1. Know your own body
Take a moment to see how your immune system is doing with this quick checklist.
- I get three or more colds a year
- I get a stomach bug each year
- I get thrush or cystitis often
- I take at least one course of antibiotics each year
- There is a history of cancer in my family
- The glands in my neck, armpits or groin feel tender
- I suffer from allergies
- I take medication
- I have an inflammatory disease (e.g. eczema, asthma, arthritis)
If you said yes to more than three of these statements it could be a sign that your immune system needs some extra support.
2. Get help from your diet
Our bodies need the right intake of vitamins and minerals to keep our immune system working at its best. A deficiency of vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12 folic acid, C and E can result in a suppressed immune system, as can being deficient in iron, magnesium and selenium.
This is a handy guide to each of the specific vitamins and minerals and what foods you can find them in.
We can get all the nutrients we need from a well-balanced diet. We’re all pretty well versed in the basic recommendations of eating a mix of fresh fruit and veg, wholegrains, good fats, avoiding too many processed foods, salt sugar and so on.
However, if you’re following these recommendations and still feeling under the weather this doesn’t have to mean reaching for the supplements. Instead, you can look at your eating and cooking habits to see if you are getting the most nutrients out of the food you eat.
Alcohol and smoking both rob our bodies of vitamins A, C, B1, B6, B12 and calcium (which helps us absorb magnesium), amongst their many other impacts on our health.
Caffeine reduces our absorption of vitamins A, B1, B6, calcium, iron.
Certain types of medication including antibiotics, antidepressants, sleeping tablets and the contraceptive pill can also inhibit the absorption of some vitamins and minerals. It’s best to check with your prescriber for specific details.
What you can do
Take a look to see if anything could be affecting your absorption of nutrients. Choose the freshest produce you can, this includes foods frozen soon after harvesting such as peas. Quick cooking methods using minimal water, such as steaming, help to preserve the vitamin content in foods. You can also combine certain foods to help get more out of them. For example, vitamin C improves absorption of iron (non-animal sources) so add lemon juice to steamed or fresh greens like spinach and kale.
3. Stress and social support
Stress and anxiety are also nutrient robbers, particularly affecting our levels of vitamin C and some of the B vitamins (B1 and B6). This is coupled with the types of behaviours we may turn to when under stress: under or overeating, increased drinking or smoking, overworking and not sleeping well. All of which will affect our immunity and general health.
Health Psychology research has long shown the relationship between stressful life events and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases. However, we also know that social support can help buffer against some of these effects. So even though you may not feel like it when you’re under pressure, try to get some quality time in with your friends.
This social support doesn’t need to come from close family and friends either. It could be through a network you build as a volunteer, at a class or in your community.
- You can learn more ways to understand and manage stress in our Mastering Anxiety programme.
4. Keep it clean
Rhinovirus is the culprit behind the common cold. Colds are spread by direct contact with the rhinovirus (like being in the firing line of someone coughing or sneezing) and by indirect contact – touching surfaces where the rhinovirus is lurking.
Handwashing is one of the most simple and effective ways of reducing the spread of germs according to the World Health Organisation. However, research shows that many of us don’t do a proper job of it. Don’t forget between the fingers, the base of your thumb and the backs of your hands – the most commonly missed spots.
5. Yoga can help
Lymph is a substance which runs through our body, picks up bacteria and clears it out. Whereas blood moves around the body because our heart is pumping, lymph moves around the body because we move! So any exercise, including yoga asana, will support our immune system by getting our lymphatic system do its job. In yoga we also get to practise inversions such as Headstands, Shoulderstands and Forward Bends. These all have the benefit of the law of gravity to help to increase the circulation of our lymph even more. Read Yoga and our immune system for more about the physiology of the immune system.
It’s not just the asana part of yoga that can help. Pranayama (breathing techniques) such as Nadi Shodhana and Kapalabhati, amongst others, are said to improve our physical and mental health by clearing the obstacles in our body which prevent the Prana from flowing freely.
For more ways to support your health follow our Health Boosting Yoga programme with seven yoga classes all designed to support your immunity and your health in general.