With the change of season upon us it’s a good time to focus on the health of your immune system, especially considering recent developments with the spread of Coronavirus. Face masks and hand washing may be one way of keeping germs at bay but the best way to defend yourself is to strengthen your immune system from within.
There are many actions you can take with both lifestyle and food choices to boost your immune system.
The best thing to strengthen and support your immune system is something we can all get for free: a good night’s sleep. Recent studies have shown that people who don’t get enough sleep (less than seven hours per night) are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep also affects the body’s ability to recover from illness.
Good sleep helps keep levels of stress hormone cortisol under control. When stress and cortisol are continually elevated, your immune system will be suppressed.
Vitamin D is essential for a strong immune system and spending short periods of time in the sun is the best way to boost those supplies. With the great summer we have had this year, Vitamin D levels should be high.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and is stored in body fat until it is needed – the ability to make, store and access it varies from one individual to the next. A supplement is an option for those who work inside and are not getting as much access to natural light or for those concerned that they are not getting enough Vitamin D through the winter months.
Vitamin C encourages your body to produce more white blood cells, which are particularly useful as they attack any foreign bodies they encounter in your body. Studies have shown that the natural Vitamin C found in food is more powerful in preventing infection than the synthetic Vitamin C found in supplements. The highest concentration of Vitamin C is found in coloured capsicums. One cup of chopped capsicums contains 200mg of vitamin C: double the amount of oranges. Broccoli, Brussel sprouts and snow peas are also full of Vitamin C.
Zinc is very important for your immune system to function normally and studies have shown that even a slight deficiency will suppress your immune response. High levels of zinc are found in oysters, red meat, shellfish, chickpeas, lentils, seeds and nuts.
It’s important to optimise gut health so you can fully digest the food you are eating and absorb all vitamins and minerals. Gut health is very important because your immune system lives within your microbiome. If your gut is healthy, it is far more likely that your immune system will be too. Garlic, onion and asparagus contain prebiotics to support healthy gut bacteria. You can also take a probiotic to boost levels of healthy gut bacteria.
Cut back on alcohol, as excessive alcohol consumption can impair the immune system and increases vulnerability to lung infections.
In times of fear, focus on what you can control. We can’t control the actions of others or expect people to fully isolate themselves when they aren’t well. What we can do is take action to improve the health of our own immune system so we are in a better position to withstand whatever challenges come our way.