Boosting your immunity during the winter months is essential to help defend your body against the increased risk of colds, flu, and other infections. Here are some of our top tips to help you bolster your immune system.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
A diverse and balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients ensures that your body has the building blocks it needs to maintain a strong and effective immune system. Here are some key nutrients that support your immune system and what foods they are found in.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamin C: Found in fruits like oranges, strawberries, and kiwi, as well as vegetables like bell peppers and broccoli. Vitamin C is known for its antioxidant properties and supports the production and function of white blood cells, which are key components of the immune system.
Vitamin D: Obtained from oily fish, red meat, not forgetting the best non-edible way to top up your levels is from direct sunlight. Vitamin D is important for immune regulation and can help modulate the immune response.
Vitamin E: Found in nuts, seeds, and spinach. It acts as an antioxidant and helps protect cells from damage.
Zinc: Found in meat, dairy, nuts, and legumes. Zinc is essential for the development and function of immune cells and aids in the body’s ability to fight off infections.
Iron: Found in meat, beans, and leafy greens. Iron is essential for the production of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to cells, including immune cells.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, flavonoids, and polyphenols. Antioxidants help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals and support overall immune health.
Sources of lean protein, such as poultry, fish, tofu, and legumes, provide amino acids necessary for the production of antibodies and immune system proteins.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, flaxseeds, avocados and walnuts, have anti-inflammatory properties and support immune function by promoting the activity of certain immune cells.
Found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, probiotics promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria. A diverse and balanced gut microbiome is linked to improved immune function.
Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables provide dietary fibre that supports a healthy gut microbiota.
If you do not have a varied diet, consider taking supplements to boost your nutrient intake. This should never be a go-to easy fix, always look to improve and diversify your diet first, if possible. In addition to the nutrients listed above, here’s an additional super nutrient to consider which offers numerous benefits all at once.
Medicinal mushrooms, deeply rooted in traditional Eastern medicine, are increasingly recognised for their potential health benefits, particularly in supporting immune function. Key compounds like beta-glucans found in varieties such as reishi, shiitake, maitake, and turkey tail have demonstrated the ability to stimulate immune cells like macrophages and natural killer cells, crucial for identifying and eliminating pathogens. These mushrooms also contain other immunomodulatory polysaccharides that enhance the immune system’s responsiveness to infections.
Additionally, medicinal mushrooms exhibit antioxidant properties due to compounds like polyphenols, which help neutralise free radicals, reducing oxidative stress and supporting overall immune health. Some mushrooms, including chaga and cordyceps, showcase anti-inflammatory effects, addressing chronic inflammation that can also compromise immune responses.
Certain mushrooms, such as reishi, are classified as adaptogens, assisting the body in adapting to various stressors and indirectly contributing to immune system resilience.
The positive influence of these mushrooms extends to gut health, where they may promote a balanced gut microbiota, associated with improved immune responses. Overall, the diverse properties of medicinal mushrooms position them as promising contributors to immune system support and overall well-being.
Staying well-hydrated is essential for overall health and helps maintain the balance of bodily fluids, including those involved in immune system function.
Water is essential for cell-to-cell communication, a process critical for coordinating immune responses. Immune cells need to communicate effectively to mount an appropriate defence against pathogens, and proper hydration supports this communication.
If drinking water feels difficult during winter months, sip on herbal teas throughout the day to receive the same benefits.
Get Adequate Sleep
Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night, as lack of sleep can weaken your immune system. During sleep, the immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which are essential for promoting sleep. Certain cytokines help coordinate the immune response and are necessary for the body to respond effectively to infections and inflammation.
Sleep also plays a role in the production and release of immune cells, including T cells, which are critical for identifying and destroying infected cells.
Sleep is a time for the body to undergo repair and restoration. The immune system actively engages in repairing and recovering from daily challenges during sleep, helping prepare the body for the next day’s immune responses.
Sleep also influences the balance of various hormones, including growth hormone and melatonin, which have important roles in immune function and overall health.
Chronic stress adversely affects the immune system by triggering the release of stress hormones, particularly cortisol, which can suppress the production and activity of immune cells, disrupt immune regulation, and contribute to chronic inflammation. This prolonged stress response may impair wound healing, alter antibody production, and impact the balance of the gut microbiota.
Additionally, stress is linked to a reduced antiviral response, potentially increasing susceptibility to infections. Managing stress through techniques like meditation, yoga, breathwork, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle is crucial for maintaining immune resilience and overall well-being.
Regular, moderate exercise plays a significant role in enhancing immune function and reducing inflammation. Exercise supports immune health by promoting better circulation, enabling immune cells to move efficiently throughout the body. Additionally, it contributes to cardiovascular health, ensuring optimal delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells, including immune cells.
Regular physical activity acts as a natural stress reliever, lowering cortisol levels and mitigating the immune-suppressing effects of chronic stress. Moreover, exercise exhibits anti-inflammatory effects by releasing anti-inflammatory molecules and increasing the production of antioxidants, contributing to a balanced inflammatory response.
In addition, exercise stimulates the production and activity of various immune cells, such as macrophages, T cells, and natural killer cells, crucial for identifying and eliminating pathogens.
The positive impact of exercise extends to sleep quality, as regular physical activity is associated with improved sleep, a key factor in immune system regulation. Exercise also influences the gut microbiota positively, promoting a healthy balance that supports immune function.
Overall, maintaining a healthy body weight through regular exercise contributes to immune resilience, as obesity is linked to chronic inflammation and impaired immune responses.
If you have specific health concerns or conditions, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional for personalised advice prior to making changes to your diet or lifestyle to ensure you gain maximum gains from your efforts.