What Is the Immune System?
The immune system is an interactive network of organs, cells and proteins that protect the body from viruses and bacteria or any foreign substances. It is constantly adapting and learning so that the body can fight against bacteria or viruses that change over time.
We are continually exposed to organisms that are inhaled, swallowed or inhabit our skin and mucous membranes. Whether or not these organisms lead to disease is decided by the integrity of our body’s defence mechanisms, or immune system.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is essential for immunity. Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections.
Because your body doesn't produce or store it, you need a daily intake of vitamin C. Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, making it easy to add this vitamin to any meal:
- red bell peppers (contain twice as much vitamin C than any of the above)
Broccoli is packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as many other antioxidants and fibre, and is one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. The key to getting the most benefit from broccoli is to cook it as little as possible or not at all.
3. Stay Hydrated
Drinking water does wonders for your immune system, as it helps your kidneys flush toxins effectively from the body. It also helps your body produce lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune system cells.
Avoid too much of anything that will make you dehydrated – like coffee – and eat more hydrating foods too, like cucumber, celery and watermelon.
Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.
Ginger may help decrease inflammation, which can help with a sore throat and other inflammatory illnesses. Take a ginger shot in the morning at the first sign of an immunity slump.
Try to get regular, moderate exercise, like a daily 30-minute walk. It can help your immune system fight infection. If you don't exercise regularly, you're more likely to get colds, for example, than someone who does. Exercise can also help you sleep better, which in turn helps your immune system too.
Spinach is not only rich in vitamin C, it is also packed with antioxidants and beta carotene, which may increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems. Like broccoli, spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients.
Look for yogurts that have "live and active cultures" on the packaging, like Greek yogurt. These cultures may stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases. Yogurt can also be a great source of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps to regulate the immune system and is thought to boost our body’s natural defences against diseases.
Regular use of echinacea is beneficial for immune support and overall health. This powerful herb contains a compound called echinacein that inhibits bacteria and viruses from penetrating healthy cells. Echinacea is also known for its ability to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, improve skin problems and treat upper respiratory issues.
Vitamin E is key to a healthy immune system, but it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts, such as almonds, are packed with vitamin E and also have healthy fats. A half-cup serving, which is about 46 whole, shelled almonds, provides almost 100% of your recommended daily amount of vitamin E.
11. Green tea
Both green and black teas are packed with flavonoids, which are type of antioxidant. Green tea takes the top spot due to its levels of epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, another powerful antioxidant, which has been shown to enhance immune function.
12. Avoid tobacco smoke
Tobacco smoke undermines your basic immune defences and raises the risk of bronchitis and pneumonia, as well as increasing the risk of middle ear infections in children.
Papaya is another fruit full of vitamin C. You can find 224% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C in a single papaya. Papayas also have potassium, B vitamins and folate, which are beneficial to your overall health.
14. Poultry & Cold Water Fish
Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is high in vitamin B-6. Vitamin B-6 is an important factor in many of the chemical reactions in the body and is essential for the formation of new and healthy red blood cells and can also be found in cold water fish like salmon and tuna.
15. Drinking warm water with lemon
Start each day with a glass of hot water with lemon, especially when your immune system is vulnerable. Lemon helps to cleanse our bodies of toxins as well as giving us an extra boost of Vitamin C.
16. Sunflower seeds
Some shellfish are packed with zinc, which our bodies need so that our immune cells can function as intended. Shellfish that are high in zinc include:
Keep in mind that you don’t want to have more than the daily recommended amount of zinc in your diet (11 mg for adult men and 8 mg for women). Too much zinc can actually inhibit immune system function.
18. Eat rainbow colours
When it comes to shopping for fruit and veg, a simple rule to remember is – the more colour the better. It is also important to note that a strong immune system is built by maintaining healthy eating habits over time, not a one-off fruit and veg binge.
A study in older adults showed that boosting fruit and vegetable intake improved antibody response to the Pneumovax vaccine, which protects against Streptococcus pneumonia.
19. Get enough sleep and manage your stress levels
Sleep deprivation and excess stress levels increase the hormone cortisol and inflammation in the body. When the level of cortisol is elevated for a prolonged period, this can suppress immune function and make you more vulnerable to illness.
Approximately two thirds of adults around the world aren’t getting enough sleep, with the World