Unfortunately it seems like the cold weather will be around for a while yet! Here are a few of my top tips to stay healthy and boost your immunity naturally.
Overall, our immune system does a pretty remarkable job of defending us against disease-causing micro-organisms. Sometimes, however, it fails: a germ invades successfully and makes us sick. Poor nutrition is the most common cause of a weakened immune system, so it’s vital you eat a healthy and balanced diet.
1. Eat right. The foundation of good health begins with what you eat. Focus on fibre-rich vegetables, low refined sugar foods, healthy grains and legumes. Avoid frying anything as this introduces harmful free radicals that increase your toxic load. Eat more fruits and vegetables, which are rich in nutrients like vitamins C and E, plus beta-carotene and zinc. Go for a wide variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, including berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Other foods particularly good for your immune system include fresh garlic, some mushroom varieties (such as shiitake), onions and ginger.
2. Your gut is your best friend! Did you know that approximately seventy to eighty percent of your immune tissue is located within your digestive system? The gut is often the first entry point for exposure to pathogens, therefore your gut’s immune system needs to be thriving and healthy in order to avoid illnesses. Allergies, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, acne, chronic fatigue, mood disorders and dementia are just some of the examples of issues and illnesses that can be attributed to digestive problems. If you want to fix your health then start with your gut – it literally affects your entire body.
3. Stay well hydrated. One of the benefits of drinking water is that adequate hydration has a huge impact on your immune system. Water helps oxygenate the blood, flush toxins and regulate digestive function, which is vital for overall health and immunity.
4. Control your stress levels. Everyone has experienced stress at some stage – it’s inevitable and it’s part of life! You may not be able to get rid of it but try getting better at managing it. Putting yourself through high levels of stress on a daily basis exposes the body to a steady cascade of stress hormones (mainly cortisol and adrenalin) which can greatly suppress your immune system leaving you tired and more prone to illness.
5. Exercise regularly and keep a healthy body weight. Just like a healthy diet, exercise contributes to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. Exercising regularly helps promote good circulation, which allows the cells of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their ‘job’ more efficiently.
6. Reduce your intake of alcohol, tea, coffee, refined sugar and processed foods. All of these can significantly decrease immune function if consumed regularly.
7. Get enough sleep. Although researchers aren’t exactly sure how sleep boosts the immune system, it’s clear that getting enough – usually 7 to 9 hours for an adult – is key for overall good health. Like stress, insomnia has been shown to cause a rise in inflammation – and similarly an increase in cortisol levels.
8. Avoid medication overuse. Anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, acid blocking drugs, steroids… they all damage the gut in some way and can affect normal digestive function leaving your immune system weakened and your body more prone to illnesses.
9. Get some sunshine. One reason why many of us tend to get sick during the winter months is as a result of decreased vitamin D exposure from the sun. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with an increased susceptibility to infection and decreased immune function – only 20 minutes a day can make a significant difference. Humm… this one might be hard in Ireland, therefore, many of us who are living in Ireland and are not getting enough exposure should strongly consider taking a vitamin D supplement (see below).
10. Supplement if needed. There are a multitude of studies which demonstrate the immune-supporting effects of taking certain supplements. Sometimes our diets don’t provide us with enough of some vitamins/minerals that we need; other times due to various gut related disorders, we are unable to fully absorb all the goodness from the food we eat. Some of the supplements that have been shown to keep your immune system fighting fit include: a high-strength multi-vitamin and mineral complex; an antioxidant formula containing vitamin C and Zinc; Vitamin D; a good digestive enzyme.
– Aleksandra Vicentijevic