How to Build a Robust Immune System -

How to Build a Robust Immune System

Ever felt like your body could use a bit of a power-up to tackle the hurdles life throws your way?

Whether you're a full-time working mum of two, a savvy business executive steering through deadlines, or a seasoned individual embracing the golden years? No matter your lifestyle, we're delving into how a robust immune system is your ticket to an active and vibrant life.

Get ready for a journey into the fascinating landscape of wellness where your immune system isn't just a defender but a strategic player in the game of life. It's not about avoiding the game; it's about mastering the rules. Wellness is not a one-size-fits-all endeavour but a vibrant journey, where your immune system sits at the heart of it, your trusty companion making sure you enjoy every step of the way, regardless of your walk of life.

Demystifying How Your Immune System Works?

Envision your body as a grand palace, a majestic realm where an immune symphony safeguards the sovereignty of your internal kingdom. To maintain protection and seamless operation, you've established a well-organised security task force with two distinct squads, each with its own unique approach.

Buckingham palace with guards, used as a metaphor for our immune system

At the forefront, we have the innate immune system team – the swift and efficient responders. These cells, like macrophages, neutrophils, and natural killer cells, act as the immediate frontline defence. They're quick on their feet, tackling threats without much discrimination – think of them as the rapid response team handling the initial chaos.

On the other end of the spectrum, we've got the adaptive immune system team – the meticulous strategists. B cells and T cells make up this elite force. They take a bit more time to mobilise but operate with surgical precision. What makes them truly remarkable is their memory – encountering a pathogen (tiny bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites invaders that have the ability to enter the body)

As you go about your day, envision the intact skin and mucus membranes as the fortified palace walls. Lymphocytes, including T cells and B cells, act as sentinels stationed at various entry points, guarding against intruders.

Your palace is constantly under the watchful eye of vigilant guards, representing the cells and proteins of your immune system. They patrol the walls and grounds, keeping a keen lookout for any signs of trouble. When unwelcome guests like bacteria or viruses breach the walls, the palace doesn't just sound an alarm; it orchestrates a strategic defence.

Antibodies become the royal archers, precisely targeting the invaders, with white blood cells, including neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells, transforming into loyal knights, rushing towards the threat to neutralise it. It's a coordinated effort to repel the intruders and maintain the sanctity of the palace.

Security guard communication through a walkie talkie, to symbolise, how Immunity needs communication to coordinate attacks

Now, how do these immune defenders communicate and coordinate their efforts? Enter cytokines and chemokines, the molecular messengers. Think of them as the generals in this immune army, sending out strategic signals to guide the troops, attract reinforcements, and regulate the overall response. It's a highly orchestrated symphony of defence.

Just as a palace thrives when its defences are well-regulated, so does your body with a harmonious and responsive immune system. In essence, our immune system is akin to a well-choreographed ballet of vigilant defenders – a blend of swift responders and master strategists working in unison to safeguard our well-being. It's a biological masterpiece that operates behind the scenes, ensuring our body's resilience against constant threats. We must nourish and support our immune heroes within us, tirelessly guarding our health. Cheers to the remarkable world of immunology!


Decoding the Signs: What Does a Weak Immune System Look Like?

Recognising the signs of a weakened immune system is crucial for timely intervention. After all, it's easier to reinforce the palace walls when you spot the first cracks, rather than having to rebuild the wall after its collapse from years of neglect. Here are some indicators that your immune system might need a helping hand:

Signs of a Weak Immune System:

  • You are frequently ill: It is not possible to avoid becoming ill at all, and having a couple of respiratory infections a year is quite normal for a healthy adult. For children attending school this number is likely to be higher, even for a healthy child. However, if you or your child is feeling constantly under the weather, it could be a sign that your immune system is struggling to keep up. Persistent or recurrent urinary tract infections are another sign, as well as:
Woman sneezing, and blowing her nose into a tissue
  • You take longer to recover: A prolonged recovery from common illnesses or wounds may indicate a compromised immune response.
  • You continually feel tired: Persistent fatigue that doesn't improve with rest and feeling tired or exhausted even after a good night's sleep, could be linked to an overworked immune system.
  • You develop or see an increase in allergy symptoms: An increase in allergies or a sudden onset of new allergic reactions may signal an immune system imbalance.
  • You become seriously ill: Whilst diseases can be hereditary and become more prevalent as you age, a poor-functioning immune system is linked to a higher risk of developing chronic diseases, including autoimmune disorders, certain cancers, and inflammatory conditions.
  • You experience tummy issue, or sore, aching muscles and joints: Chronic inflammation in the form of joint pain, digestive issues, or skin problems can be indicative of immune system dysfunction.
  • Your stress levels are constantly high: Increased susceptibility to stress-related mental health issues. Mood changes or increased anxiety.


What Does a Robust Immune System Really Mean, and can you Boost it?

