By Sarah Mallinson
As someone with a long history of chronic fatigue syndrome, I caught every cold, flu and bug that was circulating for many years. Fortunately, that is no longer the case, but it took a lot of work to rebalance my immune function, repair my microbiome and gut function and also remove the factors, both dietary and lifestyle, that were negatively impacting my health and suppressing my immunity.
Poor nutrition can compromise immune function and increase risk of infection.
A strong immune system is dependant on a variety of vitamins and minerals, a healthy gut, good sleep and regular movement/exercise (and reducing stress).
Given the current increased focus on immunity, I thought I would share some of the measures I include in my daily life to support my health.
Eat a rainbow diet
Eating fruits and vegetables that mirror the colours of the rainbow ensures a wide variety of nutrients that provide antioxidants, have antimicrobial activities, stimulate immune cells, protect against infections and can also help regulate inflammation. This will also help protect against deficiencies that can increase your risk of infection.
The government recommendation is 5 portions per day but I would suggest the more plants you can eat, the better so aim higher (minimum 7 portions per day). If you are finding it difficult to incorporate more portions into your day, try a smoothie, a bowl of soup or a salad before your main meal.
Foods containing vitamin C will support immune function so try and include Kiwi fruits, citrus fruits, papaya, guava, red peppers, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and tomato juice.
Vitamin C is water soluble so needs to be consumed regularly throughout the day.
Immune boosting foods include: garlic, ginger, turmeric, oregano, mushrooms, green and black tea, live yoghurt and fermented foods including sauerkraut & kimchi – these will support your gut. This is important as over 70% of your immune system is located in your gut, so fermented foods can help boost your immunity.
Coconut has antimicrobial and antibacterial effects, so try cooking with coconut oil or add to your smoothie.
Berries contain some of the highest amounts of antioxidants which support immunity and apples, in addition to providing vitamin C, are also rich in fibre which can support immunity and recovery from infection.
Drink plenty of water
Ensure you are well hydrated by drinking 8 glasses of water per day. This is vital to boost immune response. Drinking water produces lymph that flows through the body, collecting bacteria and moving it to the lymph nodes to be destroyed. Dehydration can impair this process by slowing the lymphatic system and preventing waste removal from the body.
Avoid foods that compromise immune function
It is just as important to avoid foods that compromise immune function. Studies show that increases in sugar suppress your immune system, so avoid:
Fizzy drinks, processed foods and refined carbohydrates as these are all processed by the body as sugars. Alcohol, caffeine and tobacco can also all negatively impact immune function.
Nutrition was the main factor in my recovery but I also utilise other therapies especially essential oils and homeopathy.
Essential oils from plants have been used for thousands of years with many offering a range of medicinal properties including the inhibition of pathogens and the possession of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-microbial effects.
I use oils topically, internally (you need to ensure oils are food grade for this) and also I diffuse oils around my home. I use the Doterra OnGuard blend daily, which has been shown to be extremely effective in reducing influenza (H1N1) activity by as much as 90%.
The oils within the blend – Orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus & rosemary are known for their positive effects on the immune system but can also help purify the air when diffused.
I am also a big fan of homeopathy and often, it can be my first port of call in acute situations, particularly muscular strains, if I feel like I am catching a cold or flu (fortunately not very often) or a headache. I used this many years ago when I suffered from hay fever, but now use homeopathy if I feel I need a fast response to symptoms.
If you would like further information on any of these topics, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Sarah Mallinson
Increasingly I’m noticing a pattern in my clinic. Many people seeking my support from a nutrition or functional medicine perspective have already been on a huge – and often frustrating – journey in their quest to get well.
Typically, this involves trips back and to the GP, tests which might shed light on an issue or may put the person further in the dark. They may have been prescribed medications which further add to symptoms or even create new ones. People may or may not receive a diagnosis, and if they do, may end up none the wiser about how to get well.
It is often at this point – when someone has tried all other options and isn’t seeing an improvement in their health – that they will seek out my help. In an ideal world, it would be great if they came to me sooner, however, I understand that in our culture, nutrition isn’t the first thing we are taught to think of when we become unwell. Instead, we are taught that there is a ‘pill for an ill’.
Almost always, the people I see in clinic will have read reams of information on Google about their health complaint and will have tried a myriad of ways to overcome the issue themselves. People who have done their research can be very informed about the condition itself.
And it can be beneficial when someone comes to me armed with information about their concerns, particularly if there have been some tests and a consequent diagnosis that we can build a picture upon.
NHS England is big on patient participation and encouraging people to take an active role in their healthcare, and I’m a huge advocate for this. Empowering people to take responsibility for their health is a big part of what I do, but contrary to popular belief, it can actually be counterproductive in the early stages.
Let me explain.
When people consult Dr Google, or act on the advice they have read in a newspaper or on social media about the latest superfood or health supplement that may help with their condition, they are missing a significant piece of the puzzle.
A vital part of my work as a Functional Medicine Practitioner is to take a full and detailed history of each person I see. This is because everyone, and every ‘body’, is so different that the advice and suggestions I give to one person with a condition will not necessarily apply to another person with the same condition.
While there is a lot of good quality information on Google, we are not taught how to translate it into what the advice means for our unique body and life situation. That’s essentially my role: to take the guidance and tailor it to the individual.
So, when someone comes to my clinic for the first time, I will take a full and detailed personal history that includes diet, lifestyle, stressors, family background, traumas, home environment, education and more.
By looking at all of the factors that influence a person’s health, we can trace back and often see how the body may have adapted to certain external triggers. It is this work – looking at the person and their life journey, not just the health condition – that informs the recommendations I will ultimately make.
I am a Nutritional Therapist based in Macclesfield, Cheshire. I work with people with a wide variety of symptoms and conditions.