Take the sunshine vitamin
Vitamin D is often overlooked, but it is incredibly beneficial to health and is a brilliant immunity support. In fact, a new study from Trinity College Dublin has found that supplementing with vitamin D can significantly reduce your chance of getting chest infections. Your body creates vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight, so, unless you spend a lot of time outdoors every day, you will most likely be deficient. Unlike other invaluable vitamins, your vitamin D quota is not easily met through diet alone, but, thankfully, supplements deliver the same benefits. As for what you should take and how much, choose vitamin D3 over D2 – it’s more efficient – and supplement with a dosage that is higher than the RDA. “I recommend 3,000 units of vitamin D to my patients,” says Dr. Michael F. Holick, author of The Vitamin D Solution. “But as an absolute minimum, adults should be taking 2,000 units a day.”
Support your gut health
Evidence shows the healthier your gut microbiome and digestive health, the better your immunity. “Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is home to 70 percent of your immune system,” explains British naturopath and nutritionist Rosemary Ferguson. “Eating badly causes inflammation and this affects communication between the two.” Thankfully, even small changes can make a huge difference – and quickly. “We used to think that it took months to improve the microbiome, but we now know that you can see benefits in just two days if you change the way you eat,” says Ferguson. She suggests eating beetroot, Jerusalem artichoke and radishes to cleanse the liver; garlic and onions to promote good bacteria; and beans, pulses and lentils to encourage the growth of bifidus bacteria in the large bowel. Additionally, Ferguson recommends taking the amino acid L-glutamine to heal the gut, as well as a daily shot of a probiotic drink such as Symprove.
Cocktail your vitamins and nutrients
We all know that vitamin C is good for immunity. What you may not know, though, is that it’s a brilliant vitamin to pair with other supplements for even greater benefit. On its own, vitamin C helps defend against infections, but, combine it with zinc, and together they produce new immune cells. Add in iron – from meat, fish and pulses – and your immunity cells become healthier. Finally, top up with vitamin A – found in eggs, carrots and sweet potatoes – to support your body’s T cells, which target harmful bacteria. As always, a varied diet does the job best, but it’s wise to take good-quality supplements, too.
Move your lymph
“The lymphatic system clears toxins and fights infection,” says Katie Brindle, a Chinese-medicine practitioner. “But, unlike the circulatory system, it can’t flow by itself – it needs moving.” If you’re sitting at a desk all day, or on the couch in a Netflix binge, your lymph movement will become sluggish and this means your body is not able to eliminate harmful toxins. To get things moving, Brindle recommends gentle movement, such as yoga or qigong. “Exercise increases the flow of lymph between 10 and 15 percent,” she says. Body brushing and deep-breathing techniques can help, but Brindle is a fan of gua sha (the practice involves scraping a flat, rounded tool, usually made of jade, over the skin, which stimulates the immune system via connective tissue). Make it a part of your evening routine: “Warm some oil between your palms and massage it into your skin before slowly sweeping the Hayo’u Body Restorer over the area with firm pressure,” instructs Brindle. “Focus on your chest, neck and upper back. The lymph nodes and tonsils are in this area, so this motion keeps them clear and working at full capacity.”
Meditation does more than just bring about a sense of relaxation – it can boost our health in many ways, and science now tells us that it’s hugely beneficial to immunity. Studies show that meditation changes gene expression and, importantly, influences genes related to stress, inflammation and wound healing, which are key to immunity. Luckily, you don’t have to go on a retreat to become a meditation expert, as there are so many brilliant apps, such as Headspace and Simple Habit, that will guide you through the basics.
Keep your magnesium levels topped up
You may already have dabbled with magnesium – whether that involves taking a pill at night to ease muscles and stress and help with sleep, or adding it to your bath in the form of Epsom salts, or applying it direct to your body (yes, skin absorption is another great way to consume this mineral) – but, if you haven’t factored it into your routine yet, magnesium happens to be the one mineral we’re most deficient in. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that, globally, 80 percent of us simply don’t consume enough of the stuff. Stress, your daily caffeine fix, sugar and alcohol can all lead to lower levels, as do birth-control pills and certain antibiotics, which is why taking magnesium year-round makes sense. Nutritionist Henrietta Norton recommends taking 375mg daily and, if you want to up your magnesium intake through your diet, add brown rice, almonds (a handful is enough) and Swiss chard to your meals.
According to new research, more than 98 percent of us now consume inadequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Given these findings, it has been suggested that low omega-3 levels are an issue equal to vitamin-D deficiency. These vital fats are needed by every cell in the body to operate efficiently and support everything from brain function and hormone regulation to heart and, of course, immune health. Norton recommends taking 1g of omega-3 fatty acids per day all year round and advises choosing a high-quality, cold-extracted and sustainably sourced omega supplement such as pollock.