Having seen the effects of how an impaired immune system can compromise healthy living and vitality. Let's now look at what makes a robust immune system truly powerful.

Your immune system stands as the vigilant guardians of your internal Palace but Imagine if your guardians were undernourished, deprived of quality sleep, and surrounded by the detritus of a malfunctioning sewerage detox system. Picture them living a sedentary life, void of exercise or training to hone their skills.

In this scenario, how effective do you think your palace security task force would be at thwarting intruders, especially when faced with adversaries of greater strength and resilience?

It's not just about having an army of defenders; it's about ensuring our defenders are regularly nourished with a balanced diet, that they get ample rest for rejuvenation, and participate in the training and exercise, needed for them to be resilient, adaptable, and dynamically reactive to respond to any challenge that presents itself. This isn't a call for drastic measures, but rather an invitation to adopt a holistic approach that nurtures and empowers your defenders to become the elite guardians, to allow your palace to flourish..

Can you boost Immunity? There are studies and evidence that support initiatives for increasing hydration and taking vitamins like Zinc and Vitamin C (4) within 24 hours of the first symptoms, which can help reduce the severity and longevity of the illness. So yes, you can boost your immune system however ‘prevention is always better than cure. Taking preventative measures, that build and promote a vibrant and robust immune system, ready to challenge any intruder, offers many health benefits,such as:

Reduced Risk of Infections: A strong immune system is effective in recognizing and neutralizing pathogens, reducing the risk of infections such as colds, flu, and respiratory illnesses (1)

Lowered Risk of Chronic Diseases: A well-functioning immune system is linked to a lower risk of developing chronic diseases, including autoimmune disorders, diabetes, certain cancers, and inflammatory conditions (2)

Enhanced Resistance to Allergies: A strong immune system helps your body tolerate and resist allergens, reducing the likelihood and severity of allergic reactions. (3)

Faster Recovery from Illness: If an infection does occur, a robust immune system facilitates a quicker and more efficient recovery, minimizing your duration and severity of symptoms (1),(4)

Quicker Wound Healing: An efficient immune response contributes to faster wound healing by preventing infections and promoting tissue repair. (5)

Balanced Inflammatory Responses: A well-regulated immune system helps you maintain a balanced inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation is linked to various health issues, and a strong immune system helps prevent excessive inflammation. (6)

Optimised Gut Health: The immune system in the gut, often referred to as gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), supports digestive health and protects you against infections. (7)

Supporting Overall Energy & Vitality: A strong immune system contributes to overall vitality, energy, and well-being. Instead of using energy to respond to threats, it allocates energy more efficiently for an active and healthy lifestyle. (8),(9)


Man Chilling out in front of a computer

Increase Resilience to Stress: Stress can lead to physiological changes in the body. Managing stress requires energy, and a robust immune system that can adapt to these changes, to stabilise and minimise the negative impact of stress on physical health. (10)


What to focus on when looking to build-up a Robust immune system?

Embarking on the journey to strengthen our immune systems often means navigating a plethora of advice on sleep, nutrition, relaxation, exercise, and holistic well-being. Amidst this wealth of information, a profound realization emerges: the pursuit of a robust immune system is intricately connected to our longevity, mental health, energy levels, and the overall zest and vitality with which we approach life's adventures. It goes beyond mere health; it's a holistic endeavour to cultivate resilience, ensuring not just physical well-being but a vibrant enthusiasm for a fulfilling and adventurous life. It all starts with small, positive, intentional changes in our daily habits.

In this next section I am going to highlight 6 key areas for you to focus on.  

1. NOURISH TO FLOURISH: Proper nutrition is essential for a robust immune system to tackle infections head-on. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables that span the colours of the rainbow is an excellent strategy for ensuring a diverse and nutrient-rich diet. Each colour often corresponds to specific vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that contribute to overall health. Eating Deficiencies in micronutrients (11), including zinc, selenium, magnesium copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, D and E, may explain the increased susceptibility to illness and to later life diseases. Some of the big hitting vitamins minerals and nutrients for gearing up our immunity in the mix are vitamins A, C, and D, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, selenium, and magnesium and probiotics:
Vitamin C which significantly affects the immune system, particularly barrier integrity and leukocyte function. It is actively accumulated in skin cells and leukocytes, safeguards your immune cells from free radicals that aim to cause havoc on our bodies, especially during infections. It's the ultimate cheerleader for your white blood cells, a real central player in the immune game. In studies it found that Vitamin C significantly decreased the severity of the common cold and had a positive benefit on the duration and severity of symptoms (4)
Sources of Vitamin C are citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, as well as in other fruits such as strawberries, kiwi, and papaya, and vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes but not limited to just these fruits and vegetables.
Zinc - By the time cold and flu season rolls around, your body should already be stocked up on zinc. Zinc supports immunity in a few different ways.
It acts as an antioxidant and protects the cells from free radicals and inflammation whilst also supporting Immune cells i.e. neutrophils, NK cells, and macrophages (harmful bacteria neutralising cells). There is also supportive evidence which suggests that taking Zinc within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms has shown potential in reducing the duration and severity of the common cold. (12)
An indirect benefit to Zinc Immunity powers is in how it helps supports nutrient absorption and optimises sleep. A study of 890 healthy individuals found that those having the optimum hours of sleep per night (seven to nine hours) had the highest levels of zinc in their blood (13)
Sources of Zinc are from meat, poultry, seafood (especially shellfish), dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

