So, what can you do to support your immune system naturally and fight off the winter colds and flu?
We are continually exposed to organisms that are inhaled, swallowed or inhabit our skin and mucous membranes. Whether or not these organisms lead to disease depends on the integrity of your immune system. The most important thing one can do to support your immune system is to look after where the immune system mostly resides: in the gut.
Around 80% of your immune cells hang out in your digestive tract. To ensure the health of your digestive tract you need to ensure that you digest your food properly, that your liver, pancreas and gall bladder are all working well and that your gut bacteria are in the right balance. We need to make sure our stomach acid levels are strong because its role is to not only digest our food, predominantly protein containing foods, but to also kill off any bacteria’s, viruses and other harmful microbes that may enter our system. This has a flow on effect to the rest of your digestive tract affecting the health of your microbiome.
So how do you know if your digestion is ok?
The following digestive symptoms could indicate some digestive issues:
· Heartburn and GERD
· Indigestion and bloating
· Excessive burping and flatulence
· Constipation or diarrhoea
· Food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities
· Acne and other skin issues
· An auto immune diagnosis to name a few.
To support your digestion and your microbiome take a good quality probiotic and eat prebiotic foods such as apples, onions, dark green vegetables especially dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, asparagus and flaxseeds. Other foods to support your digestion include fennel, ginger, sauerkraut, kombucha, peppermint to name a few.
Other ways to strengthen and support your immune system include:
· Keep hydrated – drinking plenty of water, herbal teas, bone broth helps to carry toxins out of the body, so by drinking more of it when you are sick could help prevent toxins from building up.
· Reduce your stress - Chronic stress suppresses your immune system by releasing the hormone cortisol. Cortisol lowers the levels of immune fighting T-cells and reduces secretion of IgA which lines your gut and respiratory tract and protects you from pathogens.
· Moderate alcohol intake - alcohol has been shown to disrupt immune pathways in complex ways and these disruptions can impair the body’s ability to defend against infection and slow recovery.
· Eat more vegetables – vegetables are high in fibre as well as vitamins and minerals which are important for a healthy immune system. Choose a rainbow of vegetables every day.
· Add fermented food to your diet - Adding fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut and kimchi introduces millions of beneficial bacteria to our gut where most of our immune system resides.
· Eat protein - Protein found in meats, bone broth, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds help your body repair tissue and fight infection.
· Herbs and supplements – there are many great herbs and vitamins and minerals that can support your immune system. If you happen to get sick, then these will shorten the length of the illness and reduce the severity. There are a few key ones that are involved with your immune system these include zinc, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin D, iron, and selenium. Vitamin C and A are mostly found fresh fruit and veggies especially citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage and parsley. Zinc is found in red meats, chicken, fish, eggs, legumes and sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
· Get some sunshine – Sunshine is the major contributor to the production of vitamin D in our body and is absolutely essential for a healthy immune system.
· Get sufficient sleep - Your body whilst asleep does its best healing and repairing. Insufficient sleep causes your body to reduce the activity of T cells and weaken your immune system. Try to sleep for 7-8 hours. The best time to put your body into bed is between 9-10pm when your melatonin levels are at their peak.
Nicole Haak is an experienced Melbourne Naturopath whose gentle approach and warm nature enable her to be an empathetic and supportive practitioner who takes a genuine interest in her clients’ needs. She has a deep passion for what she does. This is evident by her holistic approach to helping her patients find solutions to their health concerns and improve their quality of life.