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THE ULTIMATE GUIDE: HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM NATURALLY
by Dara Winters
At Tonic Health we love talking natural immunity. We want to put the knowledge and power in your hands so you can decide what’s right for your health.
In this simple guide, we’ll walk you through how your body’s immunity works and show you how to improve your immune system to feel great. Read it all or skip down to the section you need the most. We’ll ask:
How does my immune system work?
What are the signs of a weak immune system?
What are the causes of a weak immune system?
Which vitamins are good for immunity?
How can I naturally improve my immune system?
Can I test my immune system?
Your immune system dictionary: a whistle-stop tour of lingo and science
1. First things first, how does my immune system work?
The immune system is a complicated beast but simply put, it’s like your body’s resident law enforcement. It defends your body from bacteria and viruses that might want to get in, mess things up and make you ill.
The immune system is actually made up of two parts that work together. First of all, you’ve got the innate system which is a general defence using killer cells to fight bacteria. You’ve also got an adaptive system which has learnt how to tackle pathogens it recognises with antibodies you already have.
Amazingly, your immune system can tell the difference between your own healthy cells and unwelcome outsiders. As soon as it meets an antigen (that’s a protein on the surface of bacteria, viruses or fungi), it kicks into action, setting off a little avalanche of cellular processes to protect you.
For a whistle-stop tour of your immune system and to learn the science lingo that goes with it, check out our immune system dictionary at the end of the post.
2. What are the signs of a weak immune system?
If you’ve always got a cold or an infection or you feel constantly run down or tired, your immune system needs a bit of love. Despite what lots of people think, it’s not a lack of exposure to germs that weakens your immune system, at least not for adults. Coming into contact with germs will get your immune system to respond but it won’t make it stronger.
If you want to know how to improve your immune system, it’s got more to do with the way you live.
3. What are the causes of a weak immune system?
This won’t be new news to you but eating junk, high stress levels, not getting enough exercise or lack of sleep all contribute to running your immune system down. And that’s when you get ill.
We get that it can feel overwhelming to know where to start so try small changes first and build momentum. Be proactive and swap the coffee for green tea or make a date with yourself to move your body, even if it is just going out for a 30minute walk. Take time out to calm down and de-stress and your immune system will thank you for it.
4. Which vitamins are good for immunity?
If you’re wondering how to improve your immune system with vitamins, there are lots of nutrients, plant extracts and supplements you can get on board. Although it’s a step in the right direction, diet alone won’t get you everything you need - that’s why we put these major vitamin players below into Tonic, along with plenty of other good stuff too.
Vitamin C: your body can’t make or store it, yet this vital vitamin is crucial for a healthy immune system. You’ll get it from red peppers, strawberries and oranges but to really make the difference, Tonic supplements use high strength vitamin C to make sure you’re getting enough.
Vitamin D:our main source is sunshine and that’s why cold and flu cases go up in the winter. It’s absolutely vital for immune health.
Zinc: a study done in 2008 showed that zinc is crucial for our cells to develop normally. It helps wounds to heal and is important for our senses of smell and taste.
Elderberry: this is a great anti-inflammatory that helps to boost the immune system.
Tonic vitamin drinks are also packed with magnesium, reishi mushroom and selenium, reducing stress, promoting sleep and supporting your immune system in a myriad of ways. They’re a totally transparent, sustainably sourced way to naturally improve your immune system, hand in hand with your lifestyle.
5. How do you improve your immune system naturally?
First answer: make some changes to the way you live. Here are a few wins your immune system will love.
Start counting nutrients, not calories
Your immune system thrives on a nutritious diet so try having a competition with yourself to take on more nutrients instead of reaching for the sugary snacks.
Think healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds. Think wholegrains like brown rice and quinoa and pre and probiotics. Don’t be put off if it’s all new to you, start small and begin to make some healthy swaps.
Fermented food and drinks like kombucha and kimchi are also a great idea because they’re really good for the gut where over 70% of your immune cells are hanging out.
Add in at least five portions of fruit and veg every day and try to hold back on the sugar. Sugar has actually been connected to suppressing immune function, blocks the absorption of vitamin C and can lead to all kinds of other problems with your health. Of course, Tonic’s sugar-free.
