In these Covid-19 times, it’s critical that our immune system is firing on all cylinders. From UV light therapy to boosting our lymphatic system and taking the right herbal tinctures, Jenya Di Pierro, founder, CEO and leading herbalist of Notting Hill-based wellness club Cloud Twelve, shares her tips on how best to boost our immunity and stay healthy
Practice good hygiene
The simplest way to prevent the spread of infection and maintain your immunity is through basic hygiene, washing your hands with soap and water for at least 30 seconds, and using hand sanitiser after contact with other people. Catching coughs and sneezes into your elbow effectively prevents fluids from spreading, even more so than using a tissue. Disinfecting frequent touch zones like door handles and technology surfaces will help minimise the amount of hand-to-face bacteria transfer. And, most importantly, stay at home if you have any cold or flu-like symptoms.
Remember to stay hydrated. The mucosal lining is your first line of defence against viruses and infections, and if we do not drink sufficient water, it can dry out and let pathogens (a bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease) through. It’s best if you take a few sips of water every 30 minutes to make sure your mouth and throat are continually moist. Always drink water at room temperature.
Consider herbal medicine
There are many potent herbs that can boost immunity in a natural way. Our top three for adults are Echinacea, Elder and Reishi. Echinacea possesses strong immune-stimulating properties and acts by increasing the activity of our virus-fighting ‘warrior’ white blood cells. Elder tree has long been called the ‘medicine chest’, as we can use its flowers and berries to treat and prevent flu, herpes, tonsillitis, UTIs and a wide range of other infections. Finally, Reishi, known as the ‘mushroom of immortality’, contains beta-glucans that enhance immunity with a long-term effect, support adrenal function and are rejuvenative for various depleted states. Ask your local herbalist for this preparation; and note that quality of herbs is directly linked to their effectiveness.
For children, our top three immune boosting herbs are Licorice, Elecampane and Elderberry. Licorice can be taken during or after illness to speed up recovery. It is antiviral, anti-inflammatory and immune modulating. It is also effective for adults, but anyone with high blood pressure should avoid this herb. Elecampane is a great respiratory herb. It’s a warming decongestant and is excellent for catarrh, bronchitis, sore throats, tonsillitis, whooping cough, pneumonia and other chest infections.
Herbs can be prepared in a variety of different ways; the most popular method for adults is a tincture made with a mixture of alcohol and water. Teas and powders are suitable for both kids and adults, while glycerites are particularly favoured by children for their sweet taste.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, helping to protect against viral infections by stimulating the white blood cells. It also promotes the production of antibodies, which are necessary for neutralising pathogens.
Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sunlight. During the winter months, supplementation is recommended by the NHS and WHO. Vitamin D is a key nutrient to support our innate and adaptive immune health, while modulating the body’s immune response to pathogens. Scientific evidence shows that it can reduce the duration of infections. With Vitamin D receptors across the whole body, it’s imperative that everyone has optimum levels.
Zinc is a mineral that offers both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power. It’s therefore protective against pathogens with some evidence showing that it can be particularly beneficial for respiratory viruses. Zinc supports the immune system, helps heal wounds and supports normal cell growth. A deficiency of zinc can lower the immune response.
Probiotics: 70% of our immune system is located in the intestines, and the microbes in the lower tract help to keep it regulated and fight harmful bacteria. When our gut becomes unbalanced, disturbing the good and bad bacteria levels, probiotics can help restore balance. Probiotics have been shown to secrete protective substances, which may turn on the immune system and prevent pathogens from invading and growing in the body. And taken as a preventative supplement, probiotics may also reduce the number of colds you’ll have in a year.
One of the ways to get a powerful dose of vitamins and minerals is via intravenous infusions and intramuscular shots.
Eat a healthy diet
Make sure you are eating a variety of fresh foods, and challenge yourself to ‘eat a rainbow’ each day. Garlic has powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. It will also clear and expel mucus and contribute to clearing the lymph, which plays a critical role in fighting infections. Similarly, onion and horseradish can be used for nasal congestion, excess mucus and respiratory tract infections.
Mushrooms contain high amounts of polysaccharides that are known for their ability to boost the immune system, fight inflammation and positively modulate gut flora. Eating cooked mushrooms at least twice a week, is an easy and powerful way to maintain and build resilience against pathogens.
Fermented foods – sauerkraut, kimchi, umeboshi and other pickles, kefir, live yogurt, natto, kombu and raw apple cider vinegar – have many beneficial properties including improved digestion, supporting our bodies’ friendly bacteria and strengthening the immune system.
Add spices to your diet to improve absorption of key nutrients and strengthen gut immunity. Fennel, cumin, basil and most aromatics will stimulate gastric juices. Thyme and rosemary will boost immunity amongst other health benefits. Ginger and chilies will warm you up and improve circulation, whilst also enhancing defence against infections. Finally, turmeric is a super spice that possesses all of the above-mentioned properties. To increase its bioavailability, mix it with a pinch of black pepper and fat (like oil or milk), or just make a delicious and nutritious curry.
Get enough rest
Changes in hormone levels during sleep enable your body to take extra energy from the muscles and utilise it for building up and maintaining a healthy immune system. During sleep, the immune cells come out of circulation, settle in the lymph nodes, and start getting ready for the next day of work. Without enough sleep, the body won’t have the time to work through this full cycle, leaving your immune system depleted.
When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced. That is why we are more susceptible to infections. The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system (e.g. lowers the number of lymphocytes). Mindful practices such as yoga, pranayama and meditation are very effective at easing nerves and modulating stress response.
Use an ultraviolet lamp
Ultraviolet (UVC) light eliminates many bacteria and viruses by disrupting their DNA and rendering them harmless. UV light can restrict the number of germs that get re-circulated through your home, keeping you and your family healthier during flu season. And unlike flu vaccines, UVC light is likely to be effective against all airborne microbes, even newly emerging strains.
Moving in general stimulates the flow of lymph fluid, giving a tremendous boost to the immune system. Our lymphatic system is a network, consisting of lymphatic vessels and nodes that remove waste from the body. Additionally, lymphs transport immune cells around the body, where they patrol for anything untoward. However, when the lymphatic system is congested as a result of genetic issues, acute stress, sedentary lifestyle or poor digestion, its ability to circulate and fight infection can be adversely affected.
Dry skin brushing can help stimulate lymph flow to gently detoxify the body. Use long strokes to gently scrub the dry skin, from feet to head, including the front of the body, arms and neck, moving inward towards the heart.
Lymphatic vessels contract when exposed to cold and dilate in response to heat. If you don’t fancy running into the sea in winter or don’t have access to a sauna, a hot and cold shower at home is a handy way to recreate the lymphatic nourishing properties at home.
Finally, try deep breathing. Just as the heart is the pump for the circulatory system, the diaphragm can assist in pumping the lymphatic system. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is the most important facilitator of lymphatic function. Combined with gentle stretching this can also be a nice way to self-manage stress and relieve tension at the end of the day.