Gut… Stress… Sleep… Penny Brohn

Did you know something like 70% of your immune system is in the gut?

Humans have trillions of bacteria living in their gut, mouth and nose, known collectively as the microbiome. Recent research has shown us that some of these bacteria are intricately involved in helping our immune system to function. That’s good reason to look after your gut. Here are some top tips:

• Be sure to eat plenty of soluble fibre, found in oats, flaxseeds, chia seeds, stewed apple and most vegetables.
• Eat prebiotic rich foods such as leeks, onions, garlic, live yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut . Prebiotics help the beneficial bacteria to colonise the gut.

For thousands of years, mushrooms, like shitake and maitake, have been used in Eastern medicine for their immune stimulating properties, including their ability to modulate NK cell activity. These mushrooms and – to a lesser extent – oats, brewer’s yeast and seaweed, contain a type of sugar known as beta-glucan. It’s these beta-glucans that are being studied for both their ability to stimulate resistance to infection, and their anti-cancer activity. Though evidence for their use is increasing, overall, human studies are still limited and the anti-cancer effects are mainly based on test tube or animal studies. Still, Spring is the perfect time to up your intake of mushrooms and instead of plumping for your usual white mushrooms, why not seek out some beta-glucan rich shitake mushrooms, which most of the UK’s supermarkets now sell.

Having a healthy diet is only part of the picture.

Research has demonstrated that sleep deprivation suppresses the immune system, making you less able to fend off bugs. The immune system functions best when it gets enough sleep, and most of us need at least seven hours a night for optimal health. Spend a little time working out how many hours sleep you need to feel well. And if you do come down with a virus, prioritise your sleep. You’ll feel better for it.

Chronic stress (lasting several days to years) has been shown to suppress the immune system and may make you more susceptible to cold and flu viruses. Learning how to manage it can be very supportive to our overall health and wellbeing. Spending time with people you love, taking regular exercise, and getting out in nature can also help.

Social connection improves physical health and psychological wellbeing, and has been demonstrated to increase longevity and strengthen our immune system. Spending time with people whom you feel a true connection, or perhaps connecting with the local community can have a very positive effect on wellbeing.

When it comes to immunity, our first line of defence is a healthy lifestyle. What we eat is important, since our immune system needs all sorts of nutrients to function properly. Check out the Penny Brohn UK healthy eating plate which encourages you to include good quality protein, essential fats and plenty of vegetables in your daily diet. But remember, what we eat is only one part of the puzzle. Equally important, is getting enough sleep, managing our stress levels, taking regular exercise, and spending time with people who share similar values and interests to ourselves.

By Janey Twigger, Nutritional Therapist at Penny Brohn UK.
Penny Brohn UK is the leading charity in the UK to take an integrated and whole person approach to cancer support. To find out more visit pennybrohn.org.uk or telephone 0303 3000 118.

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