Immunity & The 5 Pillars of Health
The 5 pillars of good health are Fuel (food, water and supplements), Movement (exercise), Sleep, Connection and your Environment. The importance of these really comes to the fore when considered in light of general immunity! And we’re not only talking about the winter season sniffles – it’s a much bigger picture that includes all manner of gut issues, chronic diseases and autoimmune diseases.
But first, what is immunity? We hear all the time how important a strong immune system is to prevent infections, viruses, diseases etc, but what exactly is it?
The Immune System
The immune system is made up of a number of different parts of your body that work together to regulate your immune response. Think cells, organs, tissues, your skin, your nose and even reflexes like sneezing or coughing. The main purpose: is to repel, limit and treat infections and other “attacks” to your good health.
An immune response is simply when your body detects an antigen (virus, toxin, bacteria) and then kicks into gear to protect you by attacking it. Your body makes antibodies to defend you, and also learns how to defend you best in future (called acquired immunity, it can remember germs for future reference).
For our overall health, it is therefore super important that we do all we can to support our immune system so that we can get the best immune response out of it! This is where the five pillars of health come in: if you pay attention to OPTIMIZING them, you OPTIMIZE your immune system. And in return, your immune system helps to improve the five pillars and your overall health!
Immunity and FUEL
Fuelling for purpose means giving your body what it needs most by way of food, supplements and water. It’s a powerful tool that can also be your downfall: when we fuel our bodies appropriately, we thrive. When we eat processed foods, excessive alcohol and caffeine, drink low-quality water or miss key nutrients in our food, our health and our immune response suffer. The result: we get sick.
As mentioned, when the immune system comes into contact with something that it perceives as a threat, it triggers an immune response, releases antibodies and goes about eliminating that threat. There are certain foods that may strengthen and boost the immune system:
- Meat: this is always the surprising one on a list of immunity-supporting foods, but particularly red meat (and white meat and fish to a lesser extent) are actually a superfood for your immunity. This is due to the high content of readily available and highly absorbable zinc, iron, vitamin B6 and copper. Zinc helps develop white blood cells, which are the cells that are needed to fight off bacteria and viruses, and its importance cannot be overestimated. Not a big meat eater? A supplement like Ancestral Nourishment’s Beef Liver capsules is a great option to boost the nutrients that you get from meat.
- Yoghurt: a great source of healthy bacteria for your gut shown to promote a strong immune system. This is because your gut and immune health are so greatly interconnected.
- Black or green tea: tea is a great source of polyphenols, which clean up free radicals (which are damaging to us and accelerate ageing). Tea has more antioxidants per part than fruits and vegetables, and therefore a good immune-boosting drink!
- Mushrooms: like beef, mushrooms help in the production of white blood cells, and support them in acting more aggressively against invaders. Some of the best examples are Shiitake, Chaga, Reishi, Cordyceps and Maitake mushrooms and the immune-boosting properties of medicinal mushrooms (which go beyond white blood cell production) are impressive! True magic happens when you combine these shrooms, so I love the NeuroActive Medi Mushroom 4IN1 Stack and the PrimeSelf Shroom Elixir!
- Orange vegetables: sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkin are all excellent sources of beta-carotene, which is quickly turned into vitamin A, which is good for the skin, and is your first line of defence against infection!
- Supplements: a cleverly formulated supplement to support your immune system is PrimeSelf’s BioShield containing Vitamin C, Chaga mushroom, L-Lysine and NAC which are excellent immunity-boosting ingredients.
Other foods that are well-known for their immune-boosting properties include blueberries, dark chocolate, turmeric, oily fish, broccoli (vitamin C!), spinach, ginger, garlic, sunflower seeds and almonds. Sounds like delicious winter recipes in the making!
Variety is key because eating just one of these is not enough to fight infections properly (and overdoing it on just one could actually inhibit your immune response).
Immunity and MOVEMENT
We know that exercise contributes to good general health (which in turn results in a healthy immune system). But it turns out that exercising actually has a very direct impact on our immune response.
There is a caveat: how much you exercise has a role to play. If you overdo it and don’t rest/recover enough, you actually suppress your immune system, but more on that a bit later.
It seems that the sweet spot for immune-boosting exercise is a moderate intensity exercise of 30-60 minutes. Doing this daily or almost daily allows your immune system to benefit most and enables you to build on previous gains as this should allow for adequate recovery. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be hardcore or competitive athlete, only that you should especially focus on getting enough recovery time!
The scientific literature proposes the following theories for why exercise improves immunity:
- Exercise raises your body temperature, which is thought to prevent bacteria from growing and allows you to deal with infection better (think of a fever, it’s how we fight infection)
- Exercise stimulates cellular immunity: circulation of immune cells is boosted which appears to make you more resistant to infection
- Exercise helps you sleep better: better sleep leaves your body more time to focus on immune building rather than just the crucial stuff
- Exercise reduces the risk of chronic disease: when we suffer from diseases like diabetes or heart disease, our immune system takes a beating, making it harder to fight infections
- Exercise decreases stress: stress and depression have a major impact on the functioning of the immune system, especially as it results in inflammation in the body. We know that an inflamed system is susceptible to infection and disease
- Exercise reduces inflammation: this is why the intensity of exercise matters. Overdoing on intense exercise creates inflammation, which is so bad for your immune system. But moderate, appropriate exercise actually reduces inflammation!
