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Winter immune rejuvenation: prevention is better than cure

Date: 20-08-2021

Written by Chantelle van der Weyden BPsych (Hons), AdvDip(Nat), AdvDip(NutMed)

 The human body is in continuous contact with viruses and other pathogens – and this exposure is heightened during the colder months. In order to combat these exposures the immune system has developed various protective measures to prevent the entry of, or to eliminate, these invaders.
There is substantial evidence suggesting that the ability of the immune system to respond to invading pathogens is significantly influenced by various environmental and lifestyle factors, including a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, stress, medications, pre-existing conditions and inflammation, and nutritional status. Being compromised by any of these risk factors may mean you are more susceptible to catching colds and flus and may experience symptoms for longer.

How to clean up and rebuild your immune system
Every stage of the immune response is reliant on the presence of specific nutrients. Immune-rejuvenation refers to the reprograming of the immune system leading to improved balance and resilience, and maximise health outcomes and reduce risk of infection. Changes in nutrition and lifestyle can be an effective approach towards improving immune outcomes and maximising health and quality of life in adults. There is growing evidence to suggest that various key nutrients obtained via food or supplementation may be beneficial in reducing the risk of infection. Furthermore, the body may lose nutrients when exposed to pathogens, and adequate nutrient intake is essential to aid recovery from infection.  

Key Nutrients for Immune-Rejuvenation
Vitamin C
Vitamin C enhances the activity of various pathogen fighting white blood cells. It has been shown to significantly reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, and relieve cold symptoms including fever in adults and children.
Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli and capsicum.

Zinc is a powerful antioxidant and is essential for healthy immune function. Much like vitamin C, it enhances the activity of important immune fighting cells and has been shown to reduce the risk, duration and severity of respiratory tract infections in adults and children.  Include shellfish, beef and pumpkin seeds.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays an important role in many immune functions, including the activity of macrophages which are cells involved in the destruction of bacteria and harmful pathogens. It is useful in both the prevention and treatment of acute infection.
Include fatty fish (e.g. salmon), eggs, and beef. Balanced and safe sun exposure can help to optimise your vitamin D status alongside diet and supplementation if needed.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is involved in the development of the immune system and plays an important role in immune responses. Vitamin A maintains the health of the cells on the surface of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, which function as the front line defence against pathogenic invasion.  Include eggs, dairy, sweet potato, and dark leafy greens.

Diet and lifestyle practices
Consume a wholefoods, anti-inflammatory diet
An anti-inflammatory diet is based on wholefoods, so consume plenty of fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, and adequate protein. Minimise the consumption of inflammatory foods including processed foods, trans fat and refined carbohydrates.

Reduce stress and ensure adequate sleep
Stress both suppresses immune function and accelerates aging of the immune system. Sleep plays and essential role in immune regulation, and a lack of sleep is associated with impaired immune function.  Stress reduction techniques such as meditation, social connection, engaging in hobbies, and counselling may be helpful. 

Ensure adequate physical exercise
Physical activity has been associated with many health benefits including immune regulation.
If you would like to ensure your immune system is rejuvenated this winter reach out to your nearest natural health practitioner.