Autumn is a great time to check on your health in preparation for the colder months. But can you boost your immune system?
The immune system is a complex, interrelated system, not a single entity. For optimum functioning, it requires balance and harmony. There's still a lot to learn about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. But general approaches to good health are a great way to start.
Practice good hygiene
Experts urge us to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to prevent passing on germs. Dry your hands. Use hand sanitiser and avoid touching the face. Wipe down commonly used equipment before and after you use it and try to avoid person-to-person contact. In the light of current infectious pandemic, this is more important than ever.
A healthy mixed diet is vital to support healthy immunity. One that's rich in vegetables and fruit, whole grains, legumes, healthy protein and healthy fats such as olive oil. Citrus fruits, berries and leafy greens and capsicums are particularly high in vitamin C.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, autumn is the season for white foods; root vegetables, onions, garlic, white beans, cauliflower, turnip, tempeh and tofu.
White vegetables are rich in allicin which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and antibiotic properties. But a rainbow of produce has many health benefits - providing an array of vitamins minerals and plant pigments.
Since 80 per cent of the immune system is located in the gut, it's important to support gut health. Prebiotics feed probiotics, live microorganisms that help to increase the number of good microbes in the digestive tract helping to boost beneficial microbes or probiotics, especially lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria, in the gut. Whole grains, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, onions, leeks and asparagus.
Mushrooms contain beta-glucans, naturally occurring polysaccharides. Some types have been found to support the body's immune defences. These glucose polymers enhance macrophages and natural killer cell function.
Used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is a cousin of ginger. Curcumin, turmeric's active ingredient is an antioxidant that has been shown to help reduce free radical damage.
While many of these studies focus on very concentrated preparations of curcumin supplement form (powders, tablets and extracts), eating turmeric as part of your daily diet is also a great way to enjoy curcumin's health benefits.
Curcumin's effect on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has also been shown to have potential use in depression treatment by reversing detrimental brain changes that occur in depression. Some people find the approaching colder and darker months may affect their mood.
Oily fish is rich in omega-3 fats; experts recommend eating oily fish two to three times per week.
Omega-3s may affect mood. Researchers suggest that this may be due to their effects on serotonin and serotonin receptors in the brain. Others studies indicate that the mechanism of action is due to the anti-inflammatory impacts.
Manage your stress
Some stress is vital for life, but prolonged periods increases circulating cortisol levels, increasing inflammation and decreasing the number of white blood cells, one way that the body combats infection. Do what you can to help reduce stress – whether this involves yoga and mindfulness to finding time to yourself and relaxing.
Regular exercise is a vital component for general good overall health – it improves general health helps to lower hypertension, aids the maintenance of a healthy weight and reduces the risk of several chronic conditions.
Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness. Exercise also boosts circulation, allowing the cells and immune system substances to move through the body freely and do their job more effectively. However, intense exercise can negatively impact the immune system. So exercise smarter, not harder.
Less sunlight means less vitamin D, although it is still essential to practice safe sun exposure. A vitamin D supplement may help you boost your immune defences since low vitamin d status can reduce the ability to resist winter germs.
Echinacea is the name of a group of flowering plants in the daisy family. Used by North American natives, studies have linked the compounds in Echinacea to health benefits, such as reduced inflammation.
Another herb used in Chinese medicine is Astragalus; it has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties; research suggest that the root can boost resistance to infection.
Get enough sleep
Adequate rest is key to a healthy immune system. Cytokines – proteins that help to fight infection and inflammation – released during sleep.
Of course, there are no guarantees when it comes to avoiding infection, but smart decisions can help put the odds in your favour.