bowls of super foods

Supporting – not boosting – your immune system

We are learning new things everyday about the Coronavirus, and so many blogs are talking about boosting your immune system, but you don’t want to boost your immune system, you need to strengthen and support it for the long term. So let’s first look at what weakens immunity, what happens if you have any auto immune disorders and having underlying medical conditions.

Lifestyle factors such as lack of sleep, poor diet, alcohol and cigarettes leads to weaker gut immunity. Chronic stress and anxiety over a period of time (which many women will go through on their fertility journeys) also affect gut health and therefore immunity. But it’s very important not to panic and feel in control, and there are certain things that you can do to protect yourself and ensure your immune system is functioning as optimally as possible which is so important now more than ever.

Your immune system is a network of cells, organs, proteins and antibodies that work to protect you against bacteria, viruses and parasites. Whilst we usually only think of our immune system when we feel ill, it’s actually working every day to keep us safe.

If you are looking to strengthen your immunity, the best way is through a combined approach. These tips are in no way prescriptive, nor a magic bullet to health, but are simply a gentle nudge in a better direction…

Reduce stress
Modern medicine has come to appreciate the closely linked relationship of mind and body and reducing stress is an important way of strengthening your immune system. Although it is difficult to define, as what may appear to be a stressful situation for one person is not for another, but what is known both from anecdotal evidence and published studies is that sustained neuronal activities, such as experiencing prolonged psychological and emotional stresses, negatively impact the immunological state.

When you are feeling stressed or anxious, the body releases cortisol. In short spurts, cortisol can boost your immunity by limiting inflammation, however, over longer periods cortisol can lead to a decrease of the body’s lymphocytes – the white blood cells that help fight off infection – and the lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are to catch viruses.

Stress reduction strategies not only give your mind a break, but they can also relieve the pressure on your immune system. You can take steps to reduce short-term and long-term stress through things like meditation – for 10 to 15 minutes a day – or yoga and now, more than ever, while we can’t control what is going on around us, it is important to try and take control over the situations we can, which includes our internal environments, in order to help support and strengthen the immune system.

Breathe…it sounds so simple but it is! Getting into balanced breathing will put your body into parasympathetic mode and will evoke a relaxation response and reduce cortisol levels. The hard thing for women to make is time, but this is the one thing we may all have soon so make time to practice.

While more sleep won’t necessarily make us invincible, lack of sleep almost immediately tips our immune system into imbalance. A single night of poor sleep leads to a decrease of up to 70% of our natural killer cells – our first line of defence against viruses. Other research shows that people who sleep for six hours a night or less are four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to the virus, compared with those who spend more than seven hours a night sleep. A good night’s sleep pays dividends, as it helps the body produce antibodies, which benefit the immune system and to better fight infections.

Reduce alcohol intake
Alcohol affects the way health gut microbes interact with the immune system and also disrupts the gut barrier, allowing more bacteria to pass into the blood. In addition, it also interferes with the chemical signals from white blood cells called cytokines, which can cause an autoimmune response if produced in larger than normal quantities, or an immune system deficiency in cases when these levels are decreased. Alcohol consumption also disrupts normal T-cell function, leaving someone at greater risk of bacterial and viral infection. A single episode of binge drinking can result in an immune weakness against exposure to illness within the first 24-hours of initial consumption.

Gut health
Research has shown that there is a significant amount of interaction between the body’s immune system and bacteria in the gut. Beneficial gut bacteria species have been demonstrated to impact both the innate (present from birth) and acquired immune systems, so it’s important to focus on optimising your gut health, strengthening the gut lining and re-inoculating (re-populating your gut with bacteria by eating prebiotic and probiotic rich foods). In turn, this will then help promote a strong immune system. Fortunately, this can be achieved by eating a variety of different foods, rich in different species of bacteria – all of which promote a healthy gut lining, microbiome and consequently a healthy immune system. In fact, 80% of immune cells are present in the gut and the gut microbiome is becoming recognised as more and more important for immune health.