Make sleep a priority
For some people it’s as simple as going to bed a bit earlier. One bad night’s sleep can reduce the number of ‘natural killer’ cells in the immune system by as much as 70%. Enough said.
For others, sleep might be a struggle and if that’s you we’d encourage you to try our night-time immunity drink as part of a regular sleep routine. You can also read our list of 7 steps to a good night’s sleep here.
Did you know that 60% of Brits drink just one glass of water a day when what we need as a minimum is eight glasses?!
Pure water or a high-dose vitamin drink mixed with water is the best way to go. Your immune system relies on your bloodstream, which is around 90% water, to transport fluids and nutrients to your body organs and keep your body running well.
Love the sunshine
When you get outside in the sunlight you’re getting a great source of vitamin D. This vitamin is involved in a complex process to get T cells primed and ready to fight infection so it’s crucial if your immune system is going to function well.
Do some exercise
Make life easy and pick something you enjoy (or think you could enjoy…) Studies have shown that people who exercise for around 30-45 minutes a day get ill on 40-50% fewer days than those who don’t.
Get a workout buddy, go for a run or try some online yoga. Exercise isn’t just great for your immune system, it works wonders for your mental wellbeing too.
Ditch the cigarettes
Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease and weakens your immune system. Scientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine found that smoking also affects dental health, reducing the ability of pulp inside teeth to fight illness and disease.
The good news is that it’s all reversible. Put down that cigarette and pick up a high-dose vitamin drink instead.
If you’re constantly stressed out, and you have no idea what to do about it, then recognise that acknowledging you’re stressed is the first step to making it better.
Stress is actually the leading cause of imbalance in the immune system, which is why stressed-out people are more vulnerable to illness.
No easy answers here, the stress may well be out of your control, but finding ways to feel grounded, find space and rest can work wonders if you want to improve your immune system naturally.
6. How can I test my immune system?
One thing you can do is take the Kiweno rapid vitamin D test. All you need is a smartphone with a camera and you’ll get the results at home in 15 minutes.
74% of the UK have sub-optimal vitamin D levels so once you know where you stand you can do something about it.
7. Your immune system: A whistle-stop tour
Knowledge is power so to close off our ultimate guide, we want to take you on a whistle-stop tour of your immune system so you know just what all the different parts are called and what they do.
Next time you’re out for a drink, impress with your science knowledge and let everyone know you’re the expert.
Antibodies - your immune system creates these protective protein molecules to attack microbes and toxins. When they spot the antigens on the microbe’s surface, they head in to fight them off.
Antigens - these are special proteins that help to kick your immune response into action.
Antigen presenting cells (APC cells) - immune cells that present antigens to T cells, including macrophages (which we love)
Antioxidants - molecules that fight off free radicals to slow down or stop damage to your cells.
Bone marrow - the spongy stuff in the middle of your bones. It makes all three types of blood cells, including the ones that keep us healthy.
Complement system - a complex system of more than 30 proteins that helps to banish infectious microorganisms.
Cytokines - molecules that regulate the immune system to fight inflammation and infection
Free radicals - unstable molecules made by the body as a reaction to stress.
Leukocytes - the proper term for your white blood cells. These are your immune system’s star players – the Cristiano Ronaldos and Lionel Messis, so to speak. They’re immunity cells, always up for a fight with anything nasty.
Lymphatic system - this part of your immune system is a web of delicate vessels. Lymph glands filter harmful substances and the lymph, a colourless fluid that bathes your body tissues, contains lymphocytes which are good white blood cells.
Macrophages - we love these guys, a type of white blood cell that gobbles up bacteria for breakfast.
Natural killer cells - these are part of the innate immune system, stopping viral infections in their tracks.
Phagocytosis - a great little process where pathogens get eaten up and killed off.
Spleen - an important part of the puzzle, about the size of your fist. It filters blood and produces antibodies and lymphocytes to fight disease.
Thymus - this unsung organ below your breast bone creates cells when you’re young that mature into the T-cells that can destroy infection. Also helps other parts of the immune system to grow.
So, there you have it: the power and the knowledge on how to improve your immune system naturally. To learn more and take your health into your own hands, join the Tonic Tribe for weekly new on your immune system.
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