With the recent focus on immunity and infections, many of us have been paying more attention to how we can optimise our body’s defences. Much of this comes down to building strong dietary and lifestyle habits to help keep us fighting fit and better able to deal with infections when they cross our path.
Nutritionist and Pukka’s Herbal Education Specialist, Saf Hareshe, explains a little more about immunity and shares some natural ways to support our immune function below.
The term immunity refers to the body’s ability to fight external threats – micro-organisms and toxins – as well as internal threats that may come from autoimmune responses.
Our nutritional status has a big impact on the health of our immune system, with several vitamins, minerals and amino acids required for optimal function. Our diet also impacts the health of our gut microbiome, where we now know that the majority of our immune system resides, so our food choices can really make a difference to our ability to keep well.
Here are five natural ways to optimise your immune system:
Now more than ever we are realising the extent to which our gut health affects our overall immune function, with research now suggesting that 70% of the immune system is found in the gut. However the stress of modern life, diets high in processed food and regular use of antibiotics have left many of us with guts that aren’t able to function at their best.
We can help balance our gut microbiome by including plenty of prebiotic and probiotic foods in the diet. Probiotic foods increase the diversity of friendly bacteria in the gut and can be found in fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut. Prebiotics are fibres that feed the good bacteria already in your gut, so that it can flourish and multiply, and these are found in many vegetables, especially onions, garlic and leeks, and also several herbs such as turmeric, cinnamon and licorice. It’s a good idea to include prebiotics and probiotics in your diet daily.
A deficiency in vitamin C can manifest as low immunity, poor wound-healing and fatigue. Without enough daily intake of this antioxidant, metabolic processes can become impaired. Try increasing your intake of citrus fruits, kiwis, berries, peppers and dark leafy greens, all of which are rich in vitamin C and many other antioxidants.
While we often think of foods rich in vitamins to help ward off bugs, many diets don’t include enough iron or zinc, two of the key minerals that directly support immune function. Adding a daily serving of legumes, nuts and seeds, and dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach will help increase your levels.
When we’re feeling poorly, it can often feel easier to pop a meal in the microwave than cook from scratch. Couple this with the rise of home delivery options and it’s no wonder that many of us are eating more fast, processed and fried foods that are low in the nutrients our immune systems require.
Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany have found that an unhealthy diet can cause the immune system to act as if it is responding to bacterial infections. So, the next time you're feeling under the weather and find yourself reaching for the take-out menu, see if there is something simple and more nutritious that you can put together at home. Batch cooking is a great way to keep the freezer topped up with healthy options.
In addition to dietary changes, there are many simple, traditional remedies that can support us when we’re not feeling our best. Hot drinks containing soothing ingredients such as lemon, ginger and honey can help to provide some comfort. Steam inhalation can be a great way to clear congestion so try having a hot bath with calming herbs such as lavender and chamomile, which will also support restful sleep.
Saf is a qualified Nutritional Therapist from the College of Naturopathic Medicine and runs a private clinical practice specialising in digestive health. She delivers herbal education both internally at Pukka and externally to our partners and practitioners and is passionate about making herbs and nutrition exciting and accessible for all.
DipCNM, mANP, mGNC
Qualified nutritionist (College of Naturopathic Medicine, 2021)