With the current focus on colds, flus and infections, now is a good time to be thinking about optimising our body’s ability to fight infections. Ultimately, this comes down to building strong dietary and lifestyle habits to help keep you fighting fit and better able to deal with stress or infection when it crosses your path.
Nutritionist and Pukka’s Herbal Education Specialist, Holly Huntley, 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 overall nutritional status has a big impact on our immune system's ability to function. Some of the key nutrients involved in immune function are amino acids, pro and prebiotics which help boost our gut microbiome and a range of essential vitamins and minerals.
Here are five natural ways to optimise your immune system:
1. Focus on gut health
Now more than ever we are realising the extent to which our gut health affects our overall immune function. The stress of modern life, diets high in processed food and regular use of antibiotics have left many of us with guts that function far from optimally.
Balancing our gut microbiome means including both pro and prebiotics in our diets. Probiotics reintroduce friendly bacteria to the gut and can be found in fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut. Whilst prebiotics pass through the digestive tract undigested and feed the good bacteria already in your gut. Foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, chickpeas and lentils are great additions to your daily diet.
2. Know your superfoods
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 iron-rich legumes and vegetables such as spinach will help increase your levels, as will opting for wholegrains rather than refined.
3. Increase your vitamin C
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 peppers, kiwis, berries and dark leafy greens, all of which are rich in vitamin C and many other antioxidants.
If you’re struggling to get your daily dose, why not try incorporating a natural vitamin C supplement that is readily absorbed, such as Pukka’s plant-sourced Natural Vitamin C.
4. Limit fast food
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, try and consider if there is something simple and more nutritious that you already have at home.
5. Try some proven natural remedies
There are plenty of supplements that claim to “boost” immune function but hardly any have proven benefits. One of the few options that is backed by scientific evidence is mushrooms. The B-glucans found in medicinal mushrooms have been found to strengthen the activity of immune cells and shift immune system balance to decrease inflammation.
Echinacea is one of the most recommended herbal remedies for colds and flu. This antiviral and antibacterial herb can be particularly useful for fighting infections of the respiratory tract.
Another brilliant herb is Andrographis. Whilst this powerful plant is largely unknown in western culture, it has been traditionally used to promote the production of antibodies and reduce the severity of infection. Andrographis contains compounds that rally the immune system to fight effectively against foreign substances. We recently worked with the University of Southampton on a clinical trial to prescribe andrographis to NHS patients in 20 GP surgeries across the UK to soothe symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.