By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
A strong immune system is key to our overall health, and it is important in many body functions and systems, including the reproductive system- take time to nourish your immune system ahead of the cold season.
Effective immunity requires appropriate nutrition and lifestyle choices. Deficiencies of certain nutrients can result in the suppression of immune function. Environmental toxins, stress, lifestyle factors, pollution and genetic make-up can place further strain on our immune system. Humans have had a long relationship with micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses) and whilst many are normally present within our bodies, many are also potentially pathogenic and capable of causing serious disease if able to invade our mucosal barrier or the skin. Effective immune function needs adequate levels of specific nutrients to protect against invasion from unwanted micro-organisms and to help to assist where necessary to return our immune system to a ‘resting’ situation when protection is not required. The essential defence mechanisms in our body rely heavily on the entire gastrointestinal tract functioning efficiently including the bacteria present in the gut (the microbiome).
Why not try incorporating some of this simple yet effective nutrition and lifestyle choices into your daily routine to help support your well-being this autumn and beyond?
To help support your immune system eating a balanced diet will help to make sure that you are getting a good amount of some key nutrient-supporting micronutrients including vitamins A, C and D, zinc, selenium and iron.
Consuming specific foods that benefit the immune system is a great way of helping protect the body against infection. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables of a variety of colours along with oily fish and whole grains. Pre-and probiotic-rich foods help to enhance the microbial diversity in the gut which has a knock-on effect to the health of the whole body. Consume foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, kefir, live yoghurt, sauerkraut and reap the benefits.
Top up on Vitamin C rich foods as these have an important role, containing powerful antioxidants they to help to mop up free radicals which can lead to stress and ageing of cells.
Avoid foods that promote infection like heavily processed foods, sugar and fizzy drinks is also key to enriching the microbiome and supporting immunity. Make good choices here and drink plenty of fresh water, herbal teas or make your own juices, smoothies and shots containing citrus fruit, ginger and turmeric.
Get outdoors in the fresh air – great for body, mind and giving the immune system a boost.
Top up on the vitamin D – Vitamin D is frequently referred to as the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’ as sunlight is necessary for the synthesis of this Vitamin (which is produced underneath the skin following exposure to sunlight). Vitamin D occurs in two forms: vitamin D2, which is present in a small number of foods, and vitamin D3, which is formed in the skin when exposed to sunlight. For those living in the northern hemisphere, those who spend a lot of time in doors, those with darker skin, exposure to sunlight is limited, so to ensure that we get enough , it is recommended (in the UK) to supplement vitamin D by taking 10 micrograms a day in the months October to march, however some people may benefit from taking vitamin D all year round.
Ensure you are getting enough quality sleep. Inflammatory responses in the body can be triggered by sleep loss, which can impair the immune system. In comparison to healthy sleepers, insomniacs are more likely to have impaired immune systems, according to studies.
Try to get a healthy sleep routine in place, going to bed at the same time and waking at the same time, reducing screen time, and ensuring your room is not too hot are a few considerations.
Exercise …a fast walk each day in the fresh air for 20-30 minutes will help to reduce inflammation in the body and support a healthy immune system.
Make time for some ‘me time’ to help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but constant stress can have a negative impact on the immune system. Do something you enjoy…try yoga, pilates, a walk, read a book…whatever works for you will be good for mind, body and your immune system!
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