Winter is finally in full swing, and with it comes the inevitable influx of coughs, colds, flu and general germy-ness. Luckily, accredited practicing dietitian, Emma Williams, has all the immunity boosting basics to keep us fighting fit during the colder months.
One of the best ways that you can protect yourself from getting sick is ensuring you have the best bug-busting immune system you can have. Luckily there are a number of ways you can help strengthen your immune health with nutrient food sources.
And for those of us that have already fallen victim to the dreaded winter lurgy, you'll be happy to know that by filling up on immunity-boosting nutrients you can (at the very least) help soothe some of your symptoms and increase your chances of a swift recovery.
There are more than 400 species of bacteria in the human digestive tract, and it is commonly believed that at least some of these help prevent illness by keeping sickness-causing bacteria from flourishing.
Probiotics help to restore the gut flora and allow the immune system to fully recover and combat the pathogens and toxins in systemic circulation.
Symptoms like a stuffy nose and sore throat are the result of your immune system reacting to a virus, not to the viruses itself. Probiotic microorganisms seem to minimise your immune system’s reaction by reducing your body’s inflammatory response. Studies have confirmed that probiotics improve phagocytosis and, therefore, the ability of white blood cells to engulf and destroy viruses such as cold and influenza viruses. However, probiotics do more than that. Besides increasing the production and release of immune cells, they also enhance the activities of these cells.
The evidence is rather strong that probiotics reduce both the duration and severity of colds and the flu.
In fact, the world’s largest clinical study on the immune effects of probiotics confirmed that the Lactobacillus Casai Lc431 (in PERKii) strain in particular reduces the duration of symptoms from the common cold and flu.
2. Vitamin C
When you’re already sick, getting some extra foods high in vitamin C has been proven to shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms.
Vitamin C lowers levels of histamine, a defensive chemical released by the immune system that is responsible for causing ‘stuffiness’ and other cold and flu symptoms. At the same time, it appears to strengthen white blood cells, which are essential for fighting infection.
Good food sources of vitamin C include berries, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, capsicums and broccoli.
Zinc has long been appreciated for its immune-boosting power and may help to shorten the duration of a cold. Zinc gluconate and zinc acetate lozenges (a great alternative to sugar laden throat lollies) are readily available over the counter at pharmacies.
You can also get more zinc in your diet with lean poultry, some types of seafood, beans, nuts, wholegrains and fortified cereals.
Garlic has been used throughout history for treating virtually every type of infection. There is increasing evidence that it can help protect against colds and flu as well. Garlic contains dozens of chemically active compounds. Two of them, allicin and allin have been shown to kill germs directly.
The people who use echinacea to treat symptoms of a cold or flu have the right idea. It may stimulate the body’s immune system through photochemicals called alkylamides.
6. Olive leaf extract
Some of the bioactive phytochemicals in olive leaf extract, especially oleuropein, are said to enhance the immune system in multiple ways. Firstly, they may improve immune function by attacking the flu virus once symptoms are present. Additionally, the replication of viruses responsible for the common cold and flu may be interfered with by the bioactive phytochemicals in olive leaf extract. However, although there is some laboratory evidence for these effects, clinical evidence in humans is inconclusive.
Olive leaf can be taken as a liquid concentrate, dried leaf tea, powder, or capsule. The leaf extracts can be taken in powder, liquid concentrate, or capsule form.
But wherever possible, try to get your vitamins and nutrients from food sources as part of a balanced diet, rather than relying on vitamin supplements.