Autumn time and the changing season is for many synonymous with the onset of coughs, colds, sniffles and snot. We all start to think about our immune systems around this time of year however there has been a particularly intense focus on immunity due to Covid-19, with many more of us looking to diet and supplementation to ensure that we are protecting ourselves as much as possible for winter.
There are two parts to your immune system
There are two parts to your immune system, the innate immune system which is the first level of protection and then the adaptive immune system which kicks in to enhance the innate system if the body becomes infected with a particular pathogen.
Our innate immune system is made up of our skin, our gastrointestinal tract and our respiratory tract. Things like gastric acid and mucus in the respiratory system stop invaders from getting into the body. The innate system is also made up of immune cells that work to detect and destroy bacteria and other harmful organisms by engulfing and killing them.
The adaptive immune system is more specialised - it has the ability to recognise a part of a micro-organism, memorise it and then produce compounds called immunoglobins to neutralise the pathogen. This means that when the body encounters it again it can quickly produce the compounds it knows can kill it. This is how immunisations and vaccinations work.
The concept of boosting your immune system sounds very straight forward however it's not as easy as popping a few pills and bob's your uncle. If only. Instead you have to think about it as a process to be tackled on a daily basis over a period of time. The benefits of some vitamins and minerals take longer to see than others, for example vitamin C is water soluble to absorbed straight away while vitamin D is fat soluble so its stored in fat cells rather than circulating around the body.
So don't wait until you feel poorly and run down, start building your health up now to ensure your immune system is in tip top condition for when it does have to deal with an onslaught of winter bugs.
A weakened immune system can be helped with simple diet changes
Many of us do not get enough vitamin D, which is produced by the body when we’re exposed to sunshine, it could be said that we don’t get enough of it during the summer and let alone in the winter.
Vitamin D itself is vital for the adequate functioning of the immune system but also enhances the body’s absorption of other vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and phosphate.
Oily fish, such as pilchards, sardines, mackerel and some salmon are a good source of vitamin D and also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may also help enhance the function of the immune cells.
And it goes without saying that you should be eating at least five portions of fruit and veg a day!
Not only do vitamins and minerals optimise the immune system, they have an anti-inflammatory effect too, so if the immune system over-responds, these micronutrients can help resolve the inflammation this causes. These vitamins and minerals also help the body produce anti-bacterial compounds that fight infection within the body while compounds known as polyphenols support immunity.
A healthy diet has therefore never been more important - if you feel you are not achieving balance then a multivitamin can help bridge the shortfall. Alternatively consider targeted supplements to support your immune system including vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, selenium, echinacea and probiotics.
Foods that help to support a healthy immune system
Salmon - not only does salmon supply your body with vitamin D, but it's also loaded with immune-supporting omega-3 fatty acids.
Broccoli - this awesome vegetable is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as fiber and many other antioxidants, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your plate.
Eggs yolks - they contain the important nutrient vitamin D, along with other key vitamins and minerals for immune support, like selenium.
In fact the egg yolk is a nutrition powerhouse, containing calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. They are also a good source of B vitamins, vitamin A, E and K.
Garlic - it’s immune-boosting properties appear to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.
Fortified orange juice - a regular glass of fortified orange juice can give your body as much as 15% of the daily requirement of vitamin D, along with 100% of your daily vitamin C requirements.
Further to this 100% orange juice contains a natural plant chemical, or flavonoid, that may offer health benefits to humans. In fact, research suggests that among those who consumed flavonoids, there was a 33% decrease in upper respiratory tract infections, compared with those who did not consume flavonoids.
Beef - enjoying lean beef in moderation can be a part of a healthy diet. Beef is a natural source of vitamin D, as well as other immune-supporting nutrients like zinc.
Spinach - this leafy green is rich in vitamin C and is also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, both of which may increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems.
It can be said that every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as avoiding smoking, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, drinking in moderation, getting good quality sleep, maintaining a good hygiene routine and minimising stress. It's not rocket science, just healthy living.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.