Now that winter has arrived, we are becoming aware of the infections going around and may be concerned about how well our immune system is working. We all want to avoid the dreadful discomfort that comes with an infection, not to mention the disruption it causes in our daily lives.
We are exposed to millions of different bacteria and viruses every day. Their priority is to survive, and they use us as accommodation, creating havoc and, in severe cases, even overwhelming us. Fortunately, we have an immune system which acts as the body’s own defence force. Its job is to identify these bad bugs and try to kill or neutralise them.
The best place to start for the prevention of infections is actually to boost our levels of good bugs! Research shows that probiotics and vitamin C are found to result in fewer coughs and colds, or, if an infection does take hold, the symptoms were not as bad, and they didn’t need as much medication.
When you are ill, you start to feel really tired, achy and feverish. This is a sign that your body is trying to fight the infection and it’s trying to make you rest. Rather than fighting the symptoms and reaching for pills, it is better to support your body naturally by resting and taking plenty of fluids and nutrients. You can also include the following foods:
• Natural anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory foods: garlic, ginger, turmeric, sage, coconut oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice with warm water and honey (locally-sourced and raw, if possible).
• Bone broths: use organic chicken carcass or beef bones, add a mixture of vegetables such as carrots, leeks, onions and herbs. Cover with water and gently simmer for a few hours. Strain and drink the broth daily.
• Vegetable juices: if you have a low appetite, fresh vegetable juices can be a great source of nutrients and antioxidants.
• Probiotic foods: sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, natural yoghurt, kefir and kombucha.
• Essential fats: oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon, seeds such as flax, chia, and hemp seeds.
• Coconut water: for hydration and replenishing electrolyte stores.
Other nutrients that play an important role in the prevention of infections include the following:
• Vitamin D enhances the immune system’s ability to recognise bad bugs and initiate a response against them, especially influenza (which causes the flu), tuberculosis and respiratory tract infections. The main natural source of vitamin D is sunlight, and as our sun exposure becomes very limited during winter, it is essential to supplement vitamin D to prevent deficiencies and support immunity.
• Vitamin A is crucial for strengthening the gut lining which acts as a barrier against bad bugs. It can also boost the activity of immune cells.
• Zinc is important for enhancing the activity of immune cells.
• Antioxidants are molecules that prevent damage to the cells and tissues and reduce inflammation. These include flavonoids found in rosehip, bilberry and other berries, as well as rutin and hesperidin that are naturally found in citrus fruit.
Using probiotics and vitamin C can be used as a preventative protocol against infections, but they can also be very beneficial during an infection alongside the following nutrients for further immune support:
• Elderberry contains plant chemicals that ‘blunt’ the spikes on viruses and increases immune system activity against flu.
• Sage inhibits bacterial growth, including the bacteria causing tuberculosis.
• Lysine inhibits reproduction of certain viruses like herpes and boosts immunity.
• Beta Glucans are natural sugars found in certain types of mushrooms. They can activate the immune cells and reduce the symptoms and duration of respiratory tract infections in elderly and children.
Making small changes now to help support your immune system is a great way to avoid getting sick this winter.