Autumn: the time of cold, crisp evenings, golden leaves on the ground… and the ‘bug’.
Many of us can feel under the weather during the change in seasons, especially as the nights start drawing in and the temperature drops. It’s a time when we need to ensure, even more than normal, that our bodies are receiving the goodness they need to function properly and keep us healthy. This is the job of your immune system – a complex system made up of organs, cells and proteins around your body that fight off antigens – harmful things that your body doesn’t recognise as its own.
Usually, if your immune system is running smoothly, the phrase ‘out of sight out of mind’ tends to be the best policy. However, if your immune system is low, its illness-preventing abilities are compromised, which means that your body cannot fight off any invading antigens. This, in turn, causes illness.
So it’s crucial that, during the autumn months, you’re keeping your immune system happy.
Luckily, there are many different ways to give it a much-needed boost to keep yourself functioning at 100% ready for the winter. Whether it’s taking some high quality immune-boosting nutritional supplements, adding more immune-supporting foods to your diet, or ensuring that your lifestyle isn’t causing you unnecessary stress or fatigue, there are many proven ways to boost your immune system.
Why Is The Immune System Important?
First things first, it’s important to understand why we need our immune systems. And why we need to bother taking it into consideration when planning our meals or deciding whether to work that overtime or not.
Essentially, without an immune system, we wouldn’t be able to fight and defend against harmful microorganisms that enter our systems from the outside or harmful changes that can take place inside the body.
There are two parts to our immune systems: the innate and the adaptive. Both of these work in harmony whenever a cell, substance or germ triggers a response.
Our immune system helps to:
- Fight disease-causing germs (pathogens) like bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses, and remove them from the body
- Recognise and eliminate harmful antigens introduced from the environment
- Fight disease-causing changes inside like body like cell mutations and cancerous cells
So, your immune system is definitely worth putting time and effort into!
How Can You Support Your Immune System?
It’s been long suggested and investigated that certain micronutrient deficiencies can cause our immune systems to work less efficiently. For example, deficiencies in zinc, vitamin A, B6, C and E, iron, copper and selenium can alter the immune responses and cause it to be less effective at recognising and fighting off harmful microorganisms.
And while the subject of deficiencies of certain micronutrients is still being assessed, for many of us we notice a correspondence between a lack of essential nutrients and general wellbeing.
So, if you suspect that your diet might not be providing you with all your micronutrient needs – and you want an easy alternative to researching, sourcing and cooking all these immune-boosting foods, then taking nutritional supplements is a great solution.
Of course, you have to make sure that you’re taking supplements that are high quality – brands such as Love Life Supplements, Ethical Nutrition, and Solgar provide quality nutritional supplements free from harmful fillers and caking agents.
There are many different vitamins and minerals you can supplement your diet with to provide your immune system with a much-needed boost:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Folic Acid
You’ll usually find these in high-quality multivitamins, alongside a complex assortment of other beneficial micronutrients.
Consume Immune Boosting Foods
However, there are also more herbalistic, natural sources of immune-supporting nutrients that many people swear by. These can be found in food and drinks you might have overlooked before:
- Green Tea Extract – this has strong anti-viral and antioxidant properties
- Quercetin – a potent antioxidant found in red onion, berries, elderberries and green tea
- Elderberry – powerful bioflavonoids, notorious compounds with anti-viral properties
- Natural Sources of vitamin C – the most well known immune-boosting nutrient, found in sweet potato, peppers, kale, citrus fruits, broccoli and more
There are also groups called Adaptogens, which help your body cope with stress – whether that’s physical, environmental or emotional. These can be found in surprising foods and ingredients:
- Cordyceps – an adaptogen mushroom that can provide you with energy and help you focus
- Rhodiola – a plant used in traditional medicines for many years which can provide calming benefits
- Reishi – another powerful mushroom that can help bring focus, reduce stress and lessen fatigue
- Panax ginseng – a herb that, although has a similar name, should not be confused with other forms of ginseng
Adaptogens are thought to support and modulate the endocrine system and immune system, reducing inflammation and protecting the organs, cells and proteins that form our immune systems.
Get Enough Sleep
Rest and immunity are closely linked.
Poor or inadequate sleep is connected to a higher susceptibility to sickness. In fact, within a study of 160 adults, those that slept less than 6 hours per night were more likely to become ill than those who slept for more than 6 hours.
But it’s not just about the quantity of sleep; it’s; it’s about sleep quality.
Restlessness or a lack of deep sleep can significantly impact the immune system, as it stresses our bodies, causes our brains to function at a lower efficiency and impacts the effectiveness of our basic bodily functions.
To sleep better, try some basic sleep hygiene tips like turning off your phone for an hour before bed, removing the blue light from your phone or electronics when you use them in the evening – so as not to disrupt the circadian rhythm (your natural sleep cycle). You can also create a sleep routine and exercise regularly to create natural and beneficial tiredness.
If you’re finding that your sleep cycle is disturbed to a degree where it begins to impact your daily life, you might need to speak to your GP or a healthcare professional to find a solution.
Eat More Fermented Foods
Foods which are fermented are rich in beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which form an essential part of the digestive system.
Healthy gut bacteria is crucial to a flourishing digestive system, and research suggests that a network of healthy bacteria can help your immune cells differentiate more easily between healthy cells and those of harmful invading microorganisms.
Foods like yoghurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and natto are incredible sources of probiotics and readily found in many supermarkets or speciality food stores.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
Unsurprisingly, an excessive amount of stress can be harmful for our bodies.
This can be a difficult point to navigate, considering that for many of us, stress – the harmful kind – can be tricky to determine. Stress is a natural part of life, and to an extent, a certain level of stress can provide us with motivation and does no harm to our systems.
However, what’s stressful to a harmful degree for one person might not be so stressful for someone else. This is where it’s important to be able to recognise your personal triggers and circumstances, which are recognisable as those that cause unnecessary stress.
Constant and frequent stressors, known as chronic stress, are closely linked to immune function because the stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system. This happens for a number of reasons.
The main types of immune cells are white blood cells, of which there are two kinds – lymphocytes and phagocytes. Extended stress can lower the number of lymphocytes, therefore impacting the efficiency of the immune system when it comes to fighting off antigens.
Stress can also inhibit the effectiveness and function of our digestive systems, which can lead to unbalanced gut bacteria. And so, the body’s ability to recognise and neutralise harmful microorganisms is reduced.
Stress also causes its own illnesses which can lead to long term conditions. Because stress increases the strain upon the circulatory system, it can lead to increased blood pressure, hypertension, and produces an increase in blood cholesterol.
There are many different ways that we can work on boosting our immune systems this autumn – and throughout the year – in order to ensure that it functions in a healthy, balanced way. You could simply source high-quality nutritional supplements to fill the gaps in your diet, sourcing some more immune-supporting foods for a natural way to give your system a much-needed kick.
Or perhaps you need to adjust your lifestyle to reduce those stressors or try some new sleep hygiene tips to increase the quality of your rest.
Whatever your solution, it’s important that you’re paying attention to your body, checking in with yourself regularly during the colder months and listening to those slight aches, that general feeling of ill-health that might be creeping in. Our bodies are not infallible, and more often than not, all we need is a small adjustment to give our bodies the rest, nutrients and support they need to function at 100%.
And always speak to a healthcare professional if you’re worried – for specialist advice!