By Carla Oates
Your immune system is constantly defending you against invaders that can make you sick such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and some types of fungus. But sometimes, this sophisticated network of billions of cells that move through your bloodstream, organs and tissues needs a little help to keep you healthy.
When an unwelcome visitor enters your body such as a cold or flu virus, your immune system identifies it, and then produces white blood cells and other substances to attack and destroy it—and it works harder than ever during the colder months.
Although scientists haven’t been able to pinpoint one magic ingredient that can boost immunity, there are plenty of simple things you can do to support your immune system at this time of year.
A well-nourished body is going to have all the micronutrients it needs to arm itself against unwelcome visitors. So strong immunity begins with good nutrition.
To do its job well, your immune system needs plenty of phytochemicals (plant chemicals), antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C (kiwi and citrus fruits), iron (red meat and leafy greens), zinc (red meat, shellfish and sunflower seeds), calcium (dairy, tahini and leafy greens), selenium (brazil nuts), vitamin A (carrots) and vitamin E (avocados and almonds).
Antioxidants are basically free radical scavengers so they hunt down free radicals that damage your cells, cause inflammation and tax your immune system. So it is important to consume plenty of colourful, antioxidant-rich fresh fruit and vegetables plus lean protein, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Try to include plenty of these immune-boosting ingredients in your diet:
- Onions, leeks and garlic contain an antioxidant called quercetin which is antibiotic and antiviral plus it survives the cooking process. Garlic also contains other immune-boosting compounds.
- Ginger is rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants and it’s is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory.
- Turmeric is another powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It's active ingredient curcumin is also antiviral and antifungal. And if you mix it with black pepper, you’ll absorb more.
- Extra virgin olive oil and green tea are other rich sources of antioxidants, and they are anti-inflammatory too, so consume them liberally, especially during winter.
Get Proactive About Probiotic & Fermented Foods
Seventy to eighty per cent of your immune system is located in your gut. That means a healthy gut is also crucial for a strong immune system.
Tips for a healthy gut:
- Eating a side of raw sauerkraut and kimchi with a meal, or a dollop of natural yoghurt can help promote the growth of good gut bacteria.
- Aim to eat at least 20 grams of resistant starch every day such as legumes which feed the beneficial bacteria in your colon and prompt them to make immunity-boosting short chain fatty acids and do other good things for your health too.
- Taking a good quality probiotic is another way to ensure you are feeding the good guys in your guts which work hard to attack any pathogens and harmful bacteria you may ingest.
- The Beauty Chef’s Antioxidant Inner Beauty Boost is a bio-fermented, enzyme-packed probiotic concentrate designed to give you daily nutritional support and protection from free-radical damage. It contains certified organic papaya leaf, fruit and seed, pomegranate, green tea and vitamin E for a perfectly balanced dose of gut-boosting prebiotics and probiotics and nutrient-rich antioxidants. And it has been tested by Australia’s Southern Cross University and shown to have greater immune boosting properties than olive leaf extract.
Take A Supplement With Vitamin D
The UVB rays responsible for helping our bodies make immune-boosting vitamin D are low and sometimes non-existent in certain areas in winter. Which is why it's important that we get vitamin D from food or a supplement. Our BODY Inner Beauty Powder contains 50% of the RDI of Vitamin D per dose. You can also get small amounts of vitamin D from fatty fish and cod liver oil. And if you do find you need to get a blood test for other reasons—it’s worth asking to have your vitamin D levels tested to see if you are deficient.
Drink plenty of water
Your lymph is an important part of your immune system because it carries white blood cells around your body via your blood. And your body needs water to make lymph fluid. Plus, water keeps your digestive system functioning properly along with helping to flush toxins from your body. And if you do catch a cold or the flu, being dehydrated can make your symptoms feel even worse. So keep sipping.
Manage your stress levels
When we are stressed our body's ability to fight off invaders such as viruses and pathogens is reduced. The immune-dampening effects of the stress hormone cortisol have been well-documented. Resting, taking regular time out and even daily meditation all reduce stress levels in the body.
While the link between exercise and immunity is not clear, there are a few theories, which suggest why getting active may help us fight off viruses and infections. Moderate physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and reduce your chances of getting a cold or flu. Another theory is exercise helps antibodies and white blood cells to circulate more rapidly so they may detect illnesses earlier. There has been some suggestion that the brief rise in body temperature during and immediately after exercise may work like a fever to help our body fight infection better. And the added bonus is exercise makes us feel good because it slows down the release of stress hormones (which weaken immunity). Plus, exercise triggers the release of endorphins which help you relax and enjoy a deeper sleep.
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep deprivation can also elevate our cortisol levels. Studies have also shown that lack of sleep can turn on genes linked to inflammation which in turn taxes the immune system. A lack of sleep also suppresses the functioning of the immune system. Getting at least seven to eight hours of good sleep per night is even more important than ever in winter.
Wash your hands
Cold and flu viruses are mostly spread as tiny droplets of mucus that become airborne when people cough or sneeze. So you can breathe them in or pick them up when you touch a surface such as desks and door knobs. Viruses like the flu can survive for two hours or more on surfaces. So it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap before touching your face or preparing and eating food. Tea tree infused soaps are a good choice as they are antibacterial. Teach your kids to cover their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze and to cough into the inside of their elbow or a tissue. Also, don’t forget to discard tissues after just one use.
Simple but super strategies for staying well.
To discover immune-boosting recipes, click here.