SUPPORT YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM PART ONE – STAYING WINTER WELL
By Claire Kimber – Nutritional Therapist
I’m writing this sitting on a train to London and by the sounds of coughing and sneezing from fellow passengers, the cold and flu season is well and truly here!
During the winter months, we become aware of all the infections going round but forget how well our immune system works even when under attack. but we can boost our immune system, give it a little help, to protect ourselves and our families from these infections.
Fortunately, we have a complex and intelligent immune system which acts as the body’s own defence force. Its job is to identify what is not part of us, examine it and decide whether it is a threat, in which case it will try to kill or neutralise it. It is a very sophisticated system and can change to adapt to its environment and circumstances.
Support your immune system so it can support you!
The best place to start for the prevention of infections is actually to boost the levels of good bugs that are already hard at work for us. When a group of European researchers gave young children probiotics (Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. Lactis) with a little vitamin C every day, they found that the children got fewer coughs and colds. If they did get an infection the symptoms weren’t as bad and they didn’t need as much medication and they also needed less time off school!
The immune system relies heavily on nutrients and it is not one single nutrient that helps support the immune system, but all the major vitamins and minerals therefore eating a nutrient-dense varied diet with plenty of fruit, salad and vegetables is essential.
Vitamin D enhances the immune system’s ability to recognise pathogens and initiate a response against them especially influenza and respiratory tract infections. The main natural source of vitamin D is sunlight, and as our sun exposure becomes very limited during winter, it’s essential to supplement vitamin D to prevent deficiencies and boost immunity. I recommend supplementing with vitamin D, either as a spray or drops as this will allow vitamin D to be absorbed sublingually into the bloodstream avoiding the gastrointestinal route, which results in lesser absorption of any nutrient. Go for a high grade, reputable manufacturer, my personal favourite is Biocare (Bio-D 400IU vitamin D liquid or Nutrisorb Liquid Biomulsion D 1000IU).
If you like to supplement over the winter months (in addition to a healthy diet, not instead of one!) again you should go for a high grade one that includes the following:
· Vitamin A is crucial for strengthening the gut lining which acts as a barrier against pathogens. It can also boost the activity of immune cells
· Vitamin C improves the function of immune cells and can decrease the duration of infection.
· Zinc is important for enhancing the activity of immune cells.
· Antioxidants are molecules that prevent damage to the cells and tissues and reduce inflammation. These include different plant chemicals (flavonoids) found in rosehip, bilberry and other berries, as well as rutin and hesperidin that are naturally found in citrus fruit.
Although the above can be used as a preventative protocol against infections, they can also be very beneficial during an infection alongside the following nutrients for further immune support:
· Elderberry contains plant chemicals that ‘blunt’ the spikes on viruses and stop them from entering the cells. It also increases immune system activity against flu.
· Sage inhibits bacterial growth.
· Lysine inhibits reproduction of certain viruses and boosts immunity.
· Beta Glucans are natural sugars found in certain types of mushrooms. They can activate the immune cells and reduce the symptoms and duration of respiratory tract infections.
Factors that affect our immune system:
There are many possible factors that can weaken the immune system:
· High processed foods (e.g. takeaways and convenience foods) and a diet high in sugar (consuming more than 30g /7 teaspoons of sugar in foods and drinks): Sugar decreases the ability of white blood cells to kill pathogens almost immediately. It is especially important to cut out sugar when you feel that you are coming down with an infection.
· Dehydration: Every process in the body takes place in the fluids within our bodies; lack of hydration will hinder the normal biological processes and thus affect immunity.
· Sleep disturbances: Sleep is absolutely essential for optimum health; during sleep there is growth and regeneration of the immune system, nervous system and the musculoskeletal system; if your body is fatigued due to lack of sleep, then you will feel tired and it will be harder to fight disease.
· Stress: Most stress is unavoidable and we all face some degree of stress, however if stress levels becomes overwhelming, then your body will find it difficult to fight off disease.
· Exercise: When you exercise, you increase circulation to every tissue and organ within the body; the individual components that make up the immune system are better circulated and help ensure the immune system has a better chance of acting on the pathogens before they get a chance to spread.
· Poor diet: A balanced and healthy diet is important to ensure optimal immunity; try to consume whole grains and healthy fats found in fish, seeds and nuts; include garlic and onion into your foods for their antimicrobial properties.
NEXT WEEK WE WILL LOOK AT HOW TO SUPPORT OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM WHEN WE ARE FEELING POORLY