What I am taking and recommending at the moment 

Good nutrients
Eating nourishing foods rich in certain vitamins and minerals may help your immune system


  • Vitamin C. I’m a huge fan of Vitamin C and it’s my first go to product if I feel I’m coming down with something. It not only helps the production of white blood cells may help protect the body against infection, it also helps these white blood cells function more effectively while protecting them from damage by potentially harmful molecules. While we cannot produce our own, the good news is that there are a number of foods rich in this vital nutrient, such as oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, strawberries, peppers, spinach, kale and broccoli.
  • Vitamin D. All of our clients have Vitamin D tests and we are able to recommended dosages for them based on their results. Many are Vitamin D deficient which is linked to so many underlying medical conditions, and it is the workhorse of the immune system. Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated with the worsening of autoimmune diseases, as well as with frequent infections, colds and flu. In addition, studies have shown that taking Vitamin D may help reduces the risk of developing a respiratory infection.
  • Curcumin (the orange-yellow component of turmeric). This is known for its anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties and is an age old recommendation for its effects. The thought is, if you can reduce the amount of active free radicals in the body, you will see a boost in your immune system function. While studies on some antioxidant supplements are inconclusive at best, turmeric’s main active, curcumin, demonstrates strong disease-fighting potential. The way curcumin behaves as an anti-inflammatory, in itself, makes it an excellent therapeutic agent for immunity. It’s the capability to double as an antioxidant that gives us extra incentive to squeeze more turmeric into our daily regimen.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids. These are incredibly important, as they have many powerful health benefits. In addition to helping prevent disease by reducing inflammation, DHA-rich fish oil also helps enhance the function of immune B cells.
Sperm injected into an egg

What is natural modified IVF?

What is natural modified IVF?

Often, patients will previously have had conventional IVF with high dose stimulation in an attempt to get more eggs from their ovaries and when this doesn’t work they could be told that their only option is egg donation. There is one other avenue to explore before we suggest egg donation and that is natural modified IVF. What we do is instead of giving huge doses of drugs to get one or two egg follicles, we can usually achieve the same result by using much lower doses of stimulation.

Why is it called natural modified IVF?

It is called natural modified IVF because you are only really supporting naturally recruited follicles which have occurred in a natural menstruation cycle. We will be supporting the growth of that natural follicle with a low dose of stimulation and adding in another drug that stops premature ovulation, so that we can collect the egg for you.

How do I know which stimulation is best for me?

Stimulation in these cycles only really starts on day five, rather than day two which is the case in conventional IVF. We obviously offer conventional IVF as well at the clinic and the decision is based entirely on the antral follicle count at the beginning of the cycle.

How do you optimise IVF success rates?

Optimising IVF success rates depends very much on a fantastic laboratory, the skills of the practitioners involved and also to a large degree on the preparation of the patient in terms of nutrition and supplements that she takes. Overall however, the success rates in IVF significantly correlates with the age of the woman. As we know, genetic changes occur in a woman’s eggs as they age and anything we can do to predict which embryo will be the successful one is obviously the most important thing that we can do and to this end we would strongly recommend that a lot of women have a pre-implantation genetic screening of their embryos if they are over 38 years old.


The Zita West Fertility Clinic is the UK’s only clinic offering IVF treatment as well as preconception planning and natural fertility trouble-shooting, all under one roof.

Based in a relaxed and comfortable central London townhouse, it’s a long way away from the usual medicalised fertility centre environment and a wholly different experience from what you’ll find elsewhere.

Discover what makes us different




egg freezing

What should I consider before egg freezing?

Increasingly, I see more and more women coming into the clinic wanting to freeze their eggs, particularly if they have reached their late thirties but don’t feel ready to have children, haven’t met the right partner or have been diagnosed with an illness such as cancer. While the techniques have greatly improved over the years with a process called vitrification, which helps make it easier to freeze eggs, there remains a number of factors for women to consider around preserving their eggs.

