How to REALLY 'boost' immunity: Vol 1
Updated: Apr 20, 2020
During these trying times, it's important to get your nutrition right!
Notice how I put the word 'boost' in quotation? Unfortunately, contrary to what influencers say, there's no way to 'boost' our immunity. All we can do is feed our immune system well with the right food so that the risk of developing a cold, and the duration of it, is reduced.
This means that by having a sufficient intake will suffice, and anything more than that will NOT bring additional benefits.
This topic will be split into 3 segments, with this first part focusing more on lifestyle, habits, as well as foods to limit. In my next two blog posts, we'll focus more on specific nutrition and foods.
1. Good sleeping quality and quantity
Many of us neglect the basics when it comes to good health - sleep being one of them. Studies show that our quality and quantity of sleep affects our immune system. We should all aim for around 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
If you find difficulty sleeping, try limiting screen use within 2 hours before your bedtime. The blue light emitted from screens such as your TV, computer and phone will increase alertness and hence make it difficult to fall asleep.
Try to also not do anything other than sleeping on your bed - your brain will not be able to associate your bed with sleep which may affect your ability to fall asleep, and you'll become this guy:
2. Stress levels
While moderate and short-term stress allows our body to respond adequately, chronic stress is shown to compromise our immune system. Long-term stress, marked by chronically high levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), is shown to compromise our immune function, making us more susceptible to falling sick!
The scientific term for this relationship is called the Gut-immune-brain axis, which shows that our gut, immune system and our brain are closely related. When one of these systems are compromised, the other two system are also negatively affected.
Therefore, it's important for us to stay calm and find ways to de-stress. Food is one way of comfort, but too much could often lead to emotional, uncontrolled eating. Therefore it's always good to find non-food rewards such as finding a hobby, going out for a walk, spending time with your loved ones, journaling down your thoughts etc.
3. Limiting fat intake
Studies show that when total dietary fat intake is decreased from 40% to 25% of our total energy intake, there has been an improvement in immune responses, including a significant increase in natural kill cell activity. It is also known that a high fat diet suppresses the activity of cellular components responsible for immune function.
This is easily achieved by omiting ultra processed foods, such as packaged deep fried or baked goods like chips and biscuits (see next point for more). Majority of our fat intake should be unsaturated fats, which are rich in foods such as fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, extra virgin olive oil and nut butters.
4. Limiting ultra processed foods
If you're reading this during isolation, this is especially important as we are less busy, at home most of the time and, worse, have a bigger tendency to snack.
Firstly, let's define ultra processed foods. These foods are
a) not close to the natural form of the original ingredient
b) usually packaged
c) made from multitude of processes, many of which cannot be done at home (e.g. hydrogenation, moulding).
d) usually contain 5 or more ingredients.
Unfortunately, these foods are high in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, sodium, artificial flavourings and preservatives. As we read in last session, excessive fat intake will compromise our immune function. While they're readily available and irresistably tasty, it's best to limit your consumption.
In the next blog post, we'll talk about specific nutrients and foods that will help us stay nourished and keep our immune system healthy. Stay tuned for part 2!