Everyday health


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Naturopath Danielle Steedman ponders the importance of our powerful immune system These disease-causing organisms are also referred to as germs, microbes or pathogens.


Symptoms that are common to most infections include:

  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Redness

Other symptoms vary according to the organism responsible and the site and severity of the infection. For example:

  • Viral respiratory infections such as colds, flu and tonsillitis typically involve sore throat, nasal congestion, coughing, fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell.
  • Viral and bacterial gastrointestinal infections are characterised by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
  • In conjunctivitis and other bacterial eye infections the eyes become red, sore, itchy and watery.
  • Bacterial skin infections make the affected area swollen and painful, red, and warm to touch.
  • Bacterial urinary tract infections often cause urination to become painful, and the urine may contain blood or pus, or have a strong odour.

Although the immune system is able to deal with many of the pathogens we encounter, some infections can be very serious and many are contagious. In most cases it is advisable to seek the advice of your healthcare professional.


Most infections are caused by either bacteria or viruses, which can enter the body via a number of routes, including:

  • Exposure to infected droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs, either via inhalation of the droplets while they’re in the air, or by coming into contact with them on surfaces such as tables, crockery, or toys
  • Broken skin (for example a cut, scratch or graze)
  • Consumption of contaminated food or water
  • Contact with the faeces, vomit or bodily fluids of an infected person (this includes sexual intercourse and the sharing of hypodermic needles)
  • Bites from infected animals.

The immune system’s primary role is to ward off pathogens, so its health and function have implications for the prevention of and recovery from infection, and susceptibility to infection may be an indication of immune dysfunction.

In otherwise healthy people, frequent or persistent minor infections (such as colds) may be an indication that immune system function is sub-optimal.

Amongst other causes, increased susceptibility to infection may be due to disease (including HIV/AIDS, diabetes and some forms of cancer), malnutrition, or may occur as a side effect of some prescribed medicines including corticosteroids and chemotherapy.

Diet and lifestyle

  • Rest is an important part of curing an infection, and sleep supports your immune system. Listen to your body and don't try to do more than you are capable of. Relax and rest as much as possible.
  • During an infection, maintain your body fluids by drinking lots of water. If you are concerned that you or your child may be becoming dehydrated, an electrolyte replacement formula is recommended. Seek medical advice if it is not quickly effective or if a child is affected.
  • Alcohol, caffeine and other diuretic substances should be avoided until the infection has passed.
  • While suffering from a gastrointestinal infection, stick to a bland diet that contains starchy foods such as bread, rice and bananas. For other infections, eat lightly, focussing on fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
  • Immune status is greatly affected by nutritional status. Even when you’re not sick, eat a diet based on fruit and vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, nuts. Keep fats and refined sugars low.
  • Practice good personal hygiene:
    - Avoid sharing utensils, razors, towels and other personal items with anyone who is sick.
    - Practice safe sex and never share needles 
    - Always wash your hands with soap and warm water after going to the toilet or touching animals, and before handling food
    - Don’t eat food that has not been well refrigerated and well cooked.
  • If you smoke, stop smoking, and avoid being exposed to second-hand smoke too.  Cigarette smoke causes the build-up of toxic material in the lungs and also damages the tiny hairs lining the respiratory tract called cilia, which form an integral part of the immune system by helping to prevent foreign bodies entering the airways.
  • Tea tree oil displays antimicrobial activity against a wide range of pathogens, and has been used topically to treat many different types of infections. Take care not to get it in your eyes or to ingest it, and note that in some cases it may need to be diluted before use - follow the instructions on the label.

Important notes

  • Consult your healthcare professional if you experience frequent or recurrent infections. It is important that any underlying health issues are accurately diagnosed and appropriately treated as quickly as possible.
  • Vaccination programmes are available against some infections. Talk to your healthcare professional for more information.

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Hey Alana, sorry to hear that you have had a bad run over the last couple of years. You may consider taking something to help prevent a cold/flu such as lactoferrin. This is a compound naturally occuring in the body, and found in the airways and other secretions that can help to increase certain immune cells and defend against infection. Making sure that you have adequate vitamin D and zinc is also important as these nutrients play a helpful role in maintaining a strong immune system. The herb Echinacea may also be of assistance, as it has been shown to increase the number of white blood cells in the body. Of course, adequate sleep and low stress levels are also important in a healthy immune system. All the best, Jen (Blackmores naturopath)
I have been afflicted with at least 5 chest infections in the last 3 years.
I am 58 now and I have a healthy lifestyle. I enjoy yogurt and take Inner Health Plus. Fruit, vegetables, Fish and less meat.

Can you suggest anything else I can take in the colder months to stop chest Infections.
Anonymous 24 Sep 2013