As the days are now definitely getting shorter and with the weather turning, Autumn is around the corner and with that comes preparation for the return to school and for others this year also the return to your office; bearing all that in mind this is a key time to make preparations to support your immune system.
The main functions of the immune system are to protect us against infection, clear damaged tissue and constant surveillance of potential malignant cells that grow within the body- basically protect, fight and repair!
The skin, cornea and mucosa of the respiratory tract and gastrointestinal lining form a physical barrier that is the immune system‘s first line of defence. If these barriers are breached two types of immune response occur -innate immunity and adaptive immunity. The innate immunity is the natural immunity we are born with and the adaptive immunity is that which develops over time in response to anitigens.
We all experience low immunity at various points in our lives and to varying degrees and whilst medication will help in certain circumstances, nutrition and lifestyle can play a key part in supporting our immune system so that we increase our chances of staying healthy and reduce the likelihood of infections.
When you support your immune system this impacts other areas too such as your digestion and your nervous system and vice verca. therefore nurturing the gut microbiome encourages the correct functioning of the immune system and the number one factor for a healthy diverse microbiome is the number of different plants you can eat in a week. The average is 5, aim for 30.
Nutrients to consider for supporting the immune system are:-
Vitamin C- contributes to the immune defence by supporting both functions in the innate and adaptive immune system. Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and a higher susceptibility to infections.
Omega 3 -EPA/DHA- often from fish oil but now available in algae sources too- these modulate the immune system due to their anti-inflammatory action.
Vitamin D – the sunshine Vitamin, which means there is quite a high prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency in the UK and adequate levels of vitamin D are also key for the innate and adaptive immune system.
Zinc is also key to maintain balance of the immune system as is selenium and deficiencies can impair both innate and adaptive immunity.
So where do you find immune supporting nutrients in food?
Vitamin C – blackcurrants, peppers, kiwi, broccoli, kale, lemons, strawberries, oranges
Vitamin A – salmon, butter, eggs, sweet potato, butternut squash, carrots, kale, swiss chard.
Zinc- pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, cashew nuts, red meat, shellfish- prawns
Antioxidants: brightly coloured fruit and vegetables especially berries, also green tea, turmeric, ginger & dark green leafy vegetables.
Fermented foods – contain probiotics- good bacteria: kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi.
Organic Chicken Broth/soup
Make a drink from fresh ginger root ,hot water, cinnamon stick, lemon, Manuka honey-leave to brew-sore throats / coughs/cold/flu. Can also add crushed garlic!
So whilst supporting your immune system, by eating nutrient rich foods, it is also important to avoid those things that can have a negative impacts on the immune system functioning,
Anti nutrients; eating foods with low nutrient value, not only means you are not taking in adequate vitamins and minerals needed for the optimum functioning of the immune system but by eating food groups already mentioned above such as processed foods, sugar, high caffeine and/or alcohol intake, you can disrupt your immune system, potentially causing inflammation leading to infection/disease.
Alcohol has been shown to be immune suppressive and negatively impacts all aspects of the immune system including structural defence mechanisms in our gut and respiratory tract.
Stress plays a significant role and research indicates that stress can dysregulate the human immune system and increase the possibility of developing chronic long term illness or exacerbating existing ones.
Lack of sleep…Sleep is well known to play a key role in your immune function and we should be getting between 7-9 hours a night and anything less than this has been proven to detrimentally affect the immune system.
Inactivity… Not getting regular moderate exercise means the immune system may not work at it’s best. Studies support the view that 30-60 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise, most days enhances immune system performance.
Good nutrition is crucial for optimal immunity but sometimes diet alone is not enough and tailored supplementation is needed to bring the immune system back to peak condition.
- Echinacea –– anti-microbial, stops virus replicating, shortens severity and duration of colds/flu
- Elderberry – a/viral , strengthens our response against flu and increases speed of recovery
- Beta Glucans
- Vitamin C – a/viral.
- Vitamin D
Now as you plan ahead to prepare for the new season, going back to school or back into your place of work, prepare also your immune system by eating a nutrient rich diet, getting regular sleep, exercising, avoiding damaging anti nutrients and considering supplements that can support. With viruses for example there are two approaches firstly target the infection by using anti viral supplements and secondly build a resilient immune system optimising your bodies ability to deal effectively through diet, supplements and lifestyle. This is the crux of Nutritional therapy, which looks at the root cause of the symptoms people have, not just providing symptomatic relief but working from a preventative stance, aiming to support health to reduce the likelihood of infections.