It’s that time of year again. The shorter days and cold weather means our immune system needs a little extra attention and support to keep us well.
Coughs, colds and flu are very common over the winter months. With our vitamin D stores declining and our body working harder to keep warm, plus the stress of our busy lives, it’s essential to take care of ourselves and give our body what it needs so it can fight infection effectively.
In this post I am going to look at the immune system and 5 ways you can support your immunity through these colder months with healthy foods, supplements and lifestyle tips.
How does the immune system work?
The immune system is our first line of defence for protecting against harm and jumps into action when something enters our body that it doesn’t recognize as its own. When certain bacteria, fungi, or viruses enter our system, a whole series of processes get triggered in the body.
One of the most AMAZING things our immune system does is to store information about the harmful invaders and how to fight them. This process is called adaptive or acquired immunity.
Adaptive Immune System
The adaptive immune system makes antibodies and uses them to fight certain germs that the body has previously come into contact with. For those of you with children, you will be familiar with the seemingly endless bouts of sickness when they are young, start nursery and school. This is actually a good thing as your child is developing a healthy immune system by coming into contact with new bugs and viruses.
The adaptive immune system works closely with a second immune response called innate immunity. This is Immunity that is present at birth and lasts a person’s entire life. It provides a general defence against harmful germs and substances using immune cells, such as natural killer cells and phagocytes.
The major components of our immune system include the white blood cells, antibodies, the lymphatic system, spleen, bone marrow, and thymus. Our skin is our body’s first line of defence to prevent outside pathogens from entering the body. The gut also plays a crucial role in immunity, as up to 80% of immune cells are created within the gut.
How we can support our immune system
1. Managing stress
Stress comes up a lot in my posts, so you know undoubtedly that stress can be harmful to your health, but did you know stress can suppress and slows down the immune system as well?
Stress can impact our weight, habits, gut, and brain. Because we face many stressors throughout the day, managing stress can be challenging. We are so used to juggling work, family, and other activities that we are often not aware of how stressed we are. How many of you constantly feel that there’s never enough time in the day and spend much of the week seeing to other people’s needs and forgetting your own? All of that builds up stress in the mind and body.
The problem with feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or stressed throughout the day is our body is dealing with the constant release of stress hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol increases glucose in our bloodstream and ships it to our brain, all to prepare us to fight or flee. Non-essential functions, like our immune system and digestive system, are down-regulated for fight-or-flight. You can see why this could lead to sickness.
It’s important to bring some awareness to how you are feeling throughout the day. Is your body contracted and tense? Do you feel exhausted? Even stopping for five minutes to take some slow, deep breaths can help to calm and regulate our system.
Taking steps to manage your stress levels is important. You may need to talk things through with someone or practice some mindfulness techniques or gentle exercise to help.
2. Good quality sleep boost immunity
Sleep plays an essential role in how our immune system functions. Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how long it takes for you to recover from illness.
The immune system releases proteins called cytokines during sleep. When we’re under stress or fighting an infection, we need more cytokines. Additionally, the formation of infection-fighting antibodies and cells is reduced when we don’t get enough sleep.
Simply put, without enough sleep, our body can’t equip itself with enough immune system ammunition to fight off illness. In fact, chronic sleep loss can also increase risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
The average adult requires seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Keep in mind, you cannot catch up on missed sleep – it does not work like that. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, there are things you can do to ensure a better night’s rest.
- Create a calm sleep environment. This means a clutter-free dark, cool room.
- Next, create a night-time routine to help signal your body; it’s time for sleep. Try doing relaxing activities such as stretching or taking a warm bath.
- Avoid looking at emails or social media, which can cause stress.
- If you have trouble turning off your thoughts, try journaling at night or jotting down the things you want to remember for tomorrow.
- Deep breathing and meditation can also help.
- Finally, you can try diffusing relaxing essential oils, such as lavender, to help calm your body for sleep.
3. Stay hydrated
Make sure you drink your two litres of water even in winter. If the thought of cold water does not appeal, you can drink it at room temperature or slightly warmed. Add fresh lemon for an extra benefit.
4. Foods to eat for your immune system
Challenge yourself to eat a variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables every day. Eat seasonally and cook everything from scratch.
Include garlic, ginger, turmeric and onion in your cooking. These have excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and are high in vitamins which support our immune system.
Try a ginger, lemon, turmeric and honey tea – this is a lovely warming drink which you can make yourself with fresh ingredients.
Eat fish – salmon, sardines or mackerel, which are rich in vitamin D.
Use fresh herbs in your cooking.
Eat plenty of greens such as broccoli, spinach and kale.
5. Supplements to support your immune system
It’s important to eat a healthy, varied diet, yet sometimes you need a little extra help to support your immunity system.
Vitamin D is very important. You can have your levels checked as it’s very common to have low levels in the winter, which increases your chances of catching colds and the flu.
The immune system is linked to our gut, so a strong probiotic is important to keep the gut healthy.
Getting a good multi vitamin for your age and gender is important.
I would recommend taking vitamin C 500mg four times a day throughout the year, but especially in winter, for an extra boost, take it with zinc.
Echinacea is also good. You can add it to warm or cold water or your green tea.
Stay well during winter
I hope you’ll benefit from these 5 ways you can support your immunity during winter.
If you would like to talk about how I can help you achieve optimal health and wellness with an abundance of energy then please get in touch via my Facebook page here.