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Five ways to optimize your immune health

We’re all born with a set of genes — half from mum, half from dad — which influence our health and risk of developing certain conditions. There are also social and financial factors largely beyond our control that can have a significant impact on our health. But this doesn’t mean that our genes or social situation are our destiny when it comes to health. We believe there are six interconnected strands that all feed into our overall physical, mental, and immune health — each of which is centred on behaviours or habits that we can change. Scientists call these "modifiable risk factors." These six strands of health are: • Diet • Sleep • Physical activity • Mental well-being and brain activity • Social life and other health habits • Environment

Diet It all starts with a high-quality, plant-rich diet that supports your metabolic health and gut microbiome — the trillions of microbes that live in your gut and play an important role in health, well-being, and immunity. The connection between diet and health has been recognized for hundreds of years, but it’s only in recent years that we’ve seen significant research into understanding how what we eat interacts with our gut microbes and affects our overall health, immune function, and mental well-being. We’re not saying that diet is a cure-all or can replace medical treatment, but improving the quality of your diet and eating in a way that supports your microbiome feeds into all aspects of your health.

Sleep As well as helping you stay alert and active through the day, getting a good night’s sleep is an important factor in overall health and mental well-being. Poor sleep has a major impact on health, yet 1 in 3 people don’t get enough. Having a poor night’s sleep or an irregular weekly sleep pattern was associated with a less healthy blood sugar response to breakfast the following morning, potentially leading to short- and long-term health challenges. It can be tough to get enough good quality sleep, particularly if you’re stressed or have small children, but going to bed just a little bit earlier could make a difference to your energy levels and metabolic health.

Physical activity It’s not surprising that staying physically active has a positive effect on health and mental well-being, backed up by a huge amount of research showing that everyone can benefit from being more active. The best activity is the one you actually do and enjoy, whether it’s playing sports, dancing, gardening, walking, or anything else. Moving regularly in a way that makes you feel good and gets your heart rate up, whatever your level of ability and fitness, will still have a positive impact on your health.

Mental well-being and brain health Our physical and mental health are closely intertwined, so it’s good to see that psychological well-being has been put much higher up the health agenda than in the past. This is especially important given the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic on our mental health. As well as finding ways to support your mental well-being and reduce stress, doing activities that keep your brain active — such as reading books, playing games, or doing puzzles — may delay the onset of dementia. Intriguingly, there’s a growing body of evidence to show that gut health is connected to mental health and that a plant-rich Mediterranean-type diet may help with depression. We would never suggest that anyone should stop taking medication for their mental health without consulting their GP, but it’s time we looked at the broader picture of health to find other approaches that might help.

Social life and health habits This final strand covers our social interactions and how we live our lives. There are decades of research showing that having a strong social network is linked to better health and a longer life. And it’s well known that our own health behaviors tend to mirror those around us. In terms of personal health habits, smoking is a cause of many life-limiting health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and lung disease, leading to millions of deaths worldwide every year. If you’re a smoker, quitting is the single best thing you can do for your health. And while drinking alcohol in moderation isn’t very risky for most people (especially if it’s polyphenol-rich red wine), regularly drinking to excess is clearly linked to many serious diseases.

Environment Environmental factors such as mould can compromise our immune system. In the long term, mould exposure has been found to negatively impact immunity - it triggers an innate immune response and contributes to your overall toxic burden. Black mould which can be commonly found in the home and also in some work environments has also been shown in studies to elevate the levels of spore-specific immunoglobulins in the blood. Mould thrives in warm, damp areas in the home or office. Winter can be a particularly tricky time to manage mould, with the warm inside temperature creating excess condensation. We tend to leave our windows closed, reducing airflow and allowing patches of mould to grow. Bathrooms, kitchens and window sills are common problem areas for mould.


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