Ten Steps to Strong Immunity – Part 1

I write this towards the end of the Winter- February 2024. I’ve noticed just how many people have experienced quite debilitating infections this Winter, leaving them exhausted, even bedbound, unable to work and taking weeks to recover.

Our immune system is a wonderful complex system of specialised cells and antibodies that has enabled the human race to survive and thrive. But like every other organ and system of the body, we need to support it so that it can be strong and mount an effective response. 

There are two arms to it: the innate system that acts quickly and attacks anything foreign it comes into contact with; and the acquired system that learns to recognise a specific bacteria, virus or pathogen and send out specific antibodies to neutralise the threat and prevent it from proliferating. 

Nutrition plays an essential role. Certain critical nutrients help the production and function of immune cells Let’s discuss what these nutrients are and how to obtain these nutrients – mostly through the diet.

Ten Steps to Strong Immunity

Vitamin D3

Ten Steps to Strong Immunity

Vitamin D3 has a very significant and pro-active role in the function of the immune system as immune cells have vitamin D receptors and it helps to enhance the function of the immune cells.  Low levels have been shown to enhance susceptibility to infections. Vitamin D also helps to modulate your immune response (meaning it is neither too weak or too strong).  

Vitamin D (actually a hormone) is activated from sunlight coming into direct contact with the skin. In the Winter in the Northern hemisphere the sun has too little UVB to provide sufficient vitamin D plus our bodies are covered in clothing. In the Summer we often have too little sunlight to activate this process. This measn we can become chronically depleted of levels. Vitamin D3 is created when the skin is exposed to the sun with no suntan lotion without burning: -20 minutes a day is ideal.

I recommend testing (www.vitamindtest.org.uk) An “optimal” level is considered to be 100-150 nmol/L. A minimum level I like to see for my clients is 75nmol/l.  However by the end of Winter approx. 40% of the UK population has an average Vitamin D level of <25nmol/L (SACN 2016).

Most people require supplementation all year round, typically 1000iu D3. I like the oral sprays that become absorbed straight into the bloodstream.

And when you can, get out in the sunshine, expose your arms and soak up your daily dose of vitamin D. 

Vitamin C

Ten Steps to Strong Immunity

How are humans similar to guinea pigs? We are the only mammals who cannot manufacturer vitamin C so must obtain it from our diets!

This unassuming vitamin has remarkable immune fighting properties. So much so that whilst you don’t hear these stories in the media, other countries use intravenous vitamin C to help fight viral infections.  Of course, I’m not suggesting that you look to do this, but optimising your intake of vitamin C is a simple, low cost and safe option that is high up on my immune fighting protocols.

Vitamin C is involved in the fight against infections by helping to speed up the production of immune fighting cells. It has anti-viral properties that has been shown in research to help prevent a virus from entering cells (where it replicates). It is also a powerful antioxidant scavenging and neutralising free radicals helping to prevent damage to cells.

Whilst we have an “RDA” level of just 60mg, this is set at a level designed to prevent disease (scurvy) but is not a level designed for optimal health. Most nutritional therapists often recommend much higher dosages. As a water soluble vitamin, the excess is excreted if not required and in very high dosages this may lead to loose stools. It my experience this is unlikely to occur in dosages of 1000mg per day. For some people the acid based formulas may irritate the stomach lining so choose a  gentle version using calcium ascorbate or “Ester C” instead. Try to choose one with flavonoids as they have a complementary effect together and a “time release” formula so that there is a “drip feed” of the vitamin into the bloodstream, helpful as the vitamin cannot be stored in the body.

We tend to think of oranges having the highest vitamin C levels, but they are not top of the list. The following foods are rich sources: dark green leafy vegetables (kale, cabbage, broccoli, parsley, Brussels Sprouts, cauliflower), kiwi fruits, peppers, cherries, berries, tomatoes, lemons. And at this time of year (April), why not go and (carefully) collect nettle leaves and make a soup (I 

Zinc 

Ten Steps to Strong Immunity

Zinc is a trace minerals And whilst only required in small amounts they may be deficient in people’s diets.  But it is essential for the immune system so we should take care to be eating foods that are a rich source of it.

Zinc has a crucial immune role. It is involved in the normal development and function of most immune fighting cells. It helps immune cells fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Some studies have shown that supplementation may shorten the length of the common cold but it should only be taken short-term for that purpose.

The richest source by far is oysters! More common foods are meat, seafood, dark meat of poultry, dairy, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and almonds.

Selenium

Ten Steps to Strong Immunity

Selenium is also a trace mineral. It is essential for an efficient and effective immune response. A low selenium status has been shown to correspond with an impaired immune response to viral infections. Selenium consumption is considered to be declining in part as our soils tend to be more deficient in this mineral. Plants and animals eating the plants are not obtaining the levels they once did and therefore humans may have a lower intake too. The richest sources are organ meat, seafood and brazil nuts. It’s also found in meats, wholegrains, eggs and dairy.

You can see why eating a dense wholefood diet rich in plant foods and good quality protein is essential to obtain these immune fighting nutrients. If you believe your diet lacks sufficient quantities of these foods, do consider a good quality supplement.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 next week.

Need help or advice? Book a free Discovery Call

If you suffer any symptoms you can’t resolve or you are unsure about your diet and health, why not book a free discovery call? Simply visit www.peytonprinciples.com, or email caroline@peytonprinciples.com


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Keep your eye out for more articles and Peyton Principles in the media.

Caroline

Gut Health Nutritionist Caroline Peyton Principles
Caroline is a Professional Nutritionist, Naturopath based in Wiltshire.

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