In the winter months many of us will experience bouts of colds, infections, catarrh and similar concerns. Often we blame bugs as the cause of our illness rather than addressing varying weaknesses in our immune system due to poor diet and other factors.
Factors That Affect The Immune System
There are many possible factors that can weaken the immune system as listed below:
- High sugar diets:Sugar decreases the ability of white blood cells to kill pathogens almost immediately. It is especially important to cut out sugar when you feel that you are coming down with an infection.
- Dehydration:Every process in the body takes place in the fluids within our bodies; lack of hydration will hinder the normal biological processes and thus affect immunity.
- Sleep disturbances:Sleep is absolutely essential for optimum health; during sleep there is growth and regeneration of the immune system, nervous system and the musculoskeletal system; if your body is fatigued due to lack of sleep, then you will feel tired and it will be harder to fight disease.
- Stress:Most stress is unavoidable and we all face some degree of stress, however if stress levels becomes overwhelming, then your body will find it difficult to fight off disease.
- Exercise:When you exercise, you increase circulation to every tissue and organ within the body; the individual components that make up the immune system are better circulated and help ensure the immune system has a better chance of acting on the pathogens before they get a chance to spread.
- Poor diet:A balanced and healthy diet is important to ensure optimal immunity; try to consume whole grains and healthy fats found in fish, seeds and nuts; include garlic and onion into your foods for their antimicrobial properties.
- Lack of vitamin D:Vitamin D’s role in maintaining a healthy immune system is unquestionable and most of us are vitamin D deficient.
- Too much alcohol:drink only in moderation as going over the recommended units of alcohol per week can reduce your immunity
How to improve your immunity
Typically, the worst symptoms of a cold last for three days though you can feel congestion for up to seven days which can be draining. It makes sense to get rid of the cold quickly because who wants to live with these symptoms.
Garlic helps support the immune system and is known for its antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Make an effort to add more garlic to your food, especially raw if you can. Garlic has an incredible anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects, which can kill bacteria and viruses. Something as simple as adding raw garlic to soups, pesto and dressings can really reduce the intensity and duration of a cold or the flu. If you really can’t bear to it raw, wait at least ten minutes after peeling before you cook it – this will allow the close to retain more of its health benefits.
Zinc can shorten the duration of a common cold by nearly three days according to a recent study by the University of Helsinki. The best sources of zinc include; meat and poultry, shellfish (crab, clams, mussels), nutritious vegetables (mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, kale and garlic), legumes (hummus, lentils, edamame, black beans), nuts & seeds (pumpkin, pine nuts, sesame, chia, cashews, pecans) and even dark chocolate, the darker the better 70% + cocao ideally.
Feed your gut bacteria – pre and probiotics
Countless studies have suggested probiotics can have a significant impact on our immunity. Bolster your defences in the winter by incorporating plenty of fermented foods – think sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, live unsweetened yoghurt, miso soup and sourdough all help feed your microbiome (gut bacteria). Up to 70% of your immune system lies in your gut, so nourish it for optimal health, it thrives on a very high fibre natural food diet rich in coloured fruits and vegetables.
Mushrooms have been used for their immune-boosting effects for centuries. Research recently revealed mushrooms are a superfood – they’re packed with antioxidants, notably selenium, which helps to support the immune system and prevent damage to cells and tissues. Shiitake and reishi mushrooms are particularly effective.
Stress can have a huge impact on the immune system – when we’re stressed, this suppresses the immune system, making infection significantly more likely. Take time out for yourself on a regular basis – do more yoga, learn to breathe properly, try to meditate just for a few minutes a day and stay mindful.
Ditch the sugar
If you feel a cold coming on, the most important thing you can do is avoid sugar, as this is damaging to the immune system and suppresses our ability to fight infection. Sugar also makes the body acidic, and an overly acid body provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and disease.
Boost your Vitamin C
Did you know the likes of kiwi, peppers, kale, papaya, strawberries and brussels sprouts boast more vitamin C than citrus fruit? Vitamin C is vital during the winter months to boost immunity as it works to produce antibodies and boost the activity of immune cells.
Drink Bone Broth
If there’s one food we should all be adding more of to our diets this winter, it’s bone broth. Great for supporting the gut (where the majority of the immune system sits), bone broth can also help to reduce inflammation, thus warding off infection.