The common cold or flu strikes many people every year, especially during the changing of seasons. You may think that just because we are now officially in Summer that colds and flus are behind you. In reality, the festive season can mean additional stress. And additional stress can mean your body is under a great deal of pressure. Over this busy period, its more important than ever to keep your immune system strong and healthy by eating a well-balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and doing the things that help you to find peace and balance- be that exercise, meditation, a quiet herbal tea or taking a book down to the beach!
There are many factors that may contribute to the weakening of your immune system. These may include physiological, psychological and emotional stress, lack of regular exercise, lack of sleep, poor diet or nutritional deficiencies.
Maintaining optimal nutrition is extremely important in maintaining a strong and balanced immune system. Prevention is always better than a cure, and luckily there are many things you can do to give your body a fighting chance against common infections. So, in-between the festive cheer, try and squeeze a few of these great natural remedies into your diet and breeze through the holiday season with ease.
RAW GARLIC is one of the most potent of all foods. Garlic has been used for thousands of years for treatment and illness and more recent studies have indeed supported the claims that garlic does boost the body’s immune system. Cooking garlic can destroy some of its health-promoting compounds so the best way to start including it into your diet is by adding freshly chopped garlic to your meals. If you can’t quite stomach raw garlic, you can also try taking garlic capsules. You can also find organic aged garlic capsules on the market now that offer an even higher dosage of immune-boosting properties.
VITAMIN C is an extremely important nutrient for boosting immunity. You can add vitamin C to your diet in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage and parsley. Vitamin C increases the activity of infection-fighting white blood cells. Vitamin C not only assists in preventing the common cold, it has also been shown to lessen the duration of the symptoms if you do fall ill.
ZINC may be the most important mineral for your immune system. A Zinc deficiency can cause a weakened immune response, predisposing you to a more lengthy or severe cold. In fact, optimal zinc levels have been found to inhibit the common cold virus. Zinc is found in foods such as red meat, chicken, fish, dairy foods, eggs, legumes and sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Taking a zinc supplement can also be beneficial.
SPIRULINA is a type of sea algae that is considered a superfood due to its extraordinary health-promoting elements. Spirulina can stimulate immune function; it is anti-cancerous and rich in nutrients such as iron and selenium which act as powerful antioxidants in the body. Spirulina can be added to your food or drinks as a powder or taken in capsule or tablet form.
HOT FOODS, such as ginger, chilli, garlic, wasabi and horseradish, are all fantastic for your immune system, so try to use them liberally in your cooking. Make stir-fries with ginger, chilli and garlic, add some wasabi to sushi or vegetables, enjoy Thai hot soups and add some extra crushed garlic to your dips and dressings.
More great immune-boosting foods that can be included in the diet also include miso, green tea and seaweed. Broccoli is also exceptionally high in antioxidants, carrots are full of the antioxidant beta-carotene, red capsicum contains a massive hit of vitamin C and both oranges and kiwifruit contain your entire daily requirement of vitamin C. Try to ensure that the majority of your diet is made up of unprocessed, natural foods such as fresh fruits, veggies, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
Avoiding inflammatory and processed foods will support your immune system greatly. Try to also avoid fried foods, high-fructose corn syrup, refined sugars, trans fats or chemical additives. These foods all cause inflammation in the body and their acidic nature requires the body to work overtime to expel their harmful effects. Foods and substances such as alcohol, coffee and excessive meat consumption also take a big toll on the body- so try to limit these foods as much as possible.
Avoiding gluten and dairy, whether you have an allergy or intolerance or not, will also strengthen your body’s immunity and overall wellbeing. Wheat and dairy foods are major culprits in causing internal inflammation and disrupting normal gut function. They are also well known for their mucous forming properties and are the worst foods to eat if you do happen to come down with a cold or flu! Try including dairy substitutes such as almond milk or coconut yoghurt and try wheat substitutions such as quinoa, buckwheat, rice or spelt.
Natural supplements are now commonly available that help to boost your immune system. There are some key herbs that naturopaths and herbalists commonly use and advise to offer protection against colds and flu, including astragalus, Andrographis, echinacea and olive leaf. When a cold or flu strikes, try using natural supplements to help support and boost your body’s natural immune function. Both the common cold and flu are caused by viruses and what many people may not realise is that antibiotics are not able to kill viruses; they are only able to help with bacterial infections.
-Believe it or not, taking time out to rest and relax does wonders for our immune system! Stress plays a vital role in our bodies’ immune function and can be a leading cause in all kinds of illness from the common cold to more serious and life-threatening disease. If you do fall ill, make sure you take time out rather than pushing through. The body needs time to heal, rest and recuperate. If you do not listen to your body and fight on before you properly heal, chances are you will face an ongoing battle with infection.
STAYING ACTIVE also does our body the world of good. Try to exercise regularly and get your heart and blood pumping every day! When you feel sickness coming on, a high-intensity workout isn’t a good idea, as hard training forces the body to do a lot of recovery at a time when your body needs all of its energy to try and fight off the oncoming sickness. For this reason, if you think you may be getting sick, switch to light-intensity exercise such as walking or yoga.
Try increasing your water intake to eight glasses per day. Dehydration will inhibit the body’s ability to flush out stored toxins and also leave you with a sluggish digestion. If you find that you are drinking much less water in winter, try switching to herbal tea.
Speaking of herbal tea, there is evidence that herbal tea, especially green tea and chamomile tea, can help strengthen the immune system. Herbal tea contains powerful antioxidants and other properties that are unique to each tea. Also try Echinacea tea or a mix of ginger, lemon and honey. Fluids, especially hot herbal teas are fantastic for your immune system – they help boost along your lymphatic system, thin down mucous and keep you well hydrated.
Seventy percent of your immune system lies in your gut flora and a healthy balance of friendly organisms is essential to protect you against pathogens and sickness. For this reason, taking a daily probiotic is always beneficial. Also try including more probiotic-rich foods into your diet, such as kombucha, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and fermented coconut yoghurt.
VITAMIN D can be powerful in strengthening your immune system. The sun is the absolute best source of vitamin D however you can also take natural vitamin D in an oil-based D3. The best plant-based food sources of natural vitamin D are mushrooms. However, getting outside into the fresh air and sunshine is always the best option!
So enjoy whenever you can!