It's amazing how much you can fortify your body against infection by making a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. Give yourself a fighting chance against infection this winter by following this immunity boosting guide!
Please note that these are general tips for boosting immunity and are not meant to replace personalised advice from a trained health professional.
Foods to boost immunity
Eat a Rainbow
Now is the time to eat as many immunity-enhancing vegetables as you can! The more vibrantly colourful your selection of vegetables, the more antioxidants you’ll have on your plate. Increase your intake of fresh, organic vegetables and fruit. Aim for 5 serves daily and aim for Raw, unprocessed wholefoods e.g. a whole apple as opposed to juiced or dried.
Alongside your extra fruit and vegetables, try to eat immune enhancing foods daily such as raw garlic and onion, ginger, chilli, sprouted beans and grains, raw nuts and seeds, fresh oily fish, avocados, wholegrains and cold pressed oils. Mushrooms, especially shitake and reishi varieties, boost your immunity and have antiviral properties that are great at helping to fight infection at this time of year.
The Brassica family of vegetables will be particularly brilliant in arming you against illness - embrace as much broccoli, cabbage, kale, cavolo nero, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts into your life as possible.
Aim to drink 8-10 glasses of filtered or mineral water daily (Using a water bottle can really help with this). And aim to eat vegetables with high water content eg, Cucumber, lettuce, celery.
Drinking spirulina or chlorella in juices or smoothies can give you a boost of nutrients and be a great way to start each day. Add a pinch of cinnamon and some ginger when using these - The warming and drying properties of these spices balance the cold, damp nature of micro-algae, making them more suitable to drink in colder weather.
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, alcohol and processed foods. Excessive intake of sugar can suppress white blood cell function and feed certain infections.
Lifestyle habits to boost immunity
With the days feeling shorter, there can often be an urge to squeeze more out of our time by staying up late each night but sleep is essential to our health - it is our bodies' way of recovering and resetting. Getting enough sleep (7-8 hrs is a good start) reduces stress and allows our immune system to work as effectively as possible. Finding it hard to unwind? We sell a number of sleepy teas, like our Clipper Sleep Easy tea, Artemis Deep Sleep tea, Tulsi Sleep tea and Pukka Night Time tea.
Although it's harder to find sometimes, do try to make sure that you soak in some sunlight during the winter months. Your body will thank you for it! Aim to expose large areas of skin (without sunblock) to the sun (when there is sun!) for 15 minutes daily to encourage vitamin D production in the body.
It may sound simple but reducing your stress levels is ultimately one of the best ways to boost your immunity and prevent getting colds and flus.
“Stress has the biggest effect on your immune system,” says our Wellington City naturopath, Dianna. “When you get stressed, it has an impact on your brain chemistry, on your digestive tract, and on your immune system.”
When your stress levels are high, your body can become depleted of essential nutrients and will be more susceptible to infections. Aim take at least a moment to yourself each day to relax and unwind, whether it be a bath with essential oils, or just a moment to take some deep breaths and ground. Yoga, tai chi, meditation, mindfulness, counselling can all help to minimise stress.
Get Out More
Exercise can also be a huge stress reliever - Aim for 20-30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily. Walks in nature can be a particularly good tonic for the soul.
Supplements to boost immunity
Sometimes, when the winter odds are stacked against you, there's no harm in giving yourself a leg-up on the competition. At Commonsense Organics we have a huge range of herbal and nutritional supplements that may help to boost your immunity and get you through the colder months in good health. Some great options include:
A traditional herbal medicine designed to offer immediate support for immune threats. Made in Aotearoa New Zealand, it contains eight active ingredients, including thyme, echinacea, olive leaf, sage and angelica. The story behind Virogone is fascinating! Developed during the Black Plague, it was used by looters to enable them to steal from the homes of the dead and dying. Captured at last, the story goes, the looters were allowed to live if they passed on the recipe.
is well known for its powerful immune strengthening properties - it may help your body fight infections and also can aid lymphatic function for when you have swollen glands. It's best to take only when you feel yourself getting sick.
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.
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.
Healthy gut bacteria play an important role in protecting against certain infections and they also aid in nutrient absorption – to help you get the most out of the vegetables you’re eating! 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 bacteria growth. For humans it is a prized natural antibiotic substance and has a mild numbing effect which is particularly good for sore throats. Try it in a lozenge, like our delicious Tranzalpine Manuka Honey Lozenges.
Vitamin C is an oldie, but a goodie. It is ideal for immune enhancing antioxidant support and has been shown to assist with wound repair and supplementation has been shown to benefit numerous health problems. Stock up on citrus fruit and leafy greens or consider a supplement.
Our BePure Super Boost Vitamin C has a two to one ratio of bioflavonoids to Vitamin C, essentially providing you with double the Vitamin C in one go. It's not compressed into tablets with additives, but supplied in an easily absorbed powder, which gives the best value per gram of Vitamin C. Also contains zinc, Vitamins A & E.
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, egg yolks, organ meats and fortified milk products.
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. Zinc is also involved in a number of immune system functions which both reduce our susceptibility and assist our recovery to infections. A number of studies indicate that elderly people who are zinc deficient are more likely to develop infections and take longer to recover. (Prasad et al, 2007; Meydani et al, 2007). Moreover, Prasad, 2014 showed that zinc supplementation reduced the incidence of infections in the elderly by about 66%. Some research has found that zinc can reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms, when it is taken within the first 24 hours.
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.
There are 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.
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
Prasad, A,S;. (2014). Zinc is an Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Agent: Its Role in Human Health. Front Nutri. 1:14 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4429650/
Prasad, A,S et al;. (2007). Zinc supplementation decreases incidence of infection in the elderly: effect of zinc on generation of cytokines and oxidative stress. Am J Clin Nutr. 85(3): 837-44