During cold months it's important to think about boosting immunity to prevent infections and stay energised and healthy. There are many immune supportive measures now available, but improving your diet and lifestyle is the most important starting point.
Foods to boost immunity
- Increase your intake of fresh, organic vegetables and fruit. Aim for 5 serves daily and include a range of brightly coloured produce as these foods are high in antioxidants.
- Eat immune enhancing foods daily such as raw fruit and vegetables, raw garlic and onion, ginger, chilli, cereal grasses, sprouted beans and grains, raw nuts and seeds, fresh oily fish, avocados, wholegrains and cold pressed oils.
- Sneak some seaweed in with soups or sushi. Try nori, wakame and kelp.
- Consume mushrooms regularly, particularly shitake and reishi for their powerful immunostimulant and antiviral properties.
- Vegetables from the Brassica family contain nutrients that have been found to protect against infections and also certain cancers. These include broccoli, cabbage, kale, cavolo nero, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
- If you take spirulina or chlorella in juices or smoothies add a pinch of cinnamon and some ginger. The warming and drying properties of these spices balance the cold, damp nature of micro-algaes, making them more suitable to take in winter.
- Drink green, white and rooibos teas for an antioxidant boost. Chai style spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, ginger etc) can be lovely winter additions to these teas.
- Take active (UMF) manuka honey daily to improve healing and help fight infections.
- Limit mucus forming foods such as dairy products, soy milk, refined white flour, eggs, sugar, oranges and bananas. This is especially important if you are fighting an infection, have sinus congestion or a chesty cough.
- Limit your intake of sugar and processed foods. Excessive intake of sugar can suppress white blood cell function and feed certain infections.
Lifestyle habits to boost immunity
- Don’t smoke and limit alcohol intake to no more than 2 standard alcoholic drinks daily with 1-2 alcohol-free days each week.
- Expose large areas of skin (without sunblock) to the sun for 15 minutes daily to encourage vitamin D production in the body.
- Aim for 20-30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily.
- Work on reducing your stress levels. Prolonged stress can deplete the body of essential nutrients and increase susceptibility to infections.
- Aim to drink 8-10 glasses of filtered or mineral water daily. Using a water bottle can really help with this: fill a 1 litre bottle and aim to finish it by lunch, then refill and finish it again by dinner.
The echinacea plant offers great immune-boosting properties
Air-conditioned environments, working with children or the public, antibiotic use and prolonged stress can potentially expose us to contagious micro-organisms and weaken immunity. Your immune system may benefit from some extra strengthening or help with fighting infections.
At Commonsense Organics we have excellent herbal and nutritional supplements which can help you to get through the cooler months feeling well. Some options include:
- Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Traditionally used in Chinese Medicine as an immune tonic, Astragalus now has an important place in Western herbal medicine for treating chronic immune deficiency. This is a herb of choice for depleted, run-down individuals who are barely over one cold or flu before they have caught another. As it also aids the body’s resistance to stress, this herb is ideal for those with demanding lifestyles (everyone nowadays?) and a tendency toward lowered immunity. Astragalus is safe for long-term use.
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea/angustifolia)
Echinacea is well known for its powerful immune strengthening properties. It can help the body fight both acute and chronic infections and it also aids lymphatic function which makes it specific for swollen glands. However it is advisable to take periodic breaks from this herb and use higher doses for the acute stage of infection only.
- Elderberry extract
Elderberry is recommended for upper respiratory infections and headaches associated with colds. It can help with breaking a fever and has powerful antioxidant and antiviral properties.
Healthy gut bacteria play an important role in protecting against certain infections and they also aid in nutrient absorption. Digestive flora can be depleted by stress, antibiotics and gastrointestinal infections. Consider taking a course of probiotics if you have reason to believe your gut or overall immunity may be compromised.
Propolis is a substance used by bees to prevent diseases and parasites from entering the hive, and to inhibit bacterial growth. For humans it is a prized natural antibiotic substance which is particularly good for sore throats. It has a mild numbing effect as well which makes it very soothing to inflamed tissue. It can be taken as a throat spray, lozenges or a tincture which is diluted and gargled.
- Olive Leaf (Olea europaea)
Olive leaf is reported to be an excellent natural source of antioxidants. It also appears to have antimicrobial properties and may therefore be an effective remedy against mild infections. Olive leaf is safe for all ages and can be taken long-term as a tonic to boost overall health, vitality and resistance to infections.
Selenium is an essential antioxidant nutrient which is deficient in NZ soils. Selenium is an important mineral to consider in terms of immunity. Selenium is involved in white blood cell production and may protect against free radical damage, inflammation, cancers and cardiovascular disease. Food sources are only relevant if the foods are not grown in NZ soil. The best known sources are wheatgerm and Brazil nuts, followed by oats, whole wheat, silver beet, barley and orange juice. Dose: for adults 50-200mcg daily is recommended. For children 1.5mcg per pound of body weight. At high levels selenium can be toxic (>1000mcg daily).
- Vitamin C plus bioflavonoids
Vitamin C is ideal for immune enhancing antioxidant support. Vitamin C is also shown to assist with wound repair and supplementation has been shown to benefit numerous health problems. Good food sources include citrus fruits, red and green peppers, kiwifruit, and tomatoes. Calcium ascorbate is a non-acidic supplemental form which is gentle on the teeth and stomach. Dose: 1000mg daily for low immunity, and up to 6 times daily for acute infections. For children give in 100mg doses, for the sensitive or elderly – 500mg doses. If loose bowels are experienced reduce quantity or stop using.
- Vitamin D
Although Vitamin D is well known for aiding calcium absorption and bone density, in recent years it has been found to have many other vital uses in the body. Vitamin D is an important immune system regulator and can prevent winter mood disorders (‘S.A.D syndrome’). With adequate sunlight exposure Vitamin D is produced by the body but due to the use of high SPF sunscreens and the need to cover up and keep warm in winter many people are severely deficient. Some food sources of Vitamin D include: Cod liver oil, seafoods, egg yolks, organ meats and fortified milk products. Dose: 1000iu daily of Vitamin D3 is a good supplemental dose for adults.
Zinc is a powerful antioxidant which is very low in NZ soils and consequently in our food. Deficiencies are commonly associated with increased susceptibility to infections. Zinc tests are available in store with our naturopaths. Food sources include oysters, pumpkin seeds, ginger, pecans and split peas but NZ grown foods cannot be considered adequate sources of zinc. Take between 20-40mg daily (half dose for children) for infections or to treat a deficiency and take periodic breaks from zinc supplements to prevent a copper deficiency.
Other considerations for your immune system
Sometimes an under-functioning immune system is due to an underlying disorder or nutrient deficiency. It may be worth visiting your GP for some blood tests if you have had more than three colds or flus in one season or if it is taking longer than usual for you to overcome an infection. Low levels of iron, vitamin D or thyroid hormones could be a factor.
There are now many excellent natural formulas available for relieving coughs, nasal congestion, fevers and sore throats. For help with specific symptoms and to ensure a speedy recovery from colds, flus and other winter ailments, visit Commonsense Organics for professional naturopathic advice and quality health supplements.
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If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have a pre-existing health condition or are taking any prescription medication please consult your health practitioner before commencing any new supplements or herbal medicine.
References Balch, Phyllis A. (2000) Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Penguin Putnam Inc. NY Braun, Leslie & Cohen, Marc. (2010) Herbs & Natural Supplements, 3rd ed. Churchill Livingstone. Australia Murray, Michael T. (2001) Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Three Rivers Press. NY Richardson ND, Jack. (2000) Olive Leaf Extract. Bizmoore Pty Ltd. Australia. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19631030 http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/80/6/1717S http://www.westonaprice.org/The-Miracle-of-Vitamin-D.html http://www.herbs2000.com/disorders/immune_system.htm http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8152000/8152574.stm