Dr. Jenna Macciochi shares tips for building a strong line of defense.
Dr. Jenna Macciochi is a British immunologist, a certified fitness instructor, and a researcher who focuses on how nutrition and lifestyle affect immunity. At a time when many of us are chomping vitamin C gummies and practically nailing garlic above our doors, her new book, Immunity, is a must-read.
What is the most common misconception you encounter when it comes to immunity?
Jenna: That you can boost your immunity through diet and supplements. Many people think the immune system is an on/off switch with an ability to be given an extra boost, such as through supplements, when needed. The problem is that the immune system is not binary; it’s a whole spectrum of cells, molecules, and organs scattered throughout every part of your body. Some parts fight off infections, while others are the peacekeepers that maintain the status quo.
When something allegedly boosts the immune system, we need to ask which part. And often it’s the case that an overshooting of the immune system leads to damage to our own organs and tissues. Good nutrition and lifestyle is, of course, important, but there will always be a baseline of immunity we cannot change with a supplement or two.
You use this wonderful term “movement snacks.” The idea is that throughout the day you should be moving, particularly as a way to care for our lymph system, since it has no way to circulate on its own without us moving around.
Yes, I love micro-workouts. I started integrating this into my own routine when I became a mum and had little time for the gym.
I think it’s the future of fitness as our lives get busier and busier. We know that even if we are active, many of us have jobs that mean we are stuck being sedentary all day and this is extremely bad for our health. The main aim is to break up prolonged seating periods, whether that’s setting a timer to remind you to get up every hour or looking for opportunities to move by doing things like housework. It should include a variety of movements, such as light cardio, resistance, and stretching.
Sometimes self-care can start to sound like a full-time job: Sleep! Nutrition! Meditation! Do you advise rotating between some of these or trying to fit them all in daily?
That’s a great point. I think we have to do the best we can with what we have at that moment. I’m a big believer in planning my week and giving structure to my time. That way I know when I have some slots available for self-care.
I also realize that I feel better if I spend time in green space each day, so I prioritize this even if it means I don’t get as much work done. But it’s not all about indulging yourself with wellness activities. Sometimes it’s just taking a nice shower and a few moments to check in with yourself before getting back to the relentless buzz of work, kids, life, etc.
When we look at headlines about immunity news, what key things should we keep in mind? As lay people, it can be hard to know what to take seriously.
I’d be cautious about small animal research studies that have their conclusions overstated in terms of how they apply to humans. Time and time again we see that the mechanisms shown in animal studies don’t always translate to us humans. I’d be cautious of anyone offering a cure for things like allergies and autoimmunity. Sure, we may be able to improve symptoms, but “cure” is an overstretch. Always look for the references. You might not be able to read these scientific papers, but at least it will give you an indication that the statements are based on scientific data rather than someone’s beliefs.
Do you wish more people would be aware of and interested in our immune systems? They seem quite remarkable!
This was partly what drove me to write the book. I would like people to know just how many aspects of our physical and mental health are touched and protected by our immune system. Even aging is dependent on how you take care of your immunity! Thinking about your immune system shouldn’t be just reserved for when you get that head cold.