Most days your immune system does a fantastic job of keeping you safe from viruses and bacteria. But sometimes a germ gets past your body's defences and you get sick. The question then - is it possible to give your body a little help and boost your immune system? Can you eat better or take a vitamin or herbal supplements, or make changes to your daily regime to perfect your immune system's response to an attack?
The immune system and how it responds is still somewhat of a mystery to researchers, but we do know that it functions much better when protected from attacks and boosted by a healthy lifestyle. Traditionally we have been told:
- Don't smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.
- Get enough sleep and exercise regularly.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Wash your hands well and cook meats thoroughly.
- Try to keep your stress levels as low as possible.
There are other more uncommon ways you can try for better immune support, we'll discuss those later.
Fruits with the big 'C'
Vitamin C is thought to increase white blood cell production – the key to fighting infections. Citrus fruits that are rich in this vitamin include grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, limes and lemons. Keep in mind your body does not store or make its down vitamin C so you need a daily dose to keep your immune system working effectively.
Ring the bell
Ounce for ounce red bell peppers contain twice as much vitamin C as citrus fruits. They are also packed full of beta carotene which can help keep your skin and eyes healthy.
Broccoli is one of nature's superfoods and loaded with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as other antioxidants. It really is one of the healthiest veggies you can serve, but to keep it in its supercharged state cook it as little as possible or not at all.
Interesting how garlic can traditionally be found in almost every cuisine in the world – early civilisations recognised it as being able to help fight infections and today it is still one of those must-haves for your immune system and overall health. Studies have shown that garlic may help lower blood pressure and slow down the hardening of arteries. And it contains large amounts of sulfur-containing compounds such as allicin which are known to boost immunity.
Ginger seems to be one of those ingredients we turn to after getting sick – it can help reduce nausea, a sore throat and chronic pain, but including this lovely spicy vegetable in our daily menu instead of only when we need it may help decease inflammation generally and build a stronger immune system.
Spinach is up there on the superfoods list not only because it is rich in vitamin C but also because it is packed with antioxidants and beta carotene. This vegetable should be eaten raw or lightly cooked to bring out vitamin A and other nutrients from its oxalic acid.
Yogurts containing live and active cultures may help your immune system work more effectively. Stay away from flavoured yogurts or those packed with sugar – read the label carefully before you assume the one you are buying is as sugar-free as you think it is.
Although vitamin C gets most of the acclaim for its ability to fight off colds, vitamin E is key to a functioning immune system. It needs the presence of fat to be absorbed properly, which is where the clever little almond comes in. Loaded with healthy fats and vitamin E, a half cup serving can provide nearly all the vitamin E you need in a day.
Go for gold
Turmeric has been quietly offering its services as a powerful anti-inflammatory for years, and only recently have health practitioners started recommending this spice for a number of ailments including as an immune booster. Curcumin – which gives turmeric its distinctive yellow gold colour – can also help decrease muscle damage from intense periods of prolonged exercise.
While these 'new' ways to help boost your immune system might seem different they are actually based on ingredients in some of the 'old' cold and flu remedies that have been used for generations, just more out-the-box.
- Juice fresh turmeric and ginger with carrot and apple to make a healthy immune-enhancing drink.
- There is evidence that taking a daily cold plunge – and that doesn't have to be in a river or lake, a cold bath or shower will do – actually increases how many and how well your immune cells work. Alternate between hot and cold blasts of water to take the edge off the experience.
- The World Health Organisation recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day, but most of us have 5 or 6 times as much. Sugar from any source reduces how well your body can fight off infections.
- Your gut works as a type of barrier protecting your body from harmful ingested invaders and holds a staggering fifty percent of your immune systems cells. Research shows that taking probiotics either in supplement form or from foods like yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut can improve how well your immune system works.
- We all know a healthy body and mind is important for good health. There is some evidence that practicing mindfulness meditation every day can increase antibody production, besides helping reduce stress and improving sleep patterns.