An Expert’s Guide to Strengthening Your Immune System
No one likes getting sick and staying home at the best of times… But especially in 2020.
It’s more important than ever to keep our immune system healthy in order to fight off the common cold (or a global pandemic).
There are those who swear by natural treatments and therapies for cultivating a healthy immune system and those who claim that taking vitamins and catching a few extra hours of sleep is more than enough.
For a better understanding of the immune system and a holistic approach to making it shine, we talk to Nanda Betti Solano, Nutritional Therapist and member of the Acupuncture Foundation Professional Association. With a passion for holistic science, Nanda integrates nutrition and acupuncture to promote health and well being.
Interview with Nanda Betti Solano, Nutritional Therapist
‘Immune system’ is one of the biggest buzzwords right now. How would you define it?
In Western medicine, the immune system is made up of organs that control the production of chemicals and the production and maturation of certain defence cells. In a nutshell, it works by getting rid of foreign substances that may be harmful to our body.
The equivalent of a healthy immune system in Chinese medicine is a balanced qi. This is the vital energy that flows throughout our body to protect us from illnesses. The qi concept can be divided into many different areas.
Pre-natal or essence qi is formed within the human body at the moment of conception and is then nurtured within the womb. Postnatal qi is generated by the food we eat and the air we breathe, which is split further into nutritive qi and defensive qi. Nutritive qi exists in the interior of the body and comes from food. On the other hand, defensive qi exists in the exterior, where the body is protected from energy within the air.
We all know eating well and regular exercise can help boost our immune system. What else can help?
In Western Medicine, studies have shown that our lifestyle (food, exercise, sleep patterns and mindset/emotions) heavily influences our immunity.
Diseases are often associated with reduced happiness, so focusing on our well being, joy and life purpose can help regulate our immune response.
Resilience is also a factor for immunity. By quickly adapting to and recovering from adverse conditions, we can fight against the harmful influence of chemical stressors such as cortisol.
In Chinese medicine, resilience is synonymous with will power and each person’s ‘container’ of resilience is filled at a different level, depending on their genetics. However, it is also influenced by our environment, meaning that a good self-care routine can help keep our containers filled.
We can nourish our essence qi through sunshine, acupuncture practices and work-life balance as well as a healthy diet and regular exercise.
You mention that sleep helps relieve stress and improve our immunity. Are there foods that help promote a good night’s sleep?
There are certain foods and herbs that can calm our minds down and help our sleep. These foods are rich in certain amino acids and vitamins that are precursors of chemicals that encourage a healthy sleep. However, there is no one fit for all. Foods that improve sleep are particular to a person’s symptoms and individual condition.
Are there foods proven to have anti-stress effects?
Stress can have many faces. It can be presented as an anxious and unsettled mind, insomnia, apathy and more. Again, I don’t like to generalise much.
It is possible to tailor a specific food plan depending on each unique case. In general, lots of vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, fermented foods and a bit of animal protein are ideal for building resilience and immunity as well as keeping stress at bay.
Spring can be a tricky time for people with breathing issues. Is there a way to prevent these respiratory illnesses through nutrition?
Adding bay leaves in your cup of tea or stew, drinking peppermint tea daily, eating pineapple and avoiding dairy are just a few ways to help with breathing problems.
Many people swear by the immunity boosting qualities of probiotics. Do they live up to the hype?
Yes! Probiotics are friendly bacterias.
Our bodies actually have more bacteria than cells. These bacterias play a major role in immunity as well as mood and behaviour.
Nowadays there are certain illnesses linked to certain non-friendly bacteria in the gut. For example, obesity, depression and Parkinsons were all linked to a certain strain of a bacteria in the gut.
Over the years we have changed so much the way we eat in variety that we have changed the bacterias in our gut. In addition to the probiotics there are also the prebiotics – fibrous foods that feed the friendly bacteria in our gut. These prebiotics are mainly found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and seeds. But again, if you want to treat a certain condition you will need someone specialised to identify which strains of bacteria are most suitable for you.
Which 5 immunity-boosting foods can you not live without at the moment?
I am a big fan of bone broth and water kefir kiwi juice as well as mushrooms, vegan brownie (made of dates, raisins and nuts) and pumpkin seeds.