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Help your immune system to cope in winter

By Jennifer
Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Is your immune system ready for winter?

Is your immune system ready for winter?On a daily basis our bodies are dealing with the threat of invasion from bacteria, viruses, fungi, toxins and parasites.

The immune system is our mechanism of defence, constantly working to keep us disease free, however, if this becomes compromised then we are susceptible to infections such as colds, flu or more serious illnesses.

The immune system is made up of a highly regulated network of cells, tissues and organs with, white blood cells (lymphocytes) and the lymphatic system making up the majority of the defence system. In order to help the body protect itself we should ensure that our diet and lifestyle can strengthen and support the whole of the immune system. Ensuring adequate intake of certain nutrients that are known to be essential for proper functioning of the immune system may help to ward off some of the inevitable winter colds.

Vitamin A – a fat soluble vitamin, it stimulates many immune responses, including white cell function and anti-body response. Main sources are: whole milk and fortified skimmed milk and liver. Vitamin A can also be formed from carotenes, including beta-carotene, sources of which are dark green leafy vegetables, and yellow/orange fruit and vegetables such as: carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, apricots. In high doses vitamin A can be toxic to the liver, however, beta-carotene has no such toxic effects.

Vitamin C – is perhaps one of the better known nutrients for immune support and one of the most important ones. It enhances white blood cell function and activity as well as being a natural anti-viral and anti-bacterial agent. Vitamin C is found in a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables, peppers, kale, parsley, broccoli and watercress are particularly good sources.

Vitamin E – its primary role is as an anti-oxidant, protecting cell membranes against damage. It also improves the functioning of lymphocytes. Vitamin E deficiency is rare, however, low levels have been linked to many health conditions.

B vitamins – are all needed by the immune system but B6, folic acid and B12 are particularly important for white blood cells. B6 deficiency is known to suppress immunity. B vitamins are found in a wide range of wholegrains, fruit and vegetables. However, B12 is found primarily in animal products: meat, eggs, dairy and fish. Vegetarians may be low in adequate B12 and may benefit from supplementing their diet with it.

Zinc – is vital for immune function and is involved in all aspects of immunity as well as possessing virus-inhibiting activity. Zinc deficiency may result in an increased susceptibility to infection, including colds and flu. Fresh oysters have the best source of zinc with 148mg zinc per 100g of oysters. However, other good sources for every day include nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains.

Garlic – has a history of being used to fight infections due to its anti-microbial activity. It is particularly beneficial in respiratory infections. Use fresh garlic chopped or crushed.

Ginger – has many effects that can help when we have a cold. It can help to interrupt the inflammation process associated with colds, reducing the bunged up feeling. It can help blood vessels to relax aiding the circulation of white blood cells.

Moderate exercise – may also help to build defences against illness by boosting the immune system and increasing resistance to infection. Regular moderate exercise may also decrease the length of any illness that does occur. However, long-term intensive exercise may have a negative impact on the immune system as it becomes a stress on the body and decreases immunity.

Recommended activity includes:

  • Daily walking for 20-30 minutes
  • Gym every other day - resistance and aerobic activity.
  • Swimming or cycling

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