This week in ‘Ask the nutritionist’, Nutritional Director Rick Hay reveals three nutrients that help to boost immunity
Kleenex tissues stuffed into your pockets, a blocked nose and a nasal voice – yes, it’s time to go to your local supermarket and buy some Lemsip.
While this may benefit or ease the symptoms of a cold or flu there are some key nutrients your body requires to stay well and fight away the sniffles.
Nutritional Director Rick Hay explains which nutrients will help if you are already feeling under the weather or want to protect your immune system throughout the colder months.
When immune function is compromised you may suffer from more frequent coughs, colds, allergies and increased inflammation in the body. If immune response is too slow this can further increase our susceptibility to infections and to low immunity in general.
Normally your immune system is well equipped to deal with exposure to pathogens and this will often be done whilst you remain symptom-free. But at times it can be overwhelmed – perhaps during times of stress or under-nourishment – or perform below par which can lead to more frequent, severe and persistent infections including mouth ulcers, cold sores and thrush.
Supplementation with vitamins A, C and D may help strengthen the immune response leading to less frequent infection – they may also help to shorten the duration of infections.
Indeed you are under a lot of pressure at work, under- or over- exercising, eating too many processed carbs, drinking too much alcohol or coffee and not sleeping enough, this too will create pressure on your immune system.
Immune Booster #1: Vitamin A
Vitamins A and C both work as key antioxidants in the body – they help to protect cells against oxidative stress caused by the environment, ageing, stress and pollution.
Vitamin A supports the integrity and barrier defence of our mucous membranes with deficiency increasing susceptibility to infections.
A 2008 review paper into vitamin effects on the immune system reported that vitamin A deficiency was associated with impaired intestinal immune responses and increased mortality associated with gastrointestinal and respiratory infections.
Vitamin A deficiency may present as dry skin, dry eyes or poor night vision.
Where to find vitamin A: spinach, carrot, sweet potatos, bell peppers as well as mackerel, salmon, tuna, butter, cheese and eggs.
Immune Booster #2: Vitamin C
Vitamin C improves components of the human immune system with antimicrobial and natural killer cell activities, which subsequently helps protect cells.
According to research, it can also help to reduce the duration of respiratory tract infections as shown in a report by the National Centre for Biotechnology. Supplementation with vitamin C was found to improve components of the human immune system such as antimicrobial and natural killer cell activities.
Vitamin C at higher doses may also decrease the duration of cold symptoms: according to a 2007 review into Vitamin C and the prevention and treatment of the common cold.
If you are deficient in Vitamin C then you may bruise easily, have bleeding gums or have poor wound healing.
Where to find vitamin C: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green and red peppers, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, winter squash, sweet and white potatoes, oranges and kiwi fruits.
Immune Booster #3: Vitamin D
Vitamin D is also integral to a healthy immune system – especially during the winter month’s as our body’s require sunshine in order to produce it.
The sunshine vitamin, as it is known, is anti-inflammatory with deficiency being associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes. It also contributes to bone health, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets in children and increases the risk of osteoporosis among adults.
Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased susceptibility to infection according to a study published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine.
Vitamin D also enhances the natural immune response, against various infections including the flu and upper respiratory tract infections.
How to get vitamin D: Just 5-10 minutes of sun exposure on the arms, legs or hands and face, two-three time per week, alongside an increased dietary and supplemental vitamin D intake will give the body sufficient vitamin D levels as reported by the National Centre of Biotechnology
Food sources of vitamin D: Fatty fish such as tuna and mackerel, beef liver, cheese, eggs yolks and foods fortified with vitamin D such as some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk and cereals.
Immune Booster #4: Elderberry
Botanicals also have a role to play in immune system health. The herb elderberry has been used in traditional medicine as a respiratory tonic.
Research has shown that it has antiviral activity against both the influenza virus and herpes simplex – it contains phytochemicals which blunt the hemagglutinin spikes on the outside of viruses, preventing them from entering the cells where they would otherwise reproduce.
A 2012 study into elderberry concluded that it had a beneficial effect by the stimulating immune response and preventing viral infection.
Another in 2016 showed that it may also reduce both the severity and duration of a cold in air travellers with another involving 60 people with influenza finding that symptoms were relieved on average four days earlier in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo.
They concluded that elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza.
Immune booster #5: Sage
Sage has also been used traditionally to help with infection – it inhibits viral and bacterial replication. Research in the Journal of Traditional Complementary Medicine concluded that on the basis of the available literature evidence, this plant shows anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-nociceptive (pain blocking) antioxidant, antimicrobial, hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic and memory-enhancing effects.
Drinking tea made from fresh sage steeped I boiling water can help ease coughs and sore throats.
…but don’t forget – diet is crucial to immunity
A poor diet can act as a major stress on the immune system – this can be in the form of a high carbohydrate or high saturated fat diet.
It is also important to look at your intake of sugar also if you want to help immune function as diets that are high in refined sugar impair innate immune function.
A healthy immune response may also be compromised by certain medications, such as immunosuppressants (for example, corticosteroid inhalers) and regular physical or emotional stress.
Overtraining and poor sleep will not help matters either as they can compromise and weaken the immune system.
Ensure you’re sleeping well, getting moderate, regular exercise ideally outside 3-5 times a week and eating a diet rich in lots of multi-coloured fruits and vegetables to ensure you’re getting all the correct antioxidants and food sources of the nutrients essential to immunity.
Biocare’s Immune Intensive contains a blend of vitamins, minerals and botanicals to help fight the onset of an immune challenge. If you want to take something longer term to build up immunity then consider Biocare’s Vitamin C with Rosehip complex to help support and stengthen long term immune system health.
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Rick Hay is a nutritionist with a special interest in anti-ageing and many years clinical experience in nutrition, naturopathy and botanical medicine. He specializes in obesity treatment and weight management. He writes a regular Natural Health and Fitness Blog for Healthista. Find out more at rickhay.co.uk. Follow Rick on Twitter @rickhayuk
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