Here are seven key things that women should consider before freezing their eggs:

1. Understanding what’s involved starts with a consultation
The first, and potentially most important step before egg freezing is the consultation. If you are ready to proceed then you should see one of our doctors, so that they can not only plan your treatment but do blood tests as well, which will enable the doctor to assess your eggs reserves. This will help better understand how many eggs you are likely to produce and check your anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) level and also an antral-follicle count – the higher the egg reserve, or antral-follicle count, the better the chances of getting an adequate amount of eggs. It’s important to realise that a number of them will be lost during the thawing process, so if the count is low it will mean that you will have to do the procedure more than once in order to get the amount of eggs needed to increase your chances of getting pregnant. It is also important to understand that it is not just about the production of eggs, it is about ensuring we get mature eggs that are viable for freezing.

2. Age is key
Age is the biggest determining factor in the success of egg freezing. Typically, the younger the eggs, the more chromosomally normal they will be, while the older you are, there is an increasing chance there will be more chromosomally abnormal eggs and that you are likely to have a lower reserve. This therefore means you may have to undergo two or three cycles to get the amount needed and you will have to take into account the cost, as well as the emotional toll it may take on you.

Many of the women I see are aged around 39 or 40, which is often very late to freeze eggs because of the chances of egg reserves being lower and therefore the amount of eggs available to successfully freeze is also much lower.

Thousands of babies have now been born worldwide from treatment using previously frozen thawed mature eggs. The best success rates are from eggs frozen before a person is 35 years of age. When looking at success rates within the UK for treatments that have used frozen eggs, numbers tend to be quite low and the technology for egg freezing has also improved over the years which means older data isn’t likely to be a good indicator of current success rates.

For information on your chances of success when having treatment with your frozen eggs HFEA advise you look at success rates for fresh IVF cycles where patients have used their own eggs in their own age band. The HFEA considers these success rates to be more reliable as there are higher numbers of embryo transfers following treatment with fresh eggs compared to transfers using embryos created with previously frozen eggs.

You can find success rates for fresh IVF cycles where patients have used their own eggs here

3. How many eggs am I likely to get in an egg freezing cycle?
If you’re 37 or younger and have a normal ovarian reserve you’re likely to retrieve around 13 eggs per cycle. If you’re older than 38 however and have a low ovarian reserve, ideally you will want to freeze 20-30 eggs in order to achieve a baby and this is rarely possible in just one egg freeze cycle.

4. Eggs can be stored for 55 years

The law allows you to store eggs for use in treatment for up to 55 years but for storage to continue lawfully, you would need to renew your consent every 10 years.

5. Your future fertility
Choosing to freeze your eggs doesn’t have a detrimental effect on your future fertility and it doesn’t use up your eggs or exhaust your existing supply. However, it is important to bare in mind that although the procedure is a very safe one, it is not completely without risk.

6. It is similar to the IVF process
Many women I see are unaware of the fact that egg freezing involves going through a similar process to IVF in order to collect the eggs. To collect the eggs, your ovaries need to be stimulated, which involves injections and you will also have a number of scans to check how your follicles are growing. You produce lots of eggs in any one month during a natural cycle but only one egg is usually released, so for egg freezing the aim is to produce a larger number of eggs. When ready, you will then go to theatre and, under light sedation, the eggs are collected vaginally using ultrasound guidance.

Once collected, the eggs are assessed by the embryologist for suitability and any mature eggs are then frozen. Then, when you are ready to use your eggs, they are thawed very slowly and inseminated with sperm. Following fertilisation, the eggs develop into embryos and one is inserted into your uterus. Any remaining embryos can then be frozen and used at a later date.

7. Preparation is vital
I am a big believer in the importance of preparation on every level – mentally, physically and emotionally – prior to undergoing the egg freezing procedure to help improve the quality of your eggs. One of the most important ways a woman can prepare for egg freezing, is to ensure the specific nutritional requirements of an egg are being met. This means building nutrients into your diet or looking at supplements such as anti-oxidants and inositol where necessary, as they can really help in that preparation process and make sure you give yourself the best chance of success.

If you are considering egg freezing and would like to have an initial consultation with one of our experienced team members at our clinic in London, then call us on 0808 196 4060. You may also be interested in our Plan Ahead kit, which is designed to provide you with a better understanding of where you are now and what the next steps are that you should take.