A healthy immune system will protect you from environmental agents such as pathogens and chemicals that make us sick. Therefore, keeping your immune system in check and firing at optimal levels is important for preventing and avoiding illness.
In Australia, we are well and truly in flu season. In fact, flu season has hit early and with a vengeance. Perhaps, it felt disgruntled that covid has had all the attention for the last two years.
Diet, lifestyle and environmental factors greatly influence how your immune system functions. There are some simple tweaks you can make to improve your chances of staying healthy.
Eating for a healthy immune system
Diet plays a crucial role in your overall health, not just that of your immune system. Processed foods such as cakes, chips, chocolates, and sugary beverages are very low in nutrients, and really don’t offer any health benefit to the body. They do offer some mental comfort as a treat so try to keep them as that.
If you find yourself reaching for the starchy and sugary foods then try crowding them out with more nutrient dense options. When you are getting sufficient nutrients, your body won’t seek out the other stuff as much because it feels satisfied and nourished.
Macronutrients from proteins, healthy fats and carbohydrates should make up the bulk of our daily diet.
Lean red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Proteins are made up of amino acids which are building blocks for protein carriers. Protein carriers transport and deliver nutrients to the cells, making it important for immune function.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains such as brown rice, oats, buckwheat and wholemeal wheats such as spelt and rye.
Carbohydrates are nutrient dense, and maintaining your recommended daily intakes of vitamins and minerals can only benefit your immune health.
Carbohydrates also provide nutrients for the beneficial bacteria that live in your digestive tract. These bacteria assist the immune system by overcrowding unhealthy strains of bacteria.
Full fat Greek yoghurt, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, olives, oily fish such as salmon and trout, and nuts and seeds.
Research suggests dietary fatty acids can influence the activity of immune cells. Human epidemiological studies show essential fatty acids are necessary for the growth and maintenance of immune cells.
Lifestyle for a healthy immune system
Our lifestyles greatly influence our immune status.
We all know smoking has negative effects on your health. Quitting smoking to improve your immunity is a no-brainer.
Excessive alcohol consumption can impair your overall health by depleting your body of nutrients, such as vitamin B.
Our body requires certain enzymes to break down alcohol and B vitamins are involved in creating those enzymes. Therefore, you churn and burn through your B vitamins for the enzymatic production, when they would be more useful helping your body in other ways.
Exercise activates the lymphatic system which feeds directly into your immune system. It can also help clear bacteria from the lungs and airways, and help your body circulate antibodies that fight disease.
Stress has the ability to weaken your immune system. Often when you become stressed you start to feel run down, so really, this is not surprising. The fact is, stress has a negative impact on your health overall.
Rest and sleep
There is no doubt that rest and sleep go a long way in helping us stay healthy. Sleep deprivation suppresses the immune system which is why many people report getting sick when they aren’t getting enough shut eye.
The environment you live in and certain jobs you do can impact a healthy immune system. Heavily polluted areas high in chemicals and toxic fumes can be irritating to your airways and skin, which can produce a negative immune response.
Fresh air and sunshine go a long way in strengthening your immune system. Opening up your house to let fresh air in can be very cleansing, and sunshine can kill off bacteria and give you a dose of vitamin D, which can also help boost your immunity.
Ways to support your immune system
Echinacea is a herb traditionally used by Native American tribes. Their use of this herb was adopted by the Eclectics, a group of practitioners who were prominent in the late 19th century.
Echinacea is an immune enhancing and modulating herb. It has antibacterial and anti-viral effects and is commonly used to help the body resist infections, particularly in the upper respiratory tract.
Research suggests that echinacea significantly increases circulating white blood cells, particularly monocytes, neutrophils and natural killer cells. No wonder this herb features so highly in the healthy immune system toolbox.
A large portion of your immune system lies and operates within your gut. Your digestive tract houses billions of different beneficial bacterial strains which are imperative for optimal health.
Probiotics help balance defence mechanisms that occur during an immune response. They are capable of increasing the population of existing beneficial bacteria and outnumbering the bad bacteria, which cause illness.
Research has shown that probiotics are beneficial in reducing the occurrence of colds and flus.
Fresh herbs are a tasty addition to any dish. Herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, peppermint, ginger, garlic and chilli all have antimicrobial action due to the volatile oils they contain. Try adding these ingredients to cooking, and to your drinking water for some extra flavour.
Teas are a great way to support your immune system, particularly during illness. Warming your body when sick, especially when a cold or flu is present, helps kills off microbes that are sensitive to heat..
Choose herbal teas that support the immune system and relieve symptoms. Such as echinacea, ginger, lemongrass, liquorice, sage, YEP, and marshmallow.
it is well-established that mushrooms are proficient at modulating the immune system as they affect many of your immune cells, helping them fight off infections.
The top immune boosting mushrooms are reishi, shiitake, cordyceps, turkey tail, chaga, lion’s mane and maitake.
There are some essential nutrients that play a role in your immune health. Vitamin A,C and D, zinc, essential fatty acids and bioflavonoids help support the immune system to prevent or reduce the severity of illness.
Prevention is always better than cure. Maintain a healthy diet, continue moving your body regularly, even better if you can get outside into the fresh air to do it. Think about getting yourself some further nutritional and herbal support throughout the winter months. You can find some more tips on maintaining a healthy immune system here.