Aussie flu and antibiotic-resistant superbugs on the horizon? Keep your immune system fighting fit with these tips from Nutritionist Heather Leeson
What foods can help your immune system
- Garlic – it’s antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal. One of the best things about garlic is that bacteria, viruses, and yeast build up no resistance to it, unlike with antibiotics. Aim to eat most days, in salads, dressings, soups…
- Pumpkin seeds, other nuts and seeds (and oysters!) are rich in zinc. Without zinc, your white blood cells don’t function properly
- Lots of vegetables and fruit. These are high in vitamin C and in antioxidants, both of which are crucial for the immune system to work properly. Ideally eat seasonal fruit and veg. At this time of year, blackberries, kiwi, citrus fruits, kale are all good choices. Frozen is also a good option as the produce is usually picked at peak of nutrient content and quickly frozen to preserve nutrients. Avoid overcooking and eat raw or lightly steamed to preserve vitamin C, which is heat-sensitive.
- Yellow, orange and red fruit and vegetables like carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, red peppers are good sources of vitamin A. Think of vitamin A as anti-infective vitamin. It helps to maintain our mucosal barriers ( in nose, gut, mouth) against germs and supports function of certain types of immune cells including natural killer cells, which protect against viruses and tumours.
- Manuka honey has broad-spectrum anti-bacterial properties. Research from the UK has shown that it reduced the ability of potentially deadly bacteria including E colli to accumulate on surface of hospital equipment by more than 75 per cent and it may soon be used routinely in hospitals
- Ginger and turmeric. Curcumin is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial. Ginger has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and helps to boost immune function. Use in stir-fries, soups, smoothies, tea
The friends in your gut
It is estimated that 70 – 80% of our immune system in in our gut and to keep it healthy and support the production of antibodies we need plenty of beneficial bacterial. These are found in ‘probiotic’ foods like natural yoghurt, miso, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, and Anna’s favourite sauerkraut ?.
- Include some natural yoghurt and fresh fruit with your breakfast
- Add a little kimchi or sauerkraut to your lunchtime sandwich
- Sip on Kombucha instead of a cup of coffee in the afternoon
- Add a little miso paste to your stir-fry for dinner
We also need to feed our good bacteria with prebiotic foods like vegetables, pulses and wholegrains. One of the best sources of prebiotics are Jerusalem artichokes, as are garlic, onions and leeks.
What if you do get sick?
Gargle salt water This may help your sore throat by decreasing throat swelling and rinsing out irritants and germs. Gargle warm water with a teaspoon of salt four times daily. A saline solution flushed through the nose can also help to alleviate congestion.
Stay well hydrated if you have a temperature. Drink plenty of water or herbal teas throughout the day. Check out our fresh immune boosting tea and other recipes.
It’s not all about food…..
Get some exercise.
exercising helps your immune system to be more efficient by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.
Don’t skip on sleep. Sleep deprivation suppresses immune system function. Immune T-cells go down if we are sleep deprived and pro-inflammatory cytokines, which hinder our immune function, go up, potentially leading to the greater risk of developing a cold or flu
Can supplements help?
There are lots of old wive’s tales and any amount of products available to buy that promise to get rid of colds and flus in a flash. But what does the research show really does work?
- Zinc. Studies indicate it may reduce the duration of your cold by as much as 50 percent. Researchers have discovered that zinc may have immune boosting properties that help your body have a strong first response at the onset of symptoms. Use at least 75mg daily e.g. in the form of zinc lozenges and take at the onset of symptoms and for 5 – 7 days
- Vitamin C – research currently shows that while taking it all the time won’t help prevent a cold, taking a higher dose at the onset of symptoms may help reduce duration and severity.
Both zinc and vitamin c are especially useful for those deficient, or under physical stress e.g. not sleeping enough, doing lots of exercise
Probiotics have been clearly shown to have many beneficial effects to the immune system, both immediately and in the longer term. It’s especially important to take them if you are prescribed an antibiotic, as the antibiotic can dramatically alter your levels of beneficial bacteria. In many countries including France you will be given a prescription for probiotics with your antibiotics
Vitamin D plays a role in almost all aspects of the immune system, including in auto immune disease and in fighting bugs. While very small amounts are found in some foods like oily fish, egg yolks and fortified foods, sunshine in our main source. Because of Ireland’s Northerly latitude, many of us don’t get enough sunshine during the winter months it and up to 50% of us will have insufficient levels. Deficiency in children has been increasing, and rickets, thought to be eradicated in Ireland, has recently re-emerged. The government recommends that we supplement with 400IU daily for babies and children up to the age of 12 months, although these recommendations are awaiting update and in the UK, this is recommended until the age of 4. Many adults could benefit from supplementing 1000IU during Winter months too. However, it is possible to over-supplement, which may have a negative effect on the immune system and become toxic at high levels.
An immune supporting meal plan for a day
|Breakfast||Porridge with natural yoghurt and berries or Chia fruit pot|
|Snack||Kiwi fruit and palmful pumpkin seeds|
|Lunch||Pumpkin and ginger soup with wholegrain bread|
|Snack||Fresh immune-boosting tea, sugar snap peas and hummus|
|Dinner||Miso maple kale salad or veg stir-fry with wholegrain rice and grilled fish|