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The Truth About Boosting Your Immune System

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

On Wednesday night, the BBC ran an hour-long show on ‘The Truth About Boosting Your Immune System’. Dr Ronx Ikaria looked at a range of products and activities to see about the impact on your immune system, especially in the current pandemic!

There were some key insights that came from the programme …


ALCOHOL


They did an experiment to see the impact alcohol has on the immune system. They tested Dr Ikaria’s immune cells before and after alcohol (three glasses of Prosecco in one sitting).

There are several different types of immune cells in the body, and the specialist immune cells are called lymphocyte B and T cells. They are the ones that can make a custom-made attack on infections, create antibodies and then stop the infection striking again, thereby offering long term immunity.


This experiment demonstrated that alcohol decreases the number of lymphocytes by up to 20-30% and in some cases, even up to 50%! Alcohol therefore leaves us more prone to infection when we drink alcohol. (The good news: Our immune cells do recover if we take regular breaks from alcohol).


LEARNING: IF YOU DRINK ALCOHOL, MAKES SURE YOU HAVE 3-4 ALCOHOL FREE DAYS IN THE WEEK


SUPPLEMENTS


Dr Ikaria took a number of high street supplements such as Vitamin C, Vitamin D, echinacea and elderberry, to see if they actually work. They claimed that supplements can only help the immune system in a minor way and not to expect any therapeutic effect. They also found that some OTC (over the counter) supplements hardly contained any of the stated ingredient at all!


Supplements can be a minefield and for me, the main high street brands are ‘cheap for a reason’! They are more likely to be synthetically made and contain ingredients such as fillers, hydrogenated oils, colourings and artificial flavourings. (Don’t get me started on those that come as gummies!).


Hence, the efficacy of these is going to be poor, but also, we are all made individually and one supplement can work great for one person and not so well for the next.


I do think the right supplements can give a therapeutic dose but that is why you shouldn’t just buy OTC and should seek the correct advice from a trained professional, who can also advise you on the better quality supplements too.


We should be getting most of our nutrients from our diet, especially nutrients such as vitamin C and zinc, and that we shouldn’t be seeing supplements as the ‘quick fix’. Fine in the short-term but you have to address your diet!

“Your healthcare should start in the fridge!”

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Vitamin D is the exception … most of us should be supplementing with vitamin D over the winter months as we only get this in the right amounts form the sun.


LEARNING: SUPPLEMENTS MAY OFFER SOME BENEFIT BUT YOU HAVE TO WORK ON YOUR DIET, AND SEEK PROFESSIONAL ADVICE WHEN TAKING ANY SUPPLEMENTS.


GUT HEALTH


Gut health is vital when it comes it immune health. Especially when around 80% of your immune system is found there!


The gut microbiome is really important for the development of our immune system, and research has found that the bacteria in our gut train our immune system to spot friend from foe. Fibre is therefore your friend, and may help give our immune system more of a “killer instinct. It provides vital ammunition to our immune system, helping it to fight off infection”.


LEARNING: EAT MORE FIBRE TO SUPPORT YOUR GUT AND IMMUNE SYSTEM


(MODERATE) EXERCISE


Exercise can help bring your immune system back into balance, but it needs to be moderate. Training too much or too hard can actually make you more susceptible to coughs and colds. (We also know that those who train too much and/or elite athletes are more likely to have intestinal permeability or “leaky gut” … back to the gut again!)


Moderate = getting the body warm, your heart rate going and perhaps with a little bit of sweat.


When we exercise, it increases our blood flow, thereby moving more immune cells more rapidly into our veins and responding the physical stress to our body. Exercise can multiply our lymphocytes up to six times, and having more of them makes our immune system more effective at fighting infections.


LEARNING: MODERATE EXERCISE IS IMPORTANT AND NOT JUST FOR OUR IMMUNE HEALTH, IT WILL ALSO SUPPORT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH TOO


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