diet in the right ways, but can’t face going extreme, then these tips are perfect for helping you to make some positive changes:
Try to work a couple of different fresh fruit or vegetable ingredients into each meal, which means your total count will gradually build up throughout the course of the day. Plus, no food waste allowed! If there are some lonely looking veg in your fridge towards the end of the week, ensure you experiment and work those into your next meal.
Getting sufficient vitamin D through your diet is arguably no mean feat, so don’t worry, there are other ways! To ensure you’re getting enough to support your immunity, try taking a supplement as per government advice. 10ug or 400iu daily is more than enough.
The best way to ensure you’re eating well is to cook from scratch. This way you don’t need to worry about too many hidden ingredients, including sugar, bad fats or additives, which could drive inflammatory processes in the body. So, cut down on packets and try cooking your own versions of some of your favourite meals.
2. Drink more water
Could drinking water regularly be linked to strong immunity? Now, although this idea isn't fail-safe, here are a few reasons why drinking between 1.5-2l of water daily could actually help put you in good stead for fighting off bugs in the near future:
Keeping properly hydrated helps encourage good circulation. Good circulation and healthy lymphatic drainage ensure that our immune cells can get where they need to be, and fast, plus, it helps to make sure that any pathogens are dealt with appropriately.3
Good circulation can help support healthy healing processes. Slow healing wounds could be a sign of compromised immune system but this can also be linked to poor circulation. Drinking plenty will help support both areas.
Water keeps your skin healthy too – hydration from within. Your skin is your biggest organ and one of the first barriers bugs often come up against. You need to keep properly hydrated in order to help keep your skin suitably healthy; any breaks or compromises in the structure of your skin could give opportunist bugs an easy access point!
Really interestingly, your skin reacting to certain stimuli, for example, insect bites, is actually one of many sure signs that your immune system is working well. However, skin conditions such as eczema could indicate that your immune system is instead over-active, and you may need some help to rebalance.
Water is also essential for helping to support the integrity of our mucous membranes. Mucous membranes line the inside of our nasal tract and airways and have an important role in protecting us from infection by pathogens. If these are too dry, this protection may be compromised.
Need a helping hand?
When it comes to water intake, my tip is to aim for a gradual intake. Don't guzzle too much around meal times or at the end of the day if you've forgotten, but try to keep a favourite glass or bottle more visible throughout the course of the day so you can be reminded to get sipping. Remember too, that teas and coffees don't count! Tracking your water intake via an app can be a really helpful practice to help determine just how much (or perviously how little!) water you are consuming in order to help keep you on track.
3. Sleep soundly
Are you asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow? Sleeping well is arguably one of the best pieces of advice I can give you if you're keen to help improve your immune functions and overall health. Sleeping well, plus at the right times (this means going to bed at a reasonable hour) can have a strong regulatory influence over your immune system.4 This down-time allows your immune system to repair and recuperate, whilst there are less demands elsewhere around the body. Conversely, sleeping soundly can also be a good indicator that things are working as they should. Whilst the immune system is operating during the night, there is the release of certain immune cells called cytokines. Some of these cytokines are thought to be 'sleep promoting' and can actually help to encourage more regular sleeping patterns.5
Need a helping hand?
If you are worried that poor sleep could be hindering your health, then we're here to help. Keeping a notepad by your bed to help empty your mind of thoughts before retiring for the night is a favourite tip of mine or, if you aren't on any sleep medications, a herbal remedy such as Dormeasan Sleep could also be an option.
4. Have a laugh
Did you know that your mood could also be having an influence on your immune functions? Being lonely, for one, makes us less likely to respond well to stress, which can heighten inflammatory processes and impact the immune system.6 In contrast to this, laughter may be decidedly helpful. Laughing has been shown in research to have positive, immune-enhancing effects, partly down to the stress-relieving capabilities of having fun and a good laugh – enjoy!7,8