“Its slowly creeping up on us”
The cold dark mornings, the rainy downpours, frost glistening on the grass, and the sounds of sniffing, coughing and nose blowing. Winter is looming, the season of cold and flu. But fear not, you still have time to put in place some solid defence strategies that will help boost your immunity, and combat the influx of germs.
Who is at risk this cold and flu season?
Did you know, the Australian government influenza statistics state there has been 35,204 confirmed notifications of influenza in 2019 already. Furthermore, the lung foundation Australia suggests that adults are likely to suffer the common cold at least 2-3 times a year. Consequently, if you have young children in day-care or school, or happen to work in a hospital, then you could be facing up to 6-12 colds in just one single year! The elderly or people with chronic diseases are also more susceptible to fall sick this time of the year.
What is our immune system and how you can help boost your immune system?
Your immune system is a group of protective mechanisms that work together to defend your body against any nasty foreign intruders.
First, let’s begin by understanding the main characteristics of the immune system:
- Physical barrier immune system- Our skin and mucous membranes that line the digestive, respiratory and reproductive systems act as the first line of defence against any unwanted bacteria, fungus, and viruses. If the nasties break through the barrier, they then get attacked by the innate immune system.
- Innate immune system- macrophages (white blood cells) and proteins which attack invaders such as parasites, bacteria and viruses. Macrophages basically eat and digest foreign bodies.
- Adaptive immune system- adapts to defend future invaders, an example of this is how our body adapts and creates antibodies to a virus after a vaccine. Therefore, ready to attack against future viruses.
How can we boost our immune system?
Studies have consistently proven that nutrition plays a huge role in protecting, and strengthening our immune system, which can be compromised by many lifestyle factors of our modern society. In fact, stress, not getting enough sleep, alcohol, smoking, and a poor diet can wreak havoc on our immunity. Also, over time our immune system is altered unfavourably by aging.
Boosting your immune system with the following nutrients:
- Vitamin A plays a major role in the innate and adaptive immune response. Food sources: Oily fish, liver, cheese, eggs, sweet potato, green leafy vegetables, carrots, and capsicum.
- Vitamin E is one of the most powerful antioxidants when it comes to building a strong immune defence, the lipid-soluble antioxidant acts on inflammation and reduces risk of infection. Food sources: Seeds and nuts, trout, avocado, kiwi fruit, green leafy vegetables, butternut squash.
- Vitamin C fights free radicals’ due to its antioxidant properties. Food sources: Citrus fruits, green capsicum, spinach, kale, kiwi fruit, broccoli, green and red chili, strawberries.
- Zinc, studies show that low levels of plasma zinc are associated with a weakened immune response. Food sources: Meat, oysters, nuts and seeds, eggs, legumes, beef.
- Iron deficiencies in decrease the neutrophils (type of white blood cell) ability to kill bacteria. Food sources: Red meat, chicken, turkey, eggs, green leafy vegetables.
- Magnesium is essential for cell repair and plays a significant role in the immunomodulation (modification of the immune system) of the body. Food sources: Avocado, tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds, bananas, some fatty fish, dark chocolate.
How gut health impacts your immune system.
The ‘good’ gut bacteria, known as your gut microbiota play an important role of balancing your immune system, and promotes the well being of its host.
An imbalance of the gut microbiome (community of microbiota) has been largely studied over the past decade since being recognised for its direct association with a variety of different diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, atopy, and obesity.
Many things can affect the balance of good bacteria keeping your gut healthy, such as poor diet, antibiotics, alcohol, genetics, stress and aging.
Antibiotics are important medicines that have saved millions of lives since created. Nonetheless, antibiotic use also kills the good bacteria, which do eventually grow back, but not in the same numbers as before. Hence, having a long-term effect on your microbiome. Probiotics can help balance the bacteria and improve the composition of the microbiome, especially with antibiotic use. Speak to your health practitioner for supplement advice.
“Our tips for a healthy winter”
Sleep more– Studies have well and truly documented the effect lack of sleep has on the immune system. It is recommended to get seven plus hours of a sleep a night for optimum health.
Stress less– Chronic-stress causes an immune dysregulation which is large enough to have health implications. When we stress our immune system ability to attack against antigens is reduced, as well as the stress hormones can suppress the immune system.
Drink less alcohol– Alcohol can act as an immunosuppressant, inhibiting the immune cells ability to attack pathogens.
Mind and body– Last but certainly not the least, is look after your mind. Studies suggest that meditation can fight against stress hormones which can create an imbalance in your gut microbiota. Hence, as mentioned earlier, your gut microbiome is linked to your immune system functioning.
Finally, now you are armed with your winter lifestyle and diet survival tips, you can begin to implement them ready for the beginning of the cooler season. For further dietary, lifestyle, or supplementation advice please contact your health practitioner.
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