Our bodies work tirelessly to defend us against foreign invaders. The immune system itself is composed of lymphoid organs, a variety of cells, proteins and cytokines. Various micronutrients and minerals help in the regulation of a smoothly functioning immune system. As we transition into the winter months it is always a good idea to give your immune system some tender love and care to prevent the development of a cold or flu. Below is a list of some helpful pro-immunity measures to use prophylactically or in the initial stages of illness at therapeutic dosages.
Top 5 Tips:
In the body zinc plays an influential role on various enzymatic reactions, cellular functions and has a direct effect on the body’s immune cells. Many studies have demonstrated that a deficiency in zinc can impair cellular mediators of our innate immunity. Ensuring that you have adequate zinc levels either through diet or supplementation can assist in the proper function of the immune system. Taking a zinc supplement at the first signs of a cold can be effective in preventing the illness from progressing further. Caution should be taken with zinc supplementation given that too much zinc can cause nausea and depletion of other minerals in the body.
- Food Sources: Oysters, beef, lamb, spinach, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and cocoa.
- Vitamin D
The best known source of vitamin D is sunshine. The obvious disclaimer being to protect you skin by using an appropriate sunscreen. Vitamin D plays many roles in the body including regulation of calcium alongside modulating cell growth, reducing inflammation, and regulating immune function. There are very few food sources of vitamin D so a good quality supplement with the appropriate method of administration is key especially in the winter months. Speak to a qualified healthcare profession for the right dose and form of vitamin D supplementation for you.
- Food Sources: Fatty fish (sardines, salmon, tuna etc.), beef liver and egg yolks.
- Vitamin C
The most popular of all immune systems boosters is none other than vitamin C. Many studies have shown that supplementation of vitamin C can improve components of the immune system such as antimicrobial and natural killer cell activities just to name a few. Vitamin C deficiency has been shown to result in a reduced resistance against certain pathogens while a higher source can enhance many immune system parameters. A high dose of vitamin C at the first signs of a cold can work wonders in keeping symptoms at bay.
- Food Sources: Peppers, dark green leafy vegetables, kiwi, broccoli, citrus fruits and Brussels sprouts.
- Stress Reduction
One meta-analytical study, which compared the the results of multiple studies found that brief stressors tend to suppress cellular immunity while preserving humoral immunity while chronic stressors were associated with suppression of both cellular and humoral immune function. Additionally, there is a well-known hormonal link between stress and immunity which involves the immunosuppressive impact of cortisol on the immune system.
- Lifestyle Tips: Choose a relaxation technique and incorporate that into your daily schedule. Some techniques include breathing exercises, meditation, a relaxing bath with aromatherapy or light reading right before bed. Exercise can help greatly in reducing stress levels by creating a biochemically positive environment physiologically which translates into emotional well-being.
- Restorative Sleep
We all know how important sleep is. The connection between sleep and immunity isn’t just a myth there is actually a link! Sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease the immune mediating cells and increase inflammatory cytokines. This relation dampens the body’s ability to respond to infection.
- Lifestyle Tips: Ensure that your bedroom is completely void of light at night. A well organized room free of clutter, television and computer can greatly help sleep quality. If feasible ensure that you are sleeping on a regular schedule each evening and ideally achieving 7-8 hours of sleep.
The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs that mediate our ability to respond to pathogens. The tips above can serve as preventative measures to avoid getting ill over the holiday season. However, if you do find you are coming down with something and want to address your symptoms quickly and effectively there is a wide variety of measures that your healthcare professional can guide you towards to ensure a swift recovery.
- Woodier J., Rainbow RD., Stewart AJ, Pitt SJ. Intracellular Zinc Modulates Cardiac Ryanodine Receptor-mediated Calcium Release. J Biol Chem. 2015 Jul 10;290(28).
- Wintergerst ES., Maggini S., Hornig DH. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(2):85-94.
- Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2010.