Does Your Immune System Need Some TLC?

Woman hands holding ripe red cranberries

By expert immunologist Dr Jenna Macchiochi ( on behalf of Ocean Spray.

Dr Jenna Macchiochi

Photography by Sussex food and lifestyle photographer Emma Croman.
Dr Jenna Macchiochi.

Everyone thinks about boosting their immune system over the long, cold winter months when colds and flu seem to be rife.  But having good immunity is something we should be thinking about all year round – even when the sun is shining.  We know why a good immune system is important – it helps us stay alive!  But we are not always aware when it needs an extra boost, perhaps because of stress, tiredness or that time of the month for example.

Did you know that:

  • Lack of sleep reduces your immune defenses and almost half of British women (43%) say they are not getting enough sleep.
A blonde woman, hands holding her head, lying on a bed

Pic: iStockphoto

  • Studies have shown that during the month, women’s immune systems vary and at times become actually weaker, meaning they are more susceptible to infection.
  • Women Have Stronger Immune Systems than Men
  • 4 daily things that can seriously weaken your immune system (Stress, Lack of sleep, Lack of exercise, and Dehydration!)

Immunologist Dr Jenna Macchiochi recommends we care about our immune health on a daily basis, not just when the going gets tough.  Says Jenna:  “Your first line of defence is to choose a healthy lifestyle and good hygiene, washing hands etc.  But you can also put your body in the best possible immune shape with a balance of healthy lifestyle habits including, of course, eating a balanced diet, getting enough rest, drinking enough liquid, and exercise.”

Jenna’s top tips to get you off to a strong start include:

1 Nail your nutrition

the immune system suffers when we eat too little AND when we eat too much! It requires all the macronutrients (proteins, carbs and fats) and all the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) for optimal day-to-day functioning.  So, it follows that having a specific deficiency in any of these could leave your immune system compromised.  Try including immune boosting foods as part of your daily dietary regime.  Consider the humble cranberry, for instance. Used in native cultures to treat illnesses, cranberries have some amazing and surprising health benefits which make them a perfect fit for a healthy immune system.  Try a cranberry juice which can directly modify certain aspects of immune function.  And if you are trying to shift some excess weight, the polyphenols in cranberries have been shown to beneficially affect fat metabolism, potentially helping to decrease body fat accumulation.

2 Colour is key

Trug of vegetables fresh from garden

Pic: Susie White

When it comes to food, the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.  And nutrition goes beyond just vitamins and minerals.  Taking care of your immune system, there is no single magic nutritional bullet.  But plant rich colour is key due to their rich phytonutrient content.  What do phytonutrients do? It seems small amounts of these phytochemicals find their way from plant foods into our cells, and then direct cells to reduce our inflammatory reactions. With more nutrients than its summer cousin, cranberries are loaded with polyphenols, a type of phytonutrient.

3 Not just what you eat but when you eat

There is now research revealing how one pathway to good health is by timing our meals in alignment with our daily body rhythms.  The study gives credence to the saying breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.  The evidence shows that eating within a restricted time window of around 10 hours is beneficial for health.  This is because the body’s internal clock – or circadian rhythms – is not as efficient at digesting food when people are asleep, which means we are designed to eat during the daytime. Better timing of meals, rather than what you are eating specifically, might actually be key to a stronger immune system. Another good reason to include immune boosting food and drink (i.e. cranberry juice) as part of your daily breakfast.

4 Consolidate meals rather than snack

Woman's feet standing on scale with measuring tape nearby

Pic: iStockphoto

Only until relatively recently in human evolution have we eaten three meals plus snacks every day. But these days, people are eating more frequently than they ever have before – and often outside of meal times. As a nation, we now have erratic eating patterns. When we eat, we do not just take in nutrients – we also trigger our immune system to produce a transient inflammatory response because our gut doesn’t only digest food, it is also the home to the trillions of bugs that form our microbiome and any potentially infectious microorganisms that enter through our mouth.  This means that eating is inflammatory and so eating frequently can perpetuate leaky gut!  Not only does snacking increase your likelihood of elevated inflammatory markers, but eating excessive calories also leads to weight gain.

5 Supplements – know your why!

Vitamins, minerals, fish oils . . . the list of nutritional supplements we are told to buy keeps growing. They are convenient, easy and cheap… but are they worth it? There is substantial evidence for a lack of any health benefit for supplements in the majority of the adult population. Until more research is done, we should focus on assuming the fundamental unit of nutrition is food as the sum of its parts – not only does food also contain gut loving fibre, you have much more control over the amounts and less risk of toxicity. If your diet in general is less than perfect, then improving your diet is where you want to start.  No number of pills are going to negate that.


Immune Boosting Benefits of Cranberries

Woman's hands holding ripe red cranberries

Pic: iStockphoto

There is no need to pop a multi-vitamin pill or any other health supplement. It is all found in the humble cranberry, clearly qualifying it as a superfood.  That little red tart fruit contains the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin C
  • Salicylic acid
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin B (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin E)
  • Vitamin A, folate, vitamin K (phylloquinone)
Ocean Spray Cranberry Original Juice

£1.99 from Sainsbury’s.


Cranberries, or cranberry juice, are known to have a number of specific health benefits including: treating/preventing urinary tract infections (UTI), helping against age-related diseases, helping to improve heart health, maintaining the health of the digestive system, preventing infection, acting as a liver cleanser, being good for bones, fighting off sore throats and colds and helping get rid of body fat. A daily glass of cranberry juice, including using cranberry juice in a smoothie, is a simple and tasty way to give your body an everyday immune system boost.

Ocean Spray Low Calorie Cranberry Juice

£1.99 from Sainsbury’s.

Moira Chisholm

I'm the Health Editor on My Weekly and am always interested to hear what's new in this fascinating field. I also deal with the gardening, shopping pages, general features, our website content and the Ask Helen problem page. I have a special interest in Christmas content because I'm on the team for Your Best Ever Christmas Magazine, too!