by Sunna van Kampen, Tonic Health founder
The immune system is a wonderfully complex – and powerful – natural system. It contains multiple organs and processes in order to help your body resist infection and toxins. It’s a pretty fundamental system, especially when you consider we each encounter roughly 60,000 germs a day!
Given the vital importance of the immune system, I’d like to share my own health hacks for immunity that can be easily incorporated into your daily life. These are the product of my own years of bio-hacking and experimentation, and the journey I went on to research and develop Tonic with the best science behind it.
While there’s plenty of science behind taking high doses of vitamins to support your immune defences in times of need, there are also daily immunity health hacks we can implement quickly and easily. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and one step at a time we can all level up our immune health and help to stay protected all year round.
- Cold showers – start your day right
This is the one that makes everyone think I’m a bit of a crazy health nut. Why would you want to start your day under a cold shower? Well, scientific studies have found that taking a cold shower increases the amount of white blood cells, a key part of the immune system that helps fight off unwanted viruses and germs. What’s more, one randomised controlled trial reported showing a 29% reduction in sickness absence after taking a cold shower for 30 days. So what do I do? I believe the daily habit should be as manageable as possible, so I simply:
- Have my normal warm shower
- At the end, turn the shower to cold
- Take a few deep breaths and stand under the cold for 30 seconds to a minute, depending on how brave I am that morning
- The challenge is to try and maintain the calmness in your breath despite the cold
If you want to take things to the extreme, check out the Wim Hof method. He’s a world leader in cold therapy and runs courses on how to breathe properly and manage cold exposure. Advocates of his method have even taken it to the extreme and been involved in scientific studies to prove its effectiveness. In one study they had practitioners of the Wim Hof method injected with endotoxins to measure their immune response and compared it with a control group. Astonishingly, they found that those who practiced the method reported significantly fewer symptoms associated with the endotoxins.
- Breathing – stop, breathe and take a moment
Meditation, the hippie trend of the 1970s, now more readily referred to as mindfulness or simply breathing techniques, has finally got the science to back it up. A systematic review of randomised controlled trials provided a comprehensive examination of data from 1602 participants, and revealed evidence indicators that mindfulness meditation is associated with changes in select biomarkers of immune system activity. What the mechanisms are isn’t fully understood yet, but theories suggest that mindfulness and breathing can help regulate the stress hormone, cortisol, and that keeping this optimal can help your immune system to function properly.
It may surprise you, considering the cold showers, but this is one of the hardest ones for me to face. I always like to be on the go and busy. So taking time to stop, focus on my breath and calm my mind has never been easy. A good way I ‘hack the hack’ is to simply focus on just six deep inhales and six exhales with my eyes closed, wherever or whenever I remember. This often ends up either being in the shower or when I take the dog out for a quick walk in the morning.
- Hydration – drink more water by making it as exciting as your morning coffee
Everyone knows how important hydration is to overall human health, and naturally our immune system suffers when we do not get enough. Our immune system relies on our blood stream (which is around 90% water) to transport fluids, nutrients, and communication signals to organs. Without proper hydration, our blood volume goes down, and reduced blood volume means that this transportation system doesn’t work as well as it could.
We all know to aim for the magic eight glasses of water daily. But realistically, who has the time? Plus, all that water is certainly a bit uninspiring. So, my immune health hack on hydration is a simple one: make drinking water fun and something you look forward to, like you do your morning coffee. I always have a cold can stocked in my fridge (my go-to being ugly drinks) so I can enjoy water like a refreshing cold soda on a hot summer’s day – just without the sugar or nasty chemicals. Find whatever suits you. And remember: by the time thirst hits, you’re often already dehydrated.
- Collagen in your coffee – LA’s latest trend, but why?
The cosmetics industry has added collagen to creams for years, but a leading health trend that started in LA is to consume your collagen. LA is famous for fads, but I think it’s actually a clever idea. Collagen is one of the main structural proteins in the body – making up a massive 25-35% of the whole-body protein content. Adding extra collagen to your diet can be a smart move for the immune system as it’s responsible for the strength and elasticity of your skin, which is actually the first line of immune defence in preventing foreign invaders from entering the body. Furthermore, many of the individual amino acids found in collagen have been shown to play a role in the immune system, such as glycine, arginine and BCAAs.
I use Hunter & Gather flavourless collagen peptides and simply add a teaspoon into my coffee for a daily top-up of the essential amino acids and proteins that will help keep my immune system in good shape.
- Cut the sugar – simply avoid it as much as you can
Everyone needs a sweet treat now and then. We’re only human. But what does sugar actually do to the immune system? Well, the answer is complex and not fully understood. One study demonstrated that after consuming simple sugars, there was a significant decrease in the phagocytic index, which means immune function was suppressed. Other research shows that consuming 75 to 100 grams of sugar can hinder several of the body’s immune functions.
There’s also another very important way that sugar affects our immune response: it’s been shown to block the absorption of vitamin C.
Sugar and vitamin C have a similar molecular structure and absorb through the same cellular receptors – sugar even tends to win this battle and get taken up more quickly by cells. This has significant implications, as vitamin C is one of the foundational nutrients that contributes to the normal function of our immune system. Plus, our bodies can’t produce it, so we have to turn to dietary and supplement sources. Think about it: you need to consume vitamin C, but consuming sugar can get in its way. So make sure when looking for a vitamin C supplement that you avoid any containing sugar, fructose, glucose, or sucrose, as these will limit the absorption.
My immune health hack for reducing the sugar in my diet is simply to live by a few rules:
- Never drink sugar
- Always buy plain strained Greek yoghurt, which has on average about 40% less sugar naturally than normal yoghurt
- Acquire a taste for dark chocolate. The darker it is, the lower the sugar
- Snack on plain nuts – bars of any kind tend to be high in sugar even if they’re positioned as healthy
- A regular dose of vitamins
There are many, many, many studies that have shown how important certain nutrients are for the immune system. The three I like to focus on are, of course, what I put in Tonic – vitamins C, D and zinc.
I chose those three ingredients for two reasons:
- Because they have the greatest amount of scientific evidence to support them
- They're the hardest to get adequately from our diet
Why? Well, while eating an orange may be easy, one large orange likely contains less than 100 mg of vitamin C. That’s far lower than the 1,500-2,000 mg dose that’s been shown to be optimal in times of need. My healthy immune hack is simply to make Tonic a regular part of your routine. Whenever you’re feeling a bit sluggish, run down, or just not 100%, try a Tonic to give your immune system the nutrients it needs to function normally.
- Get enough sleep
Finally, sleep – something we all love, but never do enough. If you need any more motivation, consider that getting just one night’s sleep of less than 6 hours can reduce the function of your immune system’s natural killer cells by up to 70%. Pretty drastic, and the main reason why when we’re tired and run down, we tend to be more susceptible to infection.
So, to make sure I get a good night’s sleep on the regular, I aim to be in bed one hour before I want to actually be asleep. This helps your body relax and get prepared to sleep. But in order to do that optimally, phones, laptops and screens in general need to stay out of the bedroom as they emit blue light. This has been shown to reduce the body’s natural production of the sleep hormone melatonin. My recommendation? Just read a good old fashioned book and you’ll soon find yourself nodding off.
I sincerely hope this article has helped you, and that you find some of my top tips useful. Even if you can’t face the cold showers yet, there are so many ways to keep your immune system functioning optimally.
Sunna van Kampen is the founder of Tonic Health. You can read about his journey in creating the company on our blog.