The clocks have gone back an hour in the UK signalling the official end to the British summer! Less daylight in the evenings mean we get less exposure to the sun and this is accompanied by a drop in average temperature. Added to the additional sugar and alcohol we’re likely to consumer between Halloween and the festive season, this can all add to the stress on our immune system and adrenal glands. It is therefore important to keep well-nourished and give your body a better fighting chance throughout the cold months ahead. So, what is the immune system and how does one ‘boost’ it? The immune system is simply your body’s natural defence system against pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and even fungi, which all have the potential to make you sick. The following are suggestions on how to boost your immunity:
A decrease in exposure to the sun can lead to a drop in serotonin (the hormone that affects mood), which is associated with depression and food cravings. Vitamin D3 supplements may be essential to ensure adequate levels. Some people may even suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), symptoms of which include depression, anxiety, and overeating. SAD lamps, a form of light therapy can improve mood considerably by encouraging the brain to reduce production of melatonin (hormone that makes you sleepy) and by increasing the production of serotonin.
Numerous studies have found vitamin C combined with zinc play an important role in nutrition and immune defence. One study found that symptom relief for the common cold was quicker and well tolerated after taking vitamin C/zinc. In terms of diet, eat protein rich foods to get plenty of zinc such as fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, and dairy.
Omega-3 fatty acids (O-3) can help boost immunity, as they are needed to help vitamin D to work in an optimal manner. O-3 supplementation increases the activity of white cells but also protects from respiratory infections.
Probiotics are defined as “live-micro-organisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit”. There is a growing amount of scientific evidence supporting the relationship between “good” bacteria and the immune system. Almost70% of the immune system is located within the gastrointestinal tract, so taking probiotics to boost immunity seems plausible. This is because a strong immune system relies heavily on a healthy and well functioning gut. Ideally, take a probiotic with specific strains with 10-20 billion organisms taken daily.
Studies have found that garlic may have infection-fighting capabilities as it is anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Other herbs and spices which have a similar mechanism include ginger, cayenne pepper, curry and turmeric. Immune boosting antiviral herbs such as olive leaf extract, grapefruit seed extract and elderberry extract have been found to contain thousands of medicinal compounds including anti-oxidants that attack virus’ without creating resistant viral strains. Drinking green tea may stimulate the production and activity of immune cells associated with combating viruses, due to the polyphenols it contains.
Additional lifestyle factors to help boost your immunity include avoiding/limiting sugar and processed foods as these are known to dramatically decrease the immune function. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as they contain anti-oxidants. Drink more water as it is essential in the production of lymph, which carries white bloods cells and other immune system cells. Finally get plenty of sleep as this allows the body to restore and repair itself while you rest.
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