How to support your immune system through the cooler months and Covid-19 vaccinations…Why is optimal gut/digestive health important for a strong immune system?
Autumn has well and truly kicked in, with cooler temperatures, fewer daylight hours, and golden leaves falling from the trees. It’s the perfect time for some nurturing self-care to ensure our immune systems are well prepared for the fast-approaching colder winter months.
As Covid-19 lingers, and ever-emerging variants wreak havoc around the globe, having a strong immune system has never been more important. Even though New Zealand continues to do well, we’re by no means free from risk.
The roll-out phase of the vaccination programme is gathering momentum, hopefully heralding ‘light at the end of a long tunnel’. If you’re planning to be vaccinated, these coming weeks provide an opportunity to prime the body and immune system properly for the vaccine, to ensure the best response and enhance the efficacy of the vaccine.
While millions of people are receiving their vaccines, very few focus on preparing beforehand by optimising their health, or prioritise supporting their health after vaccination.
If we take some extra care to support immune balance and overall wellbeing, before and after receiving our vaccinations, we can feel confident of experiencing the best possible response to the vaccine, providing the strongest defence possible against the virus, for as long as possible.
If you’ve chosen not to receive the vaccination at this point, or for medical reasons it’s not an option for you, then it’s equally, if not more important to pay some particular attention to supporting your immune system at this time.
Here are some ways you can support your immune system and reduce inflammation in your body in the lead up to your Covid-19 vaccination, so you can receive the most benefit:
- Work towards achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
- If you smoke, aim to stop or cut back
- Eat a wide variety of anti-inflammatory whole foods every day, such as fruit and vegetables, quality lean protein, good fats, legumes and wholegrains – nourishing, satisfying foods
- Eat moderate portion sizes
- Exercise regularly, in a way that energises and rejuvenates you
- If you drink alcohol, cut back
- Ensure adequate sleep – approximately eight hours each night
- Minimise stress – studies show that positive thinking and optimism are key to effective stress management and improved immunity
- Spend time in nature
- Live ‘in the moment’
- Aim to enjoy some sunshine every day
How does the gut microbiome influence immune function?
The gut microbiome plays an active role in immune function and overall health status. Poor gut health can compromise your immune system.
The gastrointestinal, or digestive tract contains 70-80% of the body’s immune system. At 250-400 m2, the gut is also the human body’s largest microbial interface. The gut ‘microbiome’ refers to all of the bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microscopic organisms, or microbes, living in the intestines.
It’s amazing to think that there are more bacterial cells in the body than human cells, which means that we are actually more bacteria than human! Together these microbes can weigh as much as 1-2 kg, together functioning as an extra organ in the body and playing a huge role in health – including helping control digestion and the immune system.
Diverse and abundant microbiota found in traditional populations have significantly dropped in industrialised populations. Some are even extinct. Loss of diversity is associated with chronic inflammation and immune dysregulation.
Poor diet, and lifestyle factors such as high levels of stress, medications such as antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), polypharmacy (taking a number of medications) in general, as well as the ageing process itself, can alter the gut microbiome, bringing about a reduction in beneficial microbes.
A key determinant of immune status is the composition of the microbiome. ‘Dysbiosis’, or an imbalance of gut bacteria increases intestinal hyper-permeability (‘leaky gut’), in turn triggering chronic low-grade inflammation and an innate immune response. This is associated with increased susceptibility to infection.
Improving the composition of the microbiome, by introducing and nurturing beneficial native commensal flora populations, helps to restore balance and also improves intestinal gut barrier integrity to maintain a protective barrier against the invasion of pathogens and antigens, supporting healthy immunity.
How can a naturopath help support a healthy immune system?
A naturopath will work with you to identify and address areas of imbalance and vulnerability in your immune system, supporting with dietary and lifestyle recommendations tailored specifically to you, and immune-enhancing herbs and nutrients, as well as providing gastro-intestinal immune support to build a healthy, well-functioning gut microbiome.
If you’d like some help powering up your immune system and digestive/gut health, I’d love to hear from you!