Supporting your immune system health

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Your immune system is your body’s first line of defence against foreign invaders. Find out how to look after it and avoid germs, viruses and bacteria.

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What is your immune system?

Your immune system is your body’s first line of defence against foreign invaders and microbes, otherwise known as pathogens (germs, viruses and bacteria).

It’s a complex system made up of a network of cells, tissues and organs that join forces to fight off all the microbes we come into contact with on a daily basis, through the skin and the mucous membranes.

The immune system is always hard at work, adapting to various would-be invaders, remembering old pathogens its already dealt with and neutralising and removing new ones virtually around the clock. But every now and then a germ sneaks in and, voila, you get sick. There are multiple reasons this can happen: a pathogen can be particularly aggressive, or you’ve come into contact with one you haven’t encountered before.

Also, we tend to be more susceptible in winter, for reasons ranging from the fact that cold viruses may survive longer and spread faster in lower temperatures to a seasonal reduction in vitamin D levels, which play a vital role in immune health.

7 ways to support your immune system

The old adage of prevention is better than cure is certainly true when it comes to managing your health. In cold & flu season, it's important to maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle, take steps to strengthen your immune response and to limit your exposure to viruses.

1. Eat well

Include fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, eggs and low fat dairy products to give your body the nutrients it needs to stay healthy in winter. Include antioxidants such as vitamin C, and foods containing zinc and garlic.

2. Drink plenty of water

At least eight glasses a day will keep you well hydrated.

3. Stay rested

Give your body the chance to repair itself and fight off attacks from nasty viruses and germs.

4. Manage stress

Excess stress is known to have a negative effect on the body's immune system.

5. Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol

Smoking makes you more susceptible to infection and depletes the body's levels of vitamin C. Alcohol inhibits immune cell activity and can also deplete nutrients in the body.

6. Exercise regularly

Keep your body in peak condition and to help combat the first signs of colds or flu, but don't overdo it. Regular, moderate exercise is best.

7. Dodge germs

Wash your hands regularly and avoid rubbing your eyes or biting your nails, as this is an easy way to pick up germs.

How diet affects your immune system

Diet is one of the most important ways to maintain a healthy immune system and natural foods deliver the enhancing, protective properties you need.

When you’re trying to stay healthy, it’s ideal to cut back on foods that can lead to inflammation, such as processed meats, trans and saturated fats, refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, pasta, flour and rice), processed meats and snacks, and sugary foods and drinks.

Instead, you want to feed your body with foods full of nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins.

Immune-boosting foods

To get the biggest immunity bang for your buck, choose fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season.

Seasonally grown broccoli, for instance – an autumn/winter food – contains almost twice the vitamin C values as off-season varieties. Here are some other seasonal foods known for their immune-boosting properties.

Mushrooms

Varieties such as shiitake, maitake (‘hen of the woods’) and reishi are packed with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins B, C & D and bioactive compounds called beta-glucans, known to support immune defence.

Garlic

Garlic contains a high concentration of allicin, a natural chemical celebrated for its antimicrobial and antibacterial effects.

Broccoli soup with garlic croutons

Try this broccoli & basil soup with garlic croutons a warming alternative to a green juice when the weather is cold

Spinach, kale and silverbeet

These leaffy greens boast high levels of vitamin C and folate, a naturally occurring B vitamin crucial for healthy cell function .

Cruciferous vegetables

Think broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower; cruciferous vegetables are rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and choline, an essential nutrient known to keep inflammation in check.

Turmeric and cauliflower soup

With turmeric and cauliflower you can eat your way to health and wellbeing with this vibrant, warming and anti-inflammatory soup

Citrus fruits

Winter-ready oranges, mandarins and lemons are high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids, phytonutrients that have been found to play a key role in protecting the respiratory tract.

Vitamin C bliss balls

Enjoy a daily dose of vitamin C with these easy-to-make and tasty lemony bliss balls

 

Follow our 3-step immune health action plan for more tips on staying healthy this winter.

Action plan | How to boost your immune system health