At this time of the year many people could benefit from supporting their immune health to help reduce the risk of a winter-long battle against colds, coughs, the flu, and any other seasonal nasties.
Let’s think of the immune system as the line of defense that help defends you from attackers such as viruses, bacteria, yeasts, and free radicals (damaging molecules). This line of defence is constantly guarding your body - identifying invaders, attacking them, and then cleaning up after the battle has been won.
To help the immune system be as strong as possible and ready for battle, there are a few things we can do to help.
A diet low in vitamins and minerals can impair immunity, especially a diet low in antioxidants (vitamins C, A, E and the minerals zinc and selenium) which help fight free radicals. Antioxidants are mainly found in fresh fruits and vegetables, so try and eat least five portions a day. Foods such as blueberries, strawberries, kale, spinach and red cabbage are good sources of antioxidants, as is dark chocolate! The antioxidants in cocoa and dark chocolate have been linked to other impressive health benefits such as less inflammation and reduced risk factors for heart disease.
Stress is a major suppressor of the immune system. In conjunction with a poor diet (we tend to neglect our diet when stressed, often turning to alcohol, caffeine and sugary foods) it can have a detrimental effect on energy and nutrient levels, which just perpetuates the negative effect on our immune health. B-vitamins, found in foods such as wholegrains, fortified cereals, green leafy vegetables, and eggs are important for energy production and to counter the worst effects of stress.
Bacterial balance of the digestive tract is important for a healthy immune system. The digestive tract is the largest immune organ in the body and having healthy bowel bacteria can make a real difference to immune health. Keep beneficial bacteria in good shape by eating lots of fibre from fruit and vegetables, and wholegrains such as brown rice and oats.
Now, not everyone can get the vitamins and minerals they need through diet alone and may not be able to manage stress to the extent they would like. With that in mind, there are a variety of supplementary ‘immune boosters’ that can help boost the immune system.
- Vitamin C is both anti-viral and anti-bacterial and is essential for building white blood cells (the main fighters in the immunity army). It is needed to make collagen which ‘glues’ cells together making them less penetrable to invading nasties. Vitamin-C won’t ‘cure’ a cold, but it will help the immune system work more efficiently.
- Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to boost immunity.
- Zinc is critical for immune health and deficiency is linked to poor wound healing and a susceptibility to infections.
- Garlic has a long traditional use for immune support and research has found that allicin from garlic converts to several active compounds with strong anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.