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Boosting your immune system – not just about vitamin C!

Boosting your immune system – not just about vitamin C!

There are many different ways to improve your immune system this winter. By looking at vitamin D, adequate nutrition, stress levels and sleep, you can get your immune system functioning at an optimal level this winter (and beyond!).

Vitamin D

You have probably heard about the importance of vitamin D for immune health but did you know that it is extremely difficult to get enough vitamin D from the sunshine alone during the winter months in Melbourne? Without adequate vitamin D our bodies are more susceptible to infections. A study carried out in Japan on school aged children and vitamin D supplementation actually found vitamin D to be more effective in preventing the flu than the flu vaccine!

In winter in Melbourne, you really need 2-3 hours per week of midday sun on your arms and legs to make appreciable differences to your vitamin D levels. With winter maximums often hovering around 15 degrees having arms and legs bare while out and about is hardly appealing.

Vitamin D is not found in high amounts in foods, except for fish liver oils (yum!). This is why I recommend a good quality practitioner brand of vitamin D to help support you throughout winter. Those that are even more vulnerable to the effects of low vitamin D levels are pregnant women, children and the elderly.

Good Nutrition

For your immune system to function properly you need to feed it with the right nutrients. Adequate protein in the diet is the first step. Protein forms the building blocks of your immune system so it important to eat good quality protein such as nuts, eggs, fish, legumes and chicken at every meal.

Next you want to make sure you have a good intake of immune boosting vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins A, C, & E, along with B vitamins, bioflavonoids, beta-carotene, iron, copper and zinc are all necessary for your immune system to function optimally, and for you to effectively ward off colds and flus.

The best way to ensure that you get enough of these immune enhancing nutrients is to eat a varied diet consisting primarily of whole foods.

This means:

• More fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat (including organ meat if you are game!), nuts, seeds and whole grains.
• Less sugar, processed and refined foods.

Manage your stress

The medical field of psychonueroimmunology has firmly established that there is a link between stress and immune function. In a nut shell, the day to day stresses that you experience and how you cope with them has an effect on both your hormone balance and immune system function. These effects are seen in both the short and long term.

Stress will prevent your body from forming new lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) which are critical for immune function. It will also prevent the body from making new antibodies, which are special immune proteins that are needed for the body to fight an infection. Interestingly, research has shown that stressed individuals were three times as likely to be infected by rhinovirus (the common cold) than those who were not stressed.

Sleep matters

Getting enough good quality sleep is essential if you want to get through winter without the sniffles. Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep leaves you more susceptible to viruses such as the common cold. Our immune systems are most active during the night when we are asleep. Prioritising sleep will not only make you feel more alert the next day, it will also keep your immune system in tip top condition. Most adults need about 7-8 hours sleep, but some people need more.

If you are feeling run down or if you tend to catch every bug going around during winter, it may be a good idea to think about which of these areas could do with some attention - vitamin D, good nutrition, sleep or stress. Before you get sick is the best time to book in for a consult to keep you well this winter. Being well means a happier and more productive you!

Greta Leonard

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