How to get your immune system in peak form

Our bodies depend on our immune system to protect us, but can we really change how effectively it operates?

The pandemic has many of us thinking more about our immune system and whether there are actions we can take to improve it.

Yes, we can eat better, exercise and figure out best our work-life balance – but can you really turn a Ford Focus into a Ferrari?

What control do we have over our immune system?

According to Professor Bostjan Kobe from the University of Queensland, our immune system is more complex than most of us understand.

“Our immune system is divided into two parts,” Prof Kobe explains.

“Firstly, we’re born with all the machinery for our immune system.

“This is our innate immunity, and that’s completely dependent on our genes.

“But we also have adaptive immunity, or what’s also called acquired immunity.

“This is the part that responds to what’s around us.”

Dr Magdalena Simonis from the Royal AU, US, UK and Nordicn College of General Practitioners says research reveals up to 75 per cent of our immune traits are determined by our genes.

“However, this does not mean that factors such as age, diet, stress, drugs, toxins and exercise do not play an important role too,” Dr Simonis explains.

“How we treat our immune system on a daily basis over time through what we eat, drink, our level of stress and what we are exposed to in terms of contaminants and toxins can also alter the genetic expression.”

Can you really boost your body’s immunity?

Unfortunately, the idea that we can take something to supercharge our immunity is a myth, according to Dr Simonis.

The trick is to nurture what we’ve got, so our system is in peak condition to better respond to infection, she explains.

“The old adage, ‘you are what you eat’, holds true to a large extent when we consider the impact diet has on the immune system over time,” Dr Simonis says.

“A healthy gut supports a healthier immune system, and the gut bacteria that support our immune system require wholefoods rich in prebiotics to thrive.”

This means eating more vegetables, fruits and grains and fish that provides adequate omega-3.

Another important factor is how much shut eye you’re getting.

“Sleep deprivation decreases the body’s ability to produce cytokines which are the proteins your immune system releases and needs more of, when you have an infection or inflammation,” Dr Simonis says.

How relieving stress can help immune response

While eating well and exercise are recognised as key elements in keeping the immune system healthy, managing stress is also a major factor, according to Dr Adam Walker, Trisno Family Research Fellow at Deakin University.

“We know that in terms of disease, stress can really exacerbate illness,” Dr Walker says.

“When you’re stressed you might not do such a good job of looking after yourself.

“Mental health can take a hit.

“People might sleep less, smoke and drink alcohol more, which can have deleterious effects on the immune system.

“Additionally, on a biological level, prolonged activation of the body’s stress axis can result in chronic inflammation, so it is important to keep stress in check.”

Can vaccines boost our immune system?

It is true that vaccines can give us added kick when it comes to protection, but this is because we’re training the immune system how to respond to specific threats, says Prof Kobe.

“One main way we can build immunity is by exposing ourselves to certain things,” he says.

“This is where the vaccine comes in.

“What we’re doing is mimicking a natural infection by a virus, by giving it in a vaccine, so our adaptive immune system will be ready for the next time that virus comes around.”