Wellness entrepreneur and supermodel delves deep into the wonders of the immune system, and shares the tools and techniques she swears by (plus the science behind them)

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Growing up in beautiful Australia, I was rarely sick. On the odd occasion my siblings and I were feeling off balance, mum would send us to a chiropractor over a doctor. We had plenty of fresh air and sunshine and we were often by the sea, surfing and relaxing in nature. The environment was less toxic, no GMO or pesticides and the water was clean. We were also fortunate enough to have good, hearty soil which resulted in nutrient-dense vegetables.

I’ve since learned so much from my friend Zach Bush MD (a physician and internationally recognised educator and thought leader on the microbiome as it relates to health, disease and food systems) about the link between our soil and our wellbeing. Repairing this link is one of the most poignant and pressing issues of our time.

Why the soil matters for our health

Although the immune system is not housed in any one place per se, 70 per cent of it does reside in our gut. Naturally, the micro-organisms making up the gut microbiome are deeply affected by what we eat. Damage to the gut membrane – through our food and namely, toxic soil due to the widespread use of the pesticide glyphosate – causes inflammation and a breakdown in the gut's natural barrier function. Over time this becomes a serious issue for our immune system, making the cultivation of a healthy gut microbiome our life’s work. 

“Without healthy soil, our produce not only will lack nutrients, but it will invite chemicals into our own biology and ecosystem. These chemicals will continue to break down the cornerstone of our health – our immune system – if we let them,” says Dr. Bush.

So the soil I once grew up with under my feet is sadly no longer and, decades on, chemical farming has infiltrated our food systems. This leaves regenerative agricultural practices, like Farmer’s Footprint (the US coalition dedicated to reducing chemical farming in order to help prevent chronic disease) the only true way forward, improving every immune system from the ground up.

Once I started modelling, I had no real reason to think about health beyond fitness. I would work out (I loved to run) and watch my weight. That to me was ‘health'. I certainly had no idea there were 11 systems of the body, from the nervous system to the lymphatic system and the endocrine system and everything in between. Keep in mind it was the nineties and the idea of self-care typically meant partying most nights! Regrettably, smoking was also very fashionable back then. When traveling, I would just power through without a thought about the state of my inner health, as there was simply no real time to think about it. 

Getting healthy and raising healthy children

By the time I turned 40, I’d given up smoking and drinking, becoming the fittest I’ve ever been. I came face-to-face with what it truly felt to become well from within despite still having some way to go.

When I became a mother, I was intent on raising my boys strong and healthy. I wanted to give them the same foundation my mum gave me, naturally. So, I started working with naturopaths who showed me how to best cultivate quality health in my boys. Since then, the advice of London nutritionist Dr Simoné Laubscher has been an enormous help to my family. A lot of how we live is based on her 7 pillars of wellness, which include essentials like sleep, time in nature, sunshine, improving oxygenation, intuitive movement, quality supplements and reducing stress. And I think it worked because my boys have turned out beautifully!

Getting to know my immune system

Today, I’m much better acquainted with my immune system and can sense when it requires some love. I’ve often said, “When you’re well within, it shows on your skin,” but I’ve also found the opposite to be true. For me, feeling run down can result in rashes, hives, dryness, or dark circles.

During these times, I elect to heal naturally, choosing not to take antibiotics or pharmaceuticals. In my experience, sleep is the best healer and preventative. A 2015 study discovered that sleeping less than six hours per night made people almost five times more likely to get a cold compared to those who slept well for more than seven hours a night.

My system also responds favourably to vegetable juicing, using recipes from my friend Dr. Sara Siso, a holistic health practitioner, plant-based healer and raw food chef. I’ll juice for days when I’m run down, detoxing and fortifying my system from deep within. For the immune system, I love celery, cucumber, broccoli, romaine lettuce, lemon, lime, and ginger with our super greens, The Super Elixir™. Sometimes I might add a wheatgrass shot or two for extra effect.

Why hot and cold therapy is my daily practice

On their own, an infrared sauna and a cold plunge are excellent at strengthening the immune system, but I like to combine them in a Nordic tradition that dates back 1000 years.

Most evenings, I’ll spend time in my Therasage infrared sauna with the temperature cranked up. I’ll then jump in my cold plunge bath.

Going from hot to cold creates positive stress, activating the body’s natural adaptation and defence mechanisms. The stress-recovery cycle then stimulates blood circulation and releases endorphins, which improves the overall state of the immune system;  so much so that those who do so regularly have 29 per cent fewer sick days! The Finnish are masters of ‘sisu’, a countrywide concept pertaining to grit and inner strength, and they also happen to be the happiest country in the world, so perhaps they’re onto something!

I like to follow my hot to cold sessions with some breathwork and then my nightly cup of calming tea which helps the mind, emotions and body to rest, recover and rejuvenate. I’ve been doing this routine now for many years and it not only supports my immune system, I find it’s also incredible for detox, lymph support and relaxation.

I’m also a big believer in daily vitamin D from the sun, and of reducing EMF (electromagnetic fields) by lowering screen use and using blue light blocking glasses and red light at night. I believe in minimising stress, which has been proven to weaken the immune system and is the best reason to meditate more. Another thing I like to do for my immune system is to practice Reiki on myself.

The power of personal connection

And while these strategies work (please feel free to click on the corresponding links throughout pointing to relevant studies), we really only need to get down to nature, human nature, and connect through love and laughter to see results. Hugs strengthen us, all the way down to our mitochondria, proven in a Carnegie Mellon University study back in 2015. They established that those with more social support (and hugs) were less likely to come down with a cold. Now that’s some medicine!

Tackling chronic inflammation

The main goal with your immune system is to lower inflammation. Whether I am talking to Dr. Bush or Dr. Laubscher, this remains the heart of the matter. Chronic (i.e long-term) inflammation – not acute (short term) – is extremely damaging and it’s exactly the reason I brought The Super Elixir™ to market in 2014. Chronic inflammation is linked to serious illness such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer so I was very motivated to get on top of it.

The Super Elixir™ and The Immune Elixir have both contributed to the health I am happy to say I have today. With nine potent ingredients, including a combination of botanical extracts, natural vitamin C, vitamins, and minerals, The Immune Elixir supports the body’s natural defences and I’ve found it to be absolutely essential for my schedule.

My favourite reads for health and healing

I also find reading to be a true healer. I love functional medicine expert Dr Will Cole’s books, including Gut Feelings and The Inflammation Spectrum. Also the profound work that is The Body Keeps The Score by ​Bessel van der Kolk MD. I also have many books on holistic healing that I would honestly be lost without;  these are my precious survival guides filled with underlines.

We are so lucky to have an innate natural immune system whose intelligence and natural functionality ensures we do not come to harm. Thanks to authentic science, we have unfailing evidence that our immune system incorporates many millions of viruses and bacteria, constantly circulating throughout our body and remaining vital to our continuing wellbeing. They support our wellness while defending us from potential harm. These are our friends, knowing exactly which bacteria or viruses we require for health and which need to be thrown out in our body’s trash system. And they manage this process perfectly when they have the natural nutritional support they require.

Let’s continue treating them ‘welle’.

Love, Elle

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My everyday immune supporting toolkit

PS. I could go on and on about the immune system, so I wanted to include a little list of all the remedies I swear by in my house, through winter and beyond.

Find out more at welleco.co.uk and on Instagram @welleco @ellemacpherson