The change in seasons is a peak time for colds and flus, peaking again in spring along with hay fever season, so now’s a good time to get your immune system powered up. An under-functioning immune system leaves you more susceptible to any bug going around, and leaves you struggling to recover from the invasion. An overactive immune system sets the stage for hypersensitivity to pollens (or other year round triggers like dust mite, pet hair, foods), and the very familiar allergy reactions.
How can you help your immune system get back into balance?
Nutrient deficiency is a common cause of poor immune function. A diet loaded with a wide variety of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes can be the basis of bringing your immune system back into balance. Eating seasonal foods provides the body with compounds that are particularly well suited to its differing seasonal needs (fresh foods are usually at their cheapest when they are in season). Plant foods provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and many other phytochemicals beneficial for proper immune function. Adequate protein intake is also important for good immune function, as is a good water intake.
Stress dampens the immune system. When you get stressed your body gets ready to run away from danger or fight a threat, so resources get diverted away from “non-essential” functions to life saving functions such as the heart, leg and arm muscles. The non-essential functions (in life threatening situations) include immune, digestion, hormones, growth and repair. When you are constantly stressed there are many body systems that cannot function properly, so managing your stress levels effectively will improve your immune function and overall health.
Deal with any digestive disturbances to improve nutrient absorption and to reduce inflammation throughout the body. An inflamed gut can allow harmful compounds that would normally be excreted to be absorbed into the bloodstream. This places an increased detoxification burden on the liver and can lead to increased body-wide inflammation if untreated toxins are able to circulate around the body (signs of which include PMS, skin eruptions, bad breath, fatigue to name just a few). Compared to normal cells, inflamed cells can produce high amounts of inflammation producing substances, reacting more readily and for longer, and leading to hypersensitivity reactions and allergies including hay fever.
Apart from the usual immune boosters like garlic, ginger, honey, vitamin C, and zinc (I particularly like garlic, vitamin C, horseradish tablets to help dry up excess mucous and reduce ear congestion), taking a good quality Echinacea supplement during winter helps to strengthen and balance the immune system. It shouldn’t however be taken by those on immunosuppressant medications or with sensitivity to the daisy family of plants (Asteraceae/Compositae).
Above all else, like mums always say – cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, and reduce the spread of germs by washing your hands regularly with plain old soap.