The best forms of exercise are walking, moderate cardio, strength training and playing your favourite sport!
Immunity and SLEEP
You may have heard of T cells before. They are a type of immune cell that fight pathogens (the bad stuff). As an example, you might have a virus-infected cell like the flu, and T cells rush to the rescue with battle armour on! And it’s no surprise (because sleep is a superpower) but adequate quality sleep helps T cells in your body fight infection.
Poor sleep increases inflammation, which we know is a stage set for disaster. However, poor sleep also affects blood pressure, insulin resistance, cortisol and cardiovascular disease, which as we’ve mentioned, makes your body less able to rely on its immune system because of the attack that it is under.
So, while it is clear that a lack of sleep is bad for your immunity, the converse is also true: good sleep actually improves and strengthens your immunity. But wait, there’s more! Good sleep has been shown to play a major role in helping you recover once you’re already sick (i.e. sending help to your immune response). Remember wanting to sleep a lot when you’re sleeping? It’s your immune system begging for rest so that it can get battle ready.
Research also shows that if you’re sleep deprived, you’re more likely to catch a cold or infection that you’re exposed to. Quite something to think about: if you had slept more/better, that exposure would’ve been dealt with by your body and you would’ve been none the wiser!
In short: better sleepers are better protected against illness and a lack of good sleep damages your immune system!
Immunity and CONNECTION
People are profoundly social creatures. Introvert or extrovert, a sense of social connection is a fundamental human need and impacts both our physical and our mental health (reportedly worse than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure)!
Incredibly interesting research has been done in this field. Researchers looked at which genes were being expressed in lonely, socially removed people relative to socially integrated people. It turns out that the majority of genes influenced by our social connections are genes that code for our immune response!
What does that mean? People who subjectively feel lonely see an upregulation in inflammatory genes (bad) and a downregulation in immune response genes (bad).
You might wonder why this phenomenon happens. It seems that this very fundamental response developed because it was evolutionarily beneficial. In other words, when we spend a lot of time with people we are more likely to get sick (think of kids on the playground in winter and one of them has a cold!). We, therefore, need a stronger immune response when we are with people.
Conversely, when you are alone, you have less “protection”, and our bodies learnt to divert precious resources away from immune-strength-building to rather focus on vigilance, heart rate, blood flow and other fight or flight mechanisms considered more important for survival by your body. Pretty fascinating!
Moral of the story: spend proper time with friends and family, reach out to loved ones on a regular basis, prioritise a leisurely lunch or dinner and cuddle your pets!
Immunity and ENVIRONMENT
There’s no denying that there has been a massive surge in illnesses (like type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and many forms of cancer) that we simply didn’t see even a few decades ago. In fact, they were incredibly rare.
These diseases all affect different parts of the body, but they all have one thing in common: a malfunctioning immune system. You may have heard of autoimmune diseases, which basically means that the cells of your immune system go rogue and attack healthy tissue.
How does all this happen? The evidence is mounting that environmental factors particularly pollution, pesticides (like glyphosate being sprayed on our food), EMF (from Wi-Fi, tablets, phones etc), chemicals and fragrances in home care products and plastics (to name a few) are contributing to diseases in our gut and the rest of the body that result in a rampant increase in disease in modern culture.
The sad truth is that a lot of these environmental factors are beyond our control, which means that the other 4 pillars of health are our best defences to build a strong body and immune system. However, there is no need to despair as there are steps you can take to reduce the environmental impact on immunity:
- Filter your air and water: good quality air and water filters go a long way to improving your health! There are even house plants which are good at filtering the air, plus they look good in your home!
- Choose organic food when possible: there is a price component, but where possible, choose organic.
- Clean personal care and cleaning products: your home cleaning and personal care products shouldn’t contain ingredients that you can’t pronounce or wouldn’t feel comfortable eating. There are so many natural products on the market now that are affordable and as effective (or more effective) than their commercial counterparts. A product called Home Biotic is also a great option as it acts as a home probiotic which fights mould and grime in your house while being chemical free.
- EMF: switch your Wi-Fi off at night and don’t wear your cell phone in your pockets.
- Optimise your gut: a good probiotic like PrimeSelf’s Gut Complex goes a long way to address toxins that find a way to your gut, which is where disease starts if not properly looked after.
Five Pillars for Fabulous Immunity
By OPTIMIZING the food and water you fuel your body with, exercise, sleep, social connection and your environment, you can build a robust and battle-ready immune system that can handle anything that you throw at it! Immunity has never been more relevant than in the last number of years, and we’re learning that how we look after our bodies has an undeniably important role to play. Being aware of how important the 5 pillars of health are for providing the right immune support to our bodies goes a long way to delivering you the health that you want and need!
- Thea is the founder of Neolaia – Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!
This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation.