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Support Your Immune System This Winter

Support Your Immune System This Winter, immune boosting, boost your immune system, naturopath, Kirily Thomas,

We’re heading towards winter in southern Australia as demonstrated by the abundance of gorgeous Autumn leaves, misty mornings, and my breath starting to frost as I walk down to the car in the morning. The other tell-tale sign is the spike in patients booking online appointments with a current respiratory infection, or recovering from one, and trying to avoid the recurrent winter infections rollercoaster. So, with that in mind, here are my best tips to support your immune system this winter!

It’s normal to get sick occasionally – we all do at some stage! What matters is how well we recover from illness, and that you are not falling down with recurrent illnesses throughout Winter that last for weeks on end. So, I thought it was the right time to write a little blog about the basics on how to support the immune system using nutrition if you get sick or are feeling a little rundown.

Vitamin C for Immune Support

Infection rapidly depletes the normally high concentration of Vitamin C found in white blood cells. Vitamin C increases the activity of your immune cells and is vital for the process of “eating” (like Pac Man, for those old enough to remember) a pathogen or particles by our immune cells (technically called phagocytosis). These cells are your body’s first line of immune defence (think of them as soldiers on patrol), so it’s important to look after these guys!

Include lots of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables to provide an important boost to Vitamin C levels (plays an essential role in white blood cell function) and polyphenols and other beneficial compounds to support your gut health. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that have more vitamin C when compared to oranges (number in brackets is approximate) – guava (x5), red capsicum (x4), kale (x4), parsley (x3.5), broccoli (x2).

Zinc, Vitamin A & Vitamin D for Immune Support

Zinc and Vitamin A (and Vitamin A’s precursor, carotenoids) both play a large role in the healthy function of the immune system, as they are important for the normal growth and function of all cells that are part your immune system (fancy names: neutrophils, natural killer (NK) cells, macrophages, lymphocytes). Increases in the number of lymphocytes during infection is thought to be triggered by zinc.

Levels of both Vitamin A and zinc decrease markedly after infection due the large role they play in the health of the immune system – a deficiency in Vitamin A or zinc may predispose you to developing further infections if their levels are not replenished. Vitamin A is also important for the maintenance of the health and integrity of epithelial (skin) surfaces and the mucous membranes that line the respiratory tract/lungs, the gastrointestinal tract, and the reproductive/urinary tracts. It also helps regulate mucous production from these surfaces.

The mucous membranes play an important role in immune function by providing a barrier to infection. Good quality fats in the diet are important for absorption of the fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E and K. Carotenoids (e.g. beta-carotene) are precursors to Vitamin A and they need fat to be absorbed properly (e.g. olive oil on your orange veggies). Once beta-carotene is absorbed, its conversion to Vitamin A requires Vitamins B2 and B3, zinc and iron (if you are deficient in these nutrients the conversion rate may be low).

Vitamin D is required for the activation of immune cells (e.g. T-cells, B-cells and macrophages) to enable them to fight viral and bacterial infections.

Food sources of Zinc – oysters (super rich source), clams, red meat, sardines, ginger root, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), cocoa powder, split peas, lima beans, oats, rye, pecans, brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds.

Food Sources of Vitamin A/Carotenoids – fatty fish, eggs, cod liver oil, butter, chilli peppers, dandelion root (try a dandelion root “coffee”), carrots, tomatoes, kale, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, parsley, leafy greens, rockmelon, mangoes, apricots, red peppers.

Sources of Vitamin D – sunlight, fatty fish, cod liver oil, egg yolks, mushrooms (in D2 form, so needs conversion in the body to be used).

More tips for your immune system

Fruit that may help with the breakdown/clearance of mucous (during illness and when you’re in recovery if you’re still clearing things out ) are fresh pineapple, papaya (pawpaw) and kiwi fruit – this is due to the beneficial enzymes they contain (i.e. bromelain, papain, actinidin). They also have the added benefit of Vitamin C.

Good levels of daily protein are important for all energy, maintenance, growth, and repair, including recovery after illness. Protein deficiency may also impact vitamin A as it’s transported around the body in the blood by retinol binding protein – reduced levels of protein = reduced levels of any protein transporters in the bloodstream. This can be from both plant and animal sources. For the omnivores: chicken noodle soup anyone?

Good quality food – lots of fresh fruit and veggies, wholegrains, good quality protein and good quality fats and improving your overall dietary diversity. Nutritional deficiencies, fatigue and stress are major contributors to people becoming run-down and sick.

Avoid dairy products like cheese and milk when you’re sick as they can be mucous promoting in some people.

Mushrooms – full of those wonderful immune supporting beta-glucans, which also happen to be a great support to your gut microbiota.

Get plenty of that all-important sleep (not always easy when you’re a parent of young children). Our body does most of its healing and repair whilst you are resting or sleeping – this is the prime reason why Naturopaths are so fond of promoting rest and convalescence when you are ill. Continued sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease T-cells (important immune cells) and increase inflammatory markers in the body.

Look after your gut! The gut plays a huge role in our immunity, so a balanced and supported gut microbiota may also help with resistance to infection. I won’t start waxing lyrical about the benefits of the short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) butyrate yet again, I promise 😃.

Manage stress (where possible) – long term stress can deplete vitamin C and lower resistance to infection (the adrenals use a lot of vitamin C).

Acute Consults

If you get an infection, and are feeling really under the weather, don’t forget that I offer 15-minute acute online/phone appointments to my existing patients, even if that’s whilst you are laying down on the couch!

We have a quick chat, so I understand what is happening (note: this does not replace medical advice from your GP), and I can then dispense you a tailored liquid herbal script (if needed), and any supplements you may need for pick-up from the front of the clinic (or posted to you if you’re not local), which you can pay for via direct deposit – easy. You can book in acute consultations via my calendar here.

In the mean time I hope this advice on how to support your immune system this winter is useful and you stay warm and well!

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