The immune system has become the 3 words on everybody’s lips as of late and you’d be hard pressed to find another time in history where the health of ourselves and our loved ones has been more prevalent in our thoughts and prayers as right now. Being in lockdown for almost 2 months has put a strain on our health, both physically and mentally and may have had repercussions on the integrity of our immune system. The way our immune system functions to protect us is truly intelligent yet is so often neglected and mistreated. Excess alcohol and sugar consumption, fast foods, antibiotic usage, smoking and chronic stress are all drivers for lowered immunity. To offset disease, we need to create good health in order for this multi-layered system to function in the way we want.
It all starts in the gut
With approximately 60-80% of your immune system living within your gastrointestinal tract, its hard to look past what’s happening there. From your oesophagus all the way through to the other end, your gut holds residency to the majority of your bacterial make up. Over one hundred trillion bacteria from over forty thousand different species make up what’s known as your gut microbiome. While ‘good bacteria’ can be beneficial and help us regulate our appetite, synthesise vitamins and offer protection against pathogens, opposing ‘bad bacteria’ can be detrimental and can create inflammation, leading to health problems. Despite being able to adjust the terrain of our gut bacteria in as little as 24 hours, our long term nutritional habits will determine the overall composition.
With this overwhelming amount of stress and uncertainty placed on our shoulders recently, turning to alcohol, smoking, sugary and fast foods to cope may be a global occurrence. Not only can this impair the functioning of our gut microbiome, but it can also stimulate its neighbouring immune system and cause inflammation which could lead to autoimmune diseases. Conversely, feeding your beneficial gut bacteria with fibre from fruits and veg, whole grains and legumes can start to alter your gut health for the better.
The government guidelines of 5 portions of fruits and vegetables a day is generally accepted as being not enough in the wider nutrition community. Some have proposed figures of up to 15 portions a day to combat the stress and toxins of everyday life, let alone the current situation that we are in! While it is definitely advisable to gradually build your intake of fruits and vegetables and the fibre that comes along with it, supporting your diet by using the Embody Fitness Greens may be ideal. Protecting our immune system by reversing any damage inflicted on our gut ecosystem is of high priority and the concentrated dose of phytonutrients found in our proprietary blend is the equivalent of eating roughly 10 portions of fruits and veg!
Keep on moving
As we soon enter the third month of staying at home, it may be becoming increasingly evident that we need to stay as active as possible. Staying motivated to exercise is probably proving tricky even for the most avid of gym goers and while completing your daily step target may seem somewhat out of reach, we must prevail. Carrying excess body fat has been implicated in a whole range of diseases and our immune system may be at the forefront of it all.
Our fat cells has the ability to secrete various chemical messengers. From hunger hormones such as leptin and ghrelin to producing our sex hormones like testosterone. It also has the ability to secrete immune cells which causes even more inflammation. It is this continuous process of inflammation which drives conditions such as insulin resistance and pre-diabetes which can then progress onto more life threatening diseases such as obesity, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Mismanagement of our body weight alongside a diet of refined sugar, trans fats and alcohol can be the trigger for a downward spiral of our health and livelihood. Ensuring that you’re doing regular exercise and consuming a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods will be the first step to eradicating the excess inflammation that may be building up. Dark leafy greens, turmeric, berries, ginger and green tea are all powerful anti-inflammatory foods, none more so than omega 3 rich oily fish. The SMASH fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring) should be staples in your diet however attaining a daily dose of 1-2g of omega 3 is tricky without skirting the boundaries of mercury overconsumption. In addition to combating inflammation, a good quality omega 3 supplement can help lower cholesterol, improve fat loss and relieve joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Getting a dose of natural daylight first thing in the morning could be one of the best things you can do for your health. As light enters our eyes, sensory information is relayed through our optic nerve which stimulates the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is located in the hypothalamus of our brain. The SCN manages our circadian rhythm which works to regulate our body temperature, blood pressure, cortisol secretion and other autonomic body functions. Disruptions to this sleep wake cycle as seen in shift workers and frequent time zone travellers has been associated with lowered immunity and increased susceptibility to inflammatory based diseases such as cardiovascular disorders and metabolic syndrome.
One of the by-products of contact with daylight is the production of vitamin D within the body. While the benefits of vitamin D has been proven to be versatile and multifaceted, it has been shown to offer immune protection in the form of dampening inflammation, producing antibacterial peptides and inhibiting the development of autoimmune diseases. As a general rule of thumb, vitamin D synthesis happens when adequate sun exposure hits the skin when your shadow is not longer/taller than your height (avoid dusk and dawn). In terms of foods, oily fish provides the most, whereas butter, milk and eggs will also provide modest amounts so supplementing can be beneficial, particularly in vegetarian populations.
Amidst all the uncertainty and worry, all we can do is play our part by taking control of our health and respecting our immune system all year round for all its hard work to ensure we make it through this period together.
Written by Gym Manager & Nutrition Expert Danny Ly