Our immune system is constantly up against it – being regularly bombarded by foreign invaders, it has developed incredibly complex mechanisms that help hold the barriers strongly in place.
Though there are many components to a healthy immune system, our white blood cells in particular work extremely hard, especially at this time of year. The moment someone on the tube sneezes next to us they whip in to action, helping to engulf and destroy viruses that may have found their way in to the body.
In order to keep them doing this properly, they need specific nutrients, and given that they really do have our backs, it seems only fair that we should give them the resources they need.
Vitamin C is first on the list- it is essential for white blood cell production as well as a whole host of other immune mechanisms, we need a daily supply of this to prevent dwindling levels. Many studies have shown that getting at least 250mg of vitamin C daily can help to ameliorate symptoms and shorten the duration of colds and flu.
Eat plenty of fresh, colorful fruit and veg such as kale, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, peppers, dark fruits and fresh herbs like parsley. Many of these foods are also high in vitamin A, which is vital for supporting the immune system found within the digestive system.
- Zinc, though less talked about, is extremely important too. This mineral helps to support our bodies by promoting the production of antibodies that skillfully remember the details of intruders previously defeated so we can fight them again! Mineral superhero anyone? Many zinc rich foods like poultry, sunflower seeds, seafood and fish have the added bonus of being high in protein, also vital for immunity. This is why I often warn against going vegetarian/vegan willy-nilly (without proper consideration) to ensure you don’t miss out on specific food groups that are needed for optimal health.
- Try making a soup of butternut squash, red pepper, chili, ginger and parsley and use homemade stock from a boiled chicken carcass. Research has shown that bones, marrow, skin, and cartilage are a great source of amino acids proline and glycine – ideal immune supports alongside vitamin A and C. I also like to top it with toasted pumpkin seeds for extra zinc.
- Vitamin Dis another crucial part of the immunity puzzle, which is perhaps why we are more at the mercy of flu bugs as the sunlight begins to dwindle in winter. Vitamin D helps to regulate our bacterial defenses and modulate our immune cells so that we react appropriately to invaders. Though eating foods like oily fish, avocado, mushrooms (leave them out in natural sunlight to boost Vitamin D levels before you eat them) and oranges helps, supplementing with a 2000 IU Vitamin D tablet can help maintain optimal levels in your body throughout the winter, particularly if you are deficient to begin with.
- I heartily recommend eating mushrooms, especially the oyster and shiitake varieties, as they contain powerful immune supporting beta-glucans, molecules which help to stimulate macrophages, a type of white blood cell that sorts through digestive debris- basically the body’s very own Pac-man, literally eating up and neutralizing viruses.
- Finally, consider the importance of the bacteria that resides in the gut. These are our first line of defense, on which the immune system is utterly reliant on. Given how sensitive our bacteria is to what we eat, not to mention the stress of daily life and the over-imbibing of medication like antibiotics, it’s no wonder that it can easily become imbalanced, putting our immunity at risk. I recommend topping up levels with good quality probiotic capsules for all immune concerns. Garlic is also excellent for fighting off nasty bugs and supporting healthy immunity within the digestive system.
- If you want something extra, or you are having trouble shaking off colds and infections, I also recommend an immune supporting complex like Unbelievable’s, which contains antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredients like bee propolis, olive leaf extract, elderberry and beta-glucans.