Supporting your immune system in winter

There are a lot of false promises of ‘immune boosting’ superfoods that guarantee to prevent us from getting sick. But, getting sick is a fact of life. Our bodies are truly amazing though, we have our own army of defenders to protect us from within or to bring us back to good health.

As we enter the colder months. it becomes even more important to support our immune system. Often when thinking about how to support it two nutrients come to mind, vitamin C and zinc. We’ll take these supplements at slightest hint of a sniffle without much thought as to why. But supporting our immune system is so much more than popping a couple of supplements and hoping for the best.

The body has two first line defenders to help protect us against pathogens and viruses. The skin, which provides the protective barrier and membranes which line cavities such as our mouth and digestive tract that are resistance to penetration. However, with all the best intention of these first line defenders, some infections will still break through.

That’s where are internal immune system sets in.

Within the immune system there are two main responses for combating pathogens we come across daily. The innate response which is a fast acting response that reacts to known pathogens but will not respond to new threats. Then there’s the adaptive response that will react to a new threat, but this process takes a little longer. This response is quiet amazing because once the immune response has overcome the unknown pathogen, it can recreate a response so that the immune system knows what to do with it next time.

Our immune system functions efficiently when we are generally healthy. When stress is managed and sleep, exercise and our digestive health are in a lovely balance our immune system has all systems firing. It can fight off most infections we come across with ease. But, if we’re dealing with chronic long term stress, a digestive system that out of whack, we don’t exercise regularly, don’t sleep well and rest and relaxation are almost non-existent then this is when we may see a suppression or dysregulation of the immune system. Meaning it performs sub optimally and we struggle to avoid picking up the latest cold/flu virus getting around the office.

To help support your immune system make sure you try and include a range of wholefoods and fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet every day. Look for foods that are rich in vitamin A (oily fish, carrot, sweet potato), vitamin C (tomatoes, capsicum, kiwi fruit and oranges) and zinc (oysters, pumpkin seeds, pulses/legumes, nuts and seeds). If you end up coming down with a sniffle boosting your intake of foods such as chilli, garlic, ginger, lemon and manuka honey may help support the natural function of the immune system.

Other strategies to adopt to support your immune health include:

  • Adopting stress management techniques such as regular meditations or mindfulness practices, deep breathing, journaling, talking to friends/family, socialising
  • Making time for regular exercise for at least 30 minutes each. Exercise can be any type of movement you enjoy that raises your heart rate, even just a little.
  • Make sure you prioritise sleep. Sleep is where our body rests and recuperates. Aim for 8 hours if possible, some of us require a little more, some a tiny bit less.

Generally speaking, taking care of your health, eating well, sleeping, exercising and reducing stress are the four factors of health we need to uphold to protect and support our immune system. Prevention is more often than not better than the cure.

If you feel like your immune system needs a little support then please make sure you seek advice from a professional. None of what is written here is meant to be used as diagnosis, but for general information purposes only.