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8 Tips to Strengthen Your Immune System

I usually talk about boosting the immune system as we approach winter, but this year, as the current global health events continue to unfold, it seems that the time to focus on our immune systems is now.

In the past few days we have seen an increase in measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The government has issued comprehensive guidelines as to how to limit exposure to the virus and reduce the risk of becoming infected.

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent catching a virus, there are a few things you can do to reduce the time and severity of an illness if you do catch a virus.

Here are my top 8 immune- boosting nutrients and foods:

1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) is an essential micronutrient for the human immune system. It stimulates the production of white blood cells which help to fight off viruses and bacteria and helps the body to produce antibodies which recognise and neutralize invading pathogens before they can harm us. Vitamin C also promotes the formation of collagen, the main structural protein in skin and connective tissue, and thus plays a vital role in forming the physical barrier that protects us from harmful elements.

Vitamin C- rich foods include: red/yellow capsicum, kiwi fruit, black currants, berries, citrus fruits, apples, papaya, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, green leafy vegetables, parsley, ginger and garlic.

2. Zinc:

Zinc is essential for the growth and function of cells that facilitate our immune defense. In addition to regulating the immune system, zinc functions as an anti-oxidant to reduce oxidative stress and supports healing and recovery.

Zinc is most abundant in animal products (beef, lamb, turkey and chicken) and shellfish (oysters, scallops, lobster) but is also found in plant based foods such as cashew nuts, almonds, beans, lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and quinoa.

3. Vitamin D:

Our primary source of vitamin D is by absorption through the skin during exposure to the sun. Vitamin D plays a regulatory role in the immune system by triggering a strong, anti-microbial response, which helps to fight off invading pathogens before they become an infection.

Include a daily dose of vitamin D-rich foods on those days when the sunshine is elusive or it is just too cold be outdoors.

Vitamin D-rich foods include: cod liver oil, salmon (canned or fresh), sardines, mackerel, brewer's yeast, eggs.

4. Honey:

For thousands of years honey has been embraced and celebrated worldwide for its culinary, nutritional and medicinal properties.

Honey’s antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties support healthy immune function to help the body fight infection and prevent disease. A teaspoon of honey also reduces coughing and provides effective relief from sore throats in an upper respiratory tract infection.

5. Probiotics:

The majority of our immune system is found in our intestines. The good bacteria that line the walls of the gastrointestinal tract protect us from harmful bacteria by competing for space and food, altering the chemical environment to be less hospitable to invading pathogens and by regulating the inflammatory immune response.

Probiotic bacteria are found in fermented foods. Including a daily serve of probiotic foods will give your immune system an extra boost.

Probiotic foods include: miso paste, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha.

*Note: Good bacteria need feeding too. Prebiotic foods contain insoluble fibre which feeds and supports the growth of the probiotic bacteria. Prebiotic foods include: leeks, artichokes, garlic, onion, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel, barley, oats, chickpeas and lentils. Include a serve of prebiotic foods daily.

6. Spices:

Ancient, culinary spices have long been used for their medicinal properties. In addition to being aromatic, spices have active compounds that support immune function and healing. Spices are known to have many health benefits including anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, as well as beneficial nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin A, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc.

While I am not recommending consumption of these spices in therapeutic doses (as supplements) here, I do suggest adding some spices to your cooking to give your immune system a boost.

7. Mushrooms:

Mushrooms are one of the most nutrient-packed, health-promoting foods on the planet. The delicious and versatile micro-fungi have been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years, and mushroom extracts are still used in immune-boosting herbal preparations and nutritional supplements today.

Mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamins C, D, B- group vitamins and minerals including potassium, magnesium, calcium and selenium.

Mushrooms are anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antioxidant. Eating a variety of mushroom species will support your immune system to help to protect you from cold and flu.

8. Sleep

Though not technically a nutrient, sleep is a critical factor for both our physical and mental health. Good quality sleep is essential to maintain good health and strengthen the immune system. While we sleep our bodies produce and organise the immune cells and proteins that initiate the immune response, fight infection and facilitate healing. Inadequate sleep causes an imbalance in the immune function which leaves us vulnerable to infection by harmful pathogens.

Take good care of yourselves during these challenging times. Eat well, be sure to get enough rest, exercise in the fresh air when you can, practice good hygiene and be mindful of how your actions may impact others.

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