 Boy standing my a lake with his arms up to the sun - making Vitamin D

Vitamin D is as an unsung immunity powerhouse. It isn’t just about keeping your bones in check, it's a key player in our immune system too. Immune cells, including B cells, T cells, and antigen-presenting cells, can convert Vitamin D into the active form locally. This local production means vitamin D can act right within our immune system, tweaking both the innate and adaptive responses. Studies suggest that maintaining normal vitamin D levels is crucial, since low levels are linked to immune-related disorders and autoimmune diseases. (14),(16)
Sources of Vitamin D include Fatty Fish, Egg yolks, Cheese (Swiss, Cheddar) and Fortified foods. Food sources account for only around 10-15% of minimum daily requirements, providing your diet includes these foods regularly. Synthesis via the suns UV rays, is the main source of Vitamin D. During winter it is important to use Vitamin D supplementation.
Magnesium (Mg) strengthens the immune system by regulating cell death, activating immune cells, and fighting inflammation. Studies show that a magnesium-deficient diet triggers inflammation and free radical production. Considering that inflammation is the root of most diseases, this is a big deal (15). An interesting side benefit to Magnesium is in its ability to enhance Vitamin D absorption. Vitamin D receptors are present on various immune cells, including B cells, T cells, and antigen-presenting cells. Magnesium is involved in the activation and proper function of these immune cells.
Sources of Magnesium include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. However, cooking processes can reduce Mg content, and absorption in the intestines is around 30-40%.
Vitamin E - "Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant, is one of the best nutrients at being able to modulate immune function and found in higher concentrations within immune cells compared to other cells in blood. It acts to shield your cells from oxidative stress, enhances immune cell activity crucial for safeguarding your well-being and helps protect your skin from environmental stressors. Whilst supportive across all age groups, vitamin E is more effective in improving age-associated immune dysfunction and boosting protective immune response to pathogenic challenges in this age group. The immunomodulatory effects of supplemental vitamin E have been shown to be beneficial in mitigating several viral, bacteria and allergic diseases, including asthma. (21)
Sources of Vitamin E include nuts, seeds, and leafy greens, some types of fatty fish (i.e. salmon and rainbow trout), contain Vitamin E and can also offer omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), play a crucial role in various immune defence functions. They enhance the body's capability to combat, engulf, digest, and eliminate pathogens. Omega-3 actively contributes to balancing the immune response, exhibiting anti-inflammatory properties to manage and control the body's inflammatory reactions. Moreover, it communicates with other immune cells to coordinate a targeted response against unwanted intruders. Notably, Omega-3 is recognized for its potential benefits in autoimmune conditions, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's tissues (18). When Omega 3, Vitamin D are consumed together, they can enhance each other's benefits. (19)
Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and algae-based supplements.

Image of Selenium Rich Foods

Selenium is an essential mineral component of selenoproteins, which are involved in antioxidant defence mechanisms and immune regulation. Selenium works to help regenerate and recycle other antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E but most essentially that of Glutathione, the master of all antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect cells from oxidative stress and support immune cell function. (20)
Adequate Selenium contributes to the optimal performance of immune cells, including T cells and natural killer cells that play a vital role in identifying and destroying pathogens like viruses and bacteria.
Sources of Selenium can be obtained from dietary foods such as Brazil Nuts, Fish (such as tuna, halibut, and sardines), Meat (particularly organ meats like liver), Poultry, Eggs. It can also be found in Grains (depending on the selenium content of the soil).
Probiotics - Probiotics, particularly Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, are key players in modulating the gut microbiota. They reinforce the intestinal barrier, acting as a frontline defence mechanism against pathogens and toxins. Probiotics also engage in healthy competition with potentially harmful bacteria in the gut, preventing their overgrowth and maintaining a favourable gut environment. Furthermore, the bioactive compounds produced by some probiotic strains, such as short-chain fatty acids, exhibit anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, contributing to a healthier gut ecosystem. Strains like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Saccharomyces boulardii have proven immunomodulatory effects, influencing immune cell activity and cytokine production. (24)
Source of Probiotics include kefir, miso, tempeh, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles, are all rich in probiotics that support a flourishing microbiome. Additionally, traditional buttermilk, natto, and fermented sourdough bread can contribute to a healthy gut environment.

2. SLEEP IS YOUR BODY’S RESET: Sleep is not just a luxury; it's a vital component of immune health. Prioritise quality sleep to allow your body to rejuvenate and your immune warriors to prepare for the challenges ahead (22)

  • Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night if you're between 18-65 years old.
  • Organize your bedroom and establish a consistent routine for better sleep quality.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time daily.
  • Avoid using your phone at least one hour before bedtime to promote relaxation.
  • Read a book, listen to some mindful sleep mediations, or gentle music which does not stimulate the mind, it instead focuses and calms the mind.
  • Steer clear of consuming caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes at night.
  • Adjust your bedding to ensure you're neither too hot nor too cold during sleep.
  • Minimize distractions and remove sources of light in your bedroom for an improved sleep environment.

 Bunch of Women doing a fitness class

3.  ENERGISE YOUR BODY, IGNITE YOUR IMMUNITY SPIRIT: Physical activity is not only good for your overall health but also boosts your immune system. However too much intense exercise could prove to have the opposite benefit. Therefore short, moderate-to-vigorous exercises i.e. under 60 minutes, boost the immune system's ability to combat pathogens and over time it can enhance the body's ability to monitor and defend against diseases (23). As a general guide, five days of thirty-minute exercise i.e. walking the dog, jogging, yoga etc. or two to three days of up to an hour would be deemed as moderate exercise.

4.  NOURISH YOUR GUT: A diverse and well-balanced gut microbiome, featuring beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, is crucial for modulating immune responses and maintaining a robust immune system. Probiotics (24), found in supplements or certain foods, restore this balance, supporting immune function and reducing inflammation. Foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, buttermilk, sourdough bread, cottage cheese, kombucha, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso soup. If you're medically vulnerable, consult your healthcare provider before using probiotic supplements to avoid potential infection risks.

5.  TAKE TIME OUT TO CHILL: Chronic stress can weaken your immune defences and could even shave years from your life. (25). When you're stressed, your body's survival response kicks in. This involves the release of hormones like Epinephrine and Norepinephrine, which create the 'fight or flight' feeling. These hormones raise your heart rate and blood pressure. If stress continues, the hypothalamus releases hormones that lead to the production of Cortisol, which diverts energy away from your immune system, making it less effective temporarily. Incorporate practices which help to reduce stress throughout your day, including exercise, deep breathing, meditation, drinking herbal tea instead of coffee or other caffeinated beverages, walking, reading, massage, warm baths, or hobbies that bring joy.

6.  SIP, SIP, HOORAY! - It's likely you're familiar with the notion that your body is predominantly water—precisely 60%. Vital organs such as the heart and brain consist of about 73% water, while the kidneys are at 79%, and the lungs stand at an impressive 83%. Given these percentages, it's evident that water holds significant importance in the efficient functioning of your immune system (26), (27), (28). The key areas being:

Waste Removal - An efficient lymphatic system, boasting a composition of 90 percent water, is crucial for eliminating toxins, waste, abnormal cells, debris, and pathogens from the body, while also aiding in the transportation of infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the system.  A lower body water content could result in reduced lymph production.

Immune communication & biochemical pathways - Optimal hydration may help to support communication and biochemical pathways in the immune system.

Aids in Digestion: Adequate water intake supports digestion and nutrient absorption, contributing to a well-functioning immune system.
Regulates Body Temperature: Water plays a vital role in sweating, a mechanism that helps regulate body temperature and provides immune system benefits, including detoxification and bacterial cleansing.

Older couple on the beach looking happy and vibrant


As we approach the final thoughts, a common refrain echoes: "How can I find time for these changes?" This question often becomes a shield, shielding us from the perceived complexities of adopting a healthier lifestyle. The myth that it's too time-consuming or costly is just that—a myth. These statements serve as comfortable narratives, fitting snugly into our daily script. Change is undoubtedly challenging, but the catalyst lies in our desire for a robust immune system and a long, healthy life.

Life will get in the way, and its ok to compromise by taking supplements when not always able to meet your nutritional needs via wholesome organic foods. If fifteen minutes exercise a day and going to bed half an hour earlier, is all you can commit to, then its a great starting point. The key lies in embracing gradual, manageable shifts that, over time, accumulate into transformative results. The pivotal shift begins by telling yourself that you aspire to live not just longer but to thrive indefinitely. Currently, the prevailing mindset in all of us tends to resign to the inevitability of mortality, leading to a carefree approach.

So, whether you're embracing Liposomal supplements or forging habitual adjustments to your sleep routines, dietary choices, moments of relaxation, and physical activity, you pave the way for a flourishing robust immune system. When you make a commitment to well-being, remember: every choice is a brushstroke on the canvas of a healthier, more vibrant you. Here's to your journey towards a life well-lived.