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Immunity 101

Fascinating facts and stats about the immune system

As the autumn and winter draw nearer, so does our likelihood of catching colds and flu. Here we take a look at some natural ways to support your immune system, as well as some fascinating facts and figures about immunity.

“Echinacea’s immune-boosting properties are partly attributed to its polysaccharides which stimulate white blood cell production,” says consultant herbalist Klayr Hunter, MNIMH, ( “White blood cells form part of your immune system that destroy invading organisms such as viruses. In vitro research show Echinacea’s antiviral properties are effective against SARS-CoV-2 which is the virus that causes Covid-19.”

“Walking doesn’t just make you feel good, studies also suggest that it may reduce your risk of developing a cold or flu by boosting your immune system,” says Penny Weston, fitness, wellness guru and nutrition expert ( “It does this by increasing the amount of white blood cells circulating in your blood. These are the cells that fight infection and disease as part of the body’s natural immune system.”

“Mushrooms can be used for everyday support in boosting the immune system to prevent infections or to speed up recovery time,” says Hania Opienski, a naturopath and mycotherapy specialist consultant working with “Beta-glucans from mushrooms provide a synergistic effect that naturally activates the innate immunity and triggers reactions that allow the body to better identify viruses and bacteria. “As a practitioner, I recommend medicinal mushrooms to everyone (unless allergic) to add to their daily self-care. As adaptogens, these miraculous fungi are safe for long-term consumption, as they help the body to harmonise itself.”

“Elderberry has been traditionally used to treat colds and flus in Britain for hundreds of years,” says Klayr Hunter. “Studies have already proven it to be effective against influenza A and B. It reduces the length of time a respiratory infection lasts, and trials started earlier this year to test it against Covid-19 in an East Kent hospital.”

“A lesser-known hero nutrient for a well-functioning immune system is selenium,” says Olga Preston, registered nutritional therapist from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, ( “Selenium is a mineral found in Brazil nuts, seafood, fish, organ meats, meat, poultry and grains. Brazil nuts are particularly high in selenium (containing 68-91 micrograms per nut). This means that just two Brazil nuts can contain more than the daily recommended intake (60 micrograms for women and 75 micrograms for men). However, if you already have a balanced diet you may not need to take in extra. Too much selenium can cause selenosis, a condition that can lead to loss of hair and nails, so check with a registered nutritional therapist or a GP if you have concerns.”

“Chronically raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol can result in the immune system becoming resistant to the stress response,” says Olga Preston. “Swollen glands, a sore throat and aching limbs can all be signs that the body is trying hard to cope, and a good indicator to take time to rest and relax. Gentle exercise such as meditation, yoga or walking can help you to do this.”

“Our immune system is a group of cells, organs and tissues that work together to defend the body against infection, repair damage and maintain our overall health,” says Dr Jess Braid. “Without our immune system, we would die; killed by an infection, like the common cold or the flu.”

“Almost 70 per cent of our entire immune system resides in our gut so having a healthy digestive system and microbiome is vital for good immune health,” says Klayr Hunter. “Gut bacteria enhance our immune response and probiotics have shown an improved response to vaccination. You can support your gut flora and immune system by eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, fermented foods and taking a probiotic daily.”

“Vitamin D plays a key role in immune function,” says Klayr Hunter. “A deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased complications with Covid-19 including Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). The British Medical Journal also found it protective against acute respiratory tract infections. Foods rich in vitamin D include oily fish, egg yolks and mushrooms.”

“Yellow, orange, red and green vegetables contain beta-carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A, which in turn helps support the body as it fights off infection and illness,” says Olga Preston.


“The immune system activates itself to send chemicals, cells and a system-wide response in an attempt to defend the body and repair the damage,” says Dr Jess Braid, cofounder of adio Health ( “This is a healthy response that keeps us alive, but sometimes, it can go wrong. Chronic (long term) inflammation is at the root of many diseases: autoimmune diseases, heart disease, eczema, diabetes, cancer, dementia, autism, obesity, premature ageing, asthma and arthritis. The immune defence system can fail to switch off, or get inappropriately triggered, creating ongoing inflammation. This immune response can create many symptoms and long-term (chronic) illnesses.”

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