HOW CAN WE SUPPORT OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM IN THE WINTER MONTHS?
By our in-house Registered Nutritional Therapist, Sophie Trotman DipION, mBANT, CNHC.
Immunity is a subject that has been extensively discussed over the past couple of years. It seems as though, through the pandemic, we have all become armchair immunologists! However, with the constant barrage of media it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. In this blog post we explore how we can truly support our immune system, especially in these winter months where colds and viruses are more prevalent.
What is immunity?
Immunity is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs. Immune cells communicate with each other and work together to defend the body against defending pathogens (organisms that can cause disease). The immune system also plays other vital roles in the body such as dealing with ‘foreign particles’ like pollen, dust and undigested food particles, disposing of damaged cells and the initiating of repair processes.
How can we support our immune system nutrition-wise?
Despite what food brands and the media often claim - we cannot simply rely on one vitamin to support our immune system. The immune system (as with all other systems in the body) thrives off a varied diet. However, there are some particular nutrients I would like to highlight that offer significant support to the immune system.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient, meaning that it must come from the food we eat or the supplements we take. It is widely known for its antioxidant properties and has been shown to shorten the common cold or even prevent it in some instances. While deficiency is rare, many fail to get optimal levels of vitamin C through their diet. Most people think of oranges when it comes to this nutrient, but did you know that a cup of red pepper contains three times the amount of vitamin C as an orange? Additionally, spinach, kale, broccoli and cherries are also great sources of this vitamin.
Although we can get vitamin D from some food sources including eggs, oily fish and fortified cereals, our main source of vitamin D is from sunlight. The NHS recommends that everyone in the UK supplements between October and April due to the distinct lack of sunlight. However, you may need to supplement at other times of the year if you are not leaving the house for 20 minutes each day and getting that high spectrum sunlight on your skin. Also, wearing factor 50 sun cream every day won’t help either! I recommend a brand called BetterYou. The vitamin D comes in a spray, and so it is easily absorbed straight to the bloodstream through your inner cheek.
Zinc is another important nutrient for immunity as it aids the activation of cells responsible for fighting infection, helps produce new immune cells and supports communication between immune cells. You can find zinc in beans, shellfish, whole grains and dairy products.
Adequate water consumption also ensures that key immune-supportive nutrients are shipped to the immune system through the bloodstream. 2 litres of water a day is good and more if the weather is warm or if you are exercising. Remember, non-caffeinated herbal teas count, but tea and coffee do not as they actually dehydrate the body. Always have a large glass of water next to you.
Another component of supporting the immune system is through supporting gut health. Did you know that 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut? This is even more of a reason to pursue optimal gut health.
When it comes to gut health, a diverse diet is key. Current recommendations are to consume 30 different plant foods a week. At first, this may sound like an intimidating number. However, when you consider that this includes beans, pulses, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and spices, the number becomes a bit more manageable. Subscribing to a bi-weekly vegetable box such as Oddbox, buying some mixed seed packs to scatter on meals and having fun in the kitchen cooking new recipes are all great ways to improve the diversity of your diet and therefore the diversity of your microbiome.
In addition, eating probiotic foods such as fermented foods and drinks like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha replenish your gut with beneficial live bacteria. Consuming prebiotic foods like onion, garlic, asparagus and banana provide food for the beneficial bacteria, thus complementing the gut ecosystem.
Furthermore, did you know that there is a link between gut health and mental health? Looking after your mental health will improve your gut health, and vice versa. Taking a few deep breaths before eating a meal and trying not to eat in front of a screen will improve digestion and therefore your immune response. As you can see, everything is connected!
How can we support our immune system lifestyle-wise?
Stress on the whole is very damaging towards the immune system. Moments of stress can activate the fight-or-flight response. When the body is in this mode, it does not prioritise the immune response. In addition, when you are stressed, you may be less likely to fuel your body with nutritious food and more likely to rely on sugary foods and caffeine to keep you going.
It may not surprise you to learn that sleep has a huge impact on the immune system. Improve your sleep through a consistent nighttime routine, avoiding screens at least an hour before bed and avoiding eating two hours before bed.
For 1:1 consultations, Sophie offers a free no-strings-attached 15-minute call to discuss your health goal, her method and logistics. Contact Sophie at [email protected] to book one in or enquire about workplace wellness talks and include your code MINISTRYTAKE10 to access your unique member's perk.