Does your immune system need some love?
Our immune system is the body’s first line of defense against illnesses and infections such as bacterial, viral or parasitic infections.
When is the perfect time to boost our immunity? I like to start now as I find that we have had a little break over summer (although some people have caught a summer cold or one of the gastro bugs that go around during this time of the year.) Now is perfect as autumn and the cooler months are just around the corner and depending on how healthy our immune system is there is always some little bug lurking around the corner waiting for the perfect time to hit!
Our white blood cells are the key players in having a healthy immune system, they are made in our bone marrow and are part of our lymphatic system which eliminates toxins from our body. Gastrointestinal health is essential as 80% of our immune system is found in our gut.
A poorly functioning immune system can cause:-
- Allergies or sensitivities - food allergies or food intolerances, along with hay fever or sinus issues, eczema, dermatitis, acne or even migraines;
- Autoimmune diseases - this is where your cells mistakenly attack each other such as; Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Graves’ Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Type 1 Diabetes, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Psoriasis, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases and many more;
- Hormone Health - a good digestive system leads to a healthy immune system so that we have healthy hormones and this is essential for a healthy transition into perimenopause, menopause and beyond.
What causes low immunity?
When we are stressed, we release the stress hormone corticosteroid, which lowers the number of lymphocytes we produce and compromises the immune system’s ability to fight off infections.
Stress also influences the digestive system. The ‘fight or flight’ response we experience when stressed is activated by the central nervous system, which works closely with the ‘enteric nervous system’, which — in turn — controls our digestion.
Stress can lead to inflammation of the gastrointestinal system, ‘leaky gut syndrome’, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers or low stomach acid, which allows for bacterial overgrowth, parasitic infections or fungal infections such as candida overgrowth.
Stress also causes hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, anxiety and depression which all affect our immunity. It can also lead to unhealthy behaviours such as drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes or taking recreational drugs.
We can all be guilty of making poor nutritional choices when we are in a hurry, overworked or just exhausted. Most people crave sugar, caffeine or high carbohydrate foods when they are stressed. This adds extra stress on an already suffering digestive system and causes ‘leaky gut syndrome’.
Sugar lowers our immune response and can weaken our immune system. Reducing our sugar intake or only having natural sugars found in fruit helps our immune system to stay strong. We can substitute sugar with stevia, which is a naturally occurring herbal sweetener found in the stevia plant. Sugar competes with Vitamin C which also affects our adrenal system (our adrenals love Vitamin C), this is another reason why we crave sugar when we are stressed.
Remember, too much sugar = not enough Vitamin C!
Lack of sleep
Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, energy drinks or alcohol when we are tired. These give us a ‘quick fix’ but this does not last, and we find ourselves crashing again and looking for another energy boost.
Being perimenopausal we find that our sleep is interrupted by hot flushes or night sweats. Alcohol can be our worst enemy as what we used to be able to drink and sleep throughout the night - perimenopause stops that and keeps us awake for hours at a time (usually that dreaded 3:00am wake up call!)
Reducing screen time (at least two hours) before going to bed and sleeping in a dark room with no electronic devices, such as computers, smart phones, tablets or television, is a proven way of making sure we have a good night’s sleep.
Get moving! As most of us are time poor it is essential to try and exercise at least three times a week. This can be as simple as taking our dog or children for a walk or attending a yoga or pilates class. Exercise is a great way of enhancing our mood, stimulating our lymphatic system and helping us to lose weight or to tone up.
It is just as important not to over exercise as this is just as harmful to your immune system as not exercising as it causes inflammation.
Too much alcohol
Drinking alcohol on a regular basis is detrimental to our immune system as it effects the gut flora and leads to ‘leaky gut syndrome’. Too much alcohol over many years effects liver function as well as many other organs in your body. Research is finding that people are drinking on a regular basis as a way too ‘de-stress’ after a busy day at work or looking after the children.
Binge drinking is popular with younger generations although if you are finding that you can be alcohol free for the week and then regularly overindulge on the weekends, this is also a form of ‘binge drinking’.
What foods boost our immunity?
Broth that contains healthy animal fats boosts immunity and helps to treat ‘leaky gut syndrome’. It has healing compounds such as, collagen, gelatine and amino acids. It contains minerals such as, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and sulphur. Bone broth also contains chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine which are anti-inflammatory. Bone broth boosts detoxification, helping to eliminate toxins that can impair immunity. Chicken soup made on bone broth reduces inflammation in the respiratory system and improves digestion.
Prebiotics and probiotics such as sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, homemade yoghurt (dairy or coconut), kefir or kombucha are beneficial for gut health as they restore healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal system. Fermented foods increase vitamin A and C levels. Fermented foods remove toxins, aid digestion and support healthy immune function.
Shitake, Reishi and Maitake mushrooms help to reduce systemic inflammation. They contain powerful antioxidants that protect red blood cells and monocytes, are high in selenium (which supports thyroid health) and may assist gut bacteria to resolve infection.
Garlic, Ginger and Turmeric
These three have amazing anti-inflammatory properties, garlic has anti-viral properties and anti-fungal properties. You can combine the three into soups, curries or drink as a tea to promote strong immunity especially from colds and flus.
Foods high in Omega 3
Salmon, mackerel, herring, avocado and nuts are great for heart and brain health as they decrease inflammation within our body which helps to keep our immune system functioning properly.
Foods high in Zinc
Zinc is an important nutrient that plays a vital role in immune system response, wound healing, synthesizing proteins and DNA, and assists in over 300 other bodily functions. Our body doesn't store zinc so its important to eat foods or supplement with zinc.
Oysters contain the highest amounts of zinc, shellfish and mussels have a high amount as well. Red meat is a particularly great source - beef, lamb and pork.
Legumes contain high amounts of zinc. However, they also contain phytates, which reduce its absorption. Processing methods like heating, sprouting, soaking or fermenting can help improve its bioavailability. This is also the story with whole grains - try and have the gluten free variety as much as possible unless have organic sourdough bread.
Some seeds like hemp, pumpkin, squash and sesame seeds contain significant amounts of zinc. Eating nuts such as pine nuts, peanuts, cashews and almonds can boost your intake of zinc. Dairy foods such as milk and cheese are good sources of zinc - try and purchase organic whole milk products. Eggs also contain zinc.
Unfortunately vegetables are a low source of zinc so if you are a vegan or vegetarian then supplementation is a must.
Foods high in Vitamin C
Eat plenty of citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, capsicum, berries and leafy greens. Vitamin C helps phagocytes and t-Helper cells to fight off infections and protect against immune system deficiencies as well as supporting adrenal health, which reduces stress.
Foods high in Vitamin A
Dose up on vitamin A with sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, capsicum, eggs and leafy green vegetables. Vitamin A is high in antioxidants which reduce inflammation. Vitamin A is essential for eye health and respiratory health (chronic respiratory infections can be the result of a Vitamin A deficiency).
Foods high in Vitamin D
Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. The flesh of wild caught fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oils such as cod liver oil are amongst the best sources. Small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, full cream milk and egg yolks. Vitamin D in these foods is primarily in the form of vitamin D3. Some mushrooms provide vitamin D2 in variable amounts. Of course, you can also top up on vitamin D by getting some early morning or late afternoon sunshine!
Did you know? To enhance the D2 levels in mushrooms, you can expose them to ultraviolet light (sunshine) for an hour or so prior to eating or cooking.
Green tea or herbal teas such as echinacea, elderberry, lemon and ginger, turmeric, chamomile, calendula or winter herbal blends help to strengthen your immune system. They are full of antioxidants that are unique to each blend.
Don't forget to add fresh or dried herbs to a meal!
Adding fresh thyme, basil, parsley, lemon balm, lemongrass, coriander, garlic, ginger, chillies, turmeric, black pepper are some immune boosting ideas to add to salads, soups, casseroles or stir fries.
Do you need help to boost your immune system?
As a Naturopath I work with a lot of people to boost their immunity. Adults who are constantly sick need work to build their immune system and I see a lot of children that are susceptible to ear, nose and throat infections as this is a sign of poor immunity.
I have a beautiful herbal dispensary that has many different herbal remedies for immunity, digestive health, hormone health and so much more. I'm also introducing more herbal glycetracts (no alcohol) and they taste delicious!
I have a new dietary program that I incorporate into your treatment plans so that you can have some new recipes and inspiration so that you're not cooking the same old meals. I send these out weekly with your weekly check in email.
If you are wanting a vaccination it is important to work on boosting your immune system. This is done two weeks prior to receiving your vaccination and then two weeks afterwards.
** Update 7th January 2022 - if you have had your vaccinations (as I've had) and are wanting extra immune support as you can still catch the virus as is evident at the moment, please let me know as I can support you with some great herbal mixes along with supplements.
If you're unvaccinated I would love to work with you as well as you will need extra immune support too.
Please book your consultation via my website booking link and we can get started on this now. I currently do face to face consultations or Zoom if you're not feeling well or live outside Brisbane.
Yours in health and wellness,