Strategies to Strengthen + Support Your Immune System
As you’re likely already aware of, frequent hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough/sneeze are recommended to reduce your chances of getting sick. But what about taking preventative measures to prepare our bodies natural defence system to combat viruses? Although there is no sure-fire way to avoid catching a cold or the flu, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of these illnesses during our fall and winter seasons.
Our immune system is a powerful complex network of cells that acts as our defence against foreign invaders. However, at times of high stress, our immunity can get compromised and may need an extra boost. We’ve rounded up some of our key tips on how to help prevent illness and support your immune system.
Here are some simple, yet effective strategies to strengthen and support your immune system (and yes, some of these strategies are often overlooked).
1. NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS
Eating a balanced diet with whole foods is the best way to ensure you are meeting your daily recommended vitamin and mineral requirements. But in reality, many of us are not meeting these requirements through diet alone. An effective measure we can take is to incorporate supplements into our diet (in addition to our nutritional intake from food), especially during the cold and flu season.
Here are some recommended supplements that have protective properties against viruses.
* Before taking supplements, please speak with your Wellth pharmacist to ensure the product is suitable for you, as there can be potential drug interactions.*
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is crucial for the development and repair of our bodies’ tissues. It plays a function in the absorption of other vitamins and minerals like iron, improves wound healing, and helps to maintain cartilage and bones. Vitamin C can be found in sweet bell peppers, oranges, grapefruit, and cruciferous vegetables. The majority of evidence shows that taking high doses of vitamin C orally might decrease the duration of cold symptoms by 1 to 1.5 days in some patients.
Vitamin D is required for many essential physiological functions, and acts by regulating the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the body, which is crucial for bone and skin health. Vitamin D is found in foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and white beans. Studies support the use of vitamin D in reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections, especially in children. There is some conflicting evidence to suggest the ideal dose, but increasing your daily vitamin D dose during the winter months is recommended.
Ginseng is an herb plant grown in the Asian continent. It can help to improve cognitive function, physical stamina, stress management, fatigue, and is also used in other types of herbal medicines. Studies show that ginseng has immune-modulating properties, which help to protect against infections of pathogenic viruses. There is clinical evidence to suggest that taking a ginseng supplement or extract can decrease your risk of catching the flu or common cold.
Quercetin is a flavonoid, found in plant foods like red onions, grapes, berries, and apples. It has antioxidant properties, can reduce inflammation and ease allergy symptoms. It’s also being studied for its potential antiviral effects.
Zinc is an essential mineral that supports our bodies’ immune system and metabolic function. Zinc is naturally present in foods like oysters, red meat, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and legumes but it’s also a commonly added ingredient to cold and flu medications. Overall, studies have shown zinc products may be beneficial for modestly reducing the duration of symptoms of the common cold in adults.
Sleep is essential for a healthy immune system, but can often be neglected. The average person needs approximately 6-8 hours of sleep each night but many people around the world aren’t even getting that amount.
When our brain is at rest, sleep aids in the disposal of harmful toxins, cell regeneration, brain regeneration, hormone balancing, memory function, and wound healing.
Lack of sleep can lead to a compromised immune system due to increased inflammation.
It’s important to make sleep a regular priority in your schedule. Although the exact amount of sleep varies by individual, ensure that you feel well-rested to function and thrive throughout your day. Also, aim to create good sleep hygiene practices, like limiting electronic exposure prior to bed time (or downloading blue light blockers for your devices if you are using electronic devices), sleeping in a cool, dark room with no lights or sound, and limiting caffeine intake. Some patients can also benefit from adding a melatonin supplement to their diet, which can help restore your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Nutrition is a critical element of our bodies’ immune system. The majority of our immune system stems from our gut health and our immune system protects against viruses, bacteria, parasites, and other toxic cells.
Malnutrition of macronutrients (protein, fats, carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) can suppress our immune system.
It’s important to eat a diet including many natural plant-based foods (that are unprocessed or as minimally processed as possible). Include lots of fresh vegetables and fruits at each meal, and incorporate a variety of foods so you are receiving a wide spectrum of nutrients.