During the colder months of the year, the message that you should boost your immune system to protect you from winter chills and ills pops up all the time. Adverts and social media posts tell you to stock up on certain vitamins, herbal supplements or special teas.
It turns out that we don’t need any special potions or elixirs because you can’t actually boost your immune system. Though I do understand why those messages are so attractive. When we are worried about our health, we want to do something that makes us feel in control. Taking supplements gives us that sense of control.
Your immune system is an incredibly complex, intricate and elegant system that is quietly working hard to protect you all the time. It helps your body fight infections and other diseases by:
• Providing a barrier to infection.
• Recognising and responding to infections by eliminating them and then stopping them from returning.
• Helping with healing, growth, and general repair and maintenance.
So which part are you trying to boost with those specific foods or supplements? If you boosted the wrong part, you could cause a lot of harm.
As with most complex systems, keeping things in balance and providing support is more important than revving things up. But keeping things in balance doesn’t sound quite as exciting, does it?
So is there anything you can do to support your immune system? Yes, you can …
• Eat a balanced diet. Make sure you are eating carbohydrates, protein and fat. Your immune system, especially when fighting an infection, needs fuel to do battle and help you heal.
• Load up on dark green leafy veg and all the brightly coloured ones too.
• Mix up your fibre-rich foods. So, plenty of veg but also wholegrains, legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds.
• Have a couple of servings of fruit each day, which will give you fibre as well as vitamin C.
• Don’t over-exercise – give your body a chance to recover between workouts.
• Get enough sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours a night.
• Try to get outside when the sun is shining for a hit of vitamin D.
• Maintain good hygiene practices to keep you safe from viruses and bacteria.
I know that doing the basics doesn’t have the same feeling of instant gratification that taking a supplement might, but it’s just what your immune system needs – to be balanced, not boosted.