“Supporting a well-functioning immune system is one of the best things we can do for our health,” says Immunologist and Healthspan Ambassador Dr Jenna Macciochi. “Our overall immunity is affected by a range of things – some we can’t control, like genetics, but there are actions we can take to support our immunity and guard against disease.”
According to research by the Common Cold Centre, taking the herbal remedy echinacea purpurea, which is the active ingredient in A.Vogel Echinaforce Echinacea drops £4.50 and tablets £4.99, reduces the risk of catching a cold by almost 60%. And if, despite taking echinacea, you are still unlucky enough to succumb to the cold virus, the symptoms will affect you for a shorter time and be less severe.
“Research – including over 30 peer-reviewed publications – supports the use of echinacea purpurea to support the body’s immune system to reduce the occurrence, duration and severity of coughs, colds and influenza symptoms,” says immunologist Dr Ross Walter, founder of A-IR Clinical Research.
In addition, a Swiss study indicates that echinacea could play a role in reducing coronavirus replication in the airways. As a result, international clinical trials have been commissioned to investigate the efficacy of echinacea purpurea against a spectrum of corona viruses, including Covid-19.
There’s a growing, science-based case for optimism, kindness and strong social networks helping our immune system, reveals Dr Jenna Macciochi, who has over 20 years’ experience as a scientist researching the impact of lifestyle on the immune system.
Fresh air, green space and sunlight are emerging as critical, too, while sleep is one of the most important things we can do for optimal immune function.
Vitamin D helps to support the immune system but it’s difficult to obtain enough of this nutrient through diet. “Our bodies make most of the vitamin D required in reaction to sunlight on our skin but it’s not possible to meet these needs during the UK winter, when daylight is low,” says Dr Jenna Macciochi. “In addition, as we age, vitamin D production reduces.”
With one in five of us at risk of low vitamin D, Dr Macciochi recommends taking a vitamin D supplement every day. Vitamin D deficiency is noted as a risk factor for Covid-19 while vitamin D has been shown to reduce Covid-19 severity, explains Dr Macciochi.
Current UK recommendations are that people over 60 should take a daily supplement of 10mcg of vitamin D per day, while Public Health England’s advice is that everyone should be taking a vitamin D supplement during lockdown. Healthspan Super Strength Vitamin D3 Peppermint Oral Spray* £5.95 provides 25mcg of easily-absorbed vitamin D in every spray or if you prefer capsules, try Healthspan Vitamin D3 50 Plus* £14.95.
Lower levels of anxiety and stress have been shown to benefit the immune system.
Regularly take time out for yourself – read a book, watch a movie on your own, go for a walk. If you’re too busy to do this, schedule ‘me-time’ into your diary – and start saying no to requests that you usually automatically agree to.
In addition, make a point of exercising, ideally outdoors in the mood-improving, cobweb-busting fresh air. Regular physical activity has been scientifically shown to be associated with better immune function, explains Dr Macciochi.
“Extreme dietary restriction has been shown to inhibit immune function and decrease our resistance to infections,” says nutritionist Alison Cullen, health educator at A. Vogel.
Focus on tucking into a heathy, balanced diet rather than counting calories or following faddy diets.
Digestive health is strongly linked to immune function. Make sure your daily diet contains lots of fruit and vegetables and a selection of good quality carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, brown rice and wholemeal bread, as these contain fibre which helps support the balance of bacteria in your gut.
Your diet should also include oily fish, which is rich in omega-3 essential acids, healthy fats which help support the absorption of immune-supporting nutrients such as vitamin D and vitamin C.
A well-balanced diet should provide most of the nutrients your body needs (apart from vitamin D). If you’re concerned that your diet may not be providing all the goodness your immune system needs, consider taking a multi-vitamin dietary supplement such as Healthspan MultiVitality Gold* £5.95.
Supplements shouldn’t be an excuse for a poor diet, stresses Dr Jenna Macciochi. However, once we reach our fifties, we tend to need food with higher concentrates of nutrients as our absorptive abilities aren’t as good as they once were.