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 email@example.com
I am often asked why I am so passionate about nutritional therapy so I thought I'd share how my journey to becoming a nutritional therapist started with my own health challenges.
From childhood I was treated with antibiotics for constant ear infections. I had severe food allergies, eczema, hay-fever and if that wasn’t enough traumatic orthodontic treatment. Eventually I was knocked off my feet by a glandular fever type virus in my teens.
I slept constantly but never regained wellness and 8 years later was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. By the time I reached my early twenties, I had to stop working, and was struggling to function at the most basic level.
With treatment I did recover enough to return to work and threw myself into an exciting but stressful career. But this lifestyle was not sustainable and after a serious infection, a bereavement and car crash, all in the space of a few months, my body finally had enough. I crashed like never before.
The doctors did not know why my treatment was failing, the medications made me feel worse. When I asked for explanations, what I could do to help, why something improved or worsened my symptoms, I was met with no response.
My journey to wellness started when I went to see a functional doctor and nutritional therapist, who, for the first time listened to my story and explained what was happening, and most importantly, why.
A functional stool test revealed that my beneficial gut bacteria had been completely eliminated by all the antibiotics I had taken decades before and my immune system was compromised. I addressed this imbalance and over time I started to feel better. I changed my diet and my symptoms started to reduce. Eventually, I recovered enough to study nutrition.
An important point in my studies was realising that I needed to listen to my body. The more I listened, the more my body talked. I changed both diet and lifestyle. With time the crippling fatigue, foggy brain, digestive complaints, insomnia and the endless list of CFS symptoms disappeared.
The functional medicine approach and functional testing has allowed me to look further to find the root causes of my conditions. Investigations, including genetic testing have allowed me to focus on repair and rebuilding. I am now working to prevent the autoimmune conditions that run in my family.
The journey I have experienced has been in many ways indescribable. Yet, it has led me to the most exciting and fulfilling vocation I could have ever imagined.
I am passionate about helping others achieve similar results and I have developed a desire for knowledge, education and learning that I could not have imagined just a few years ago. The emerging research in this area I find mind blowing and I constantly want to know more to enable me to help others.
I am a Nutritional Therapist based in Macclesfield, Cheshire. I work with people with a wide variety of symptoms and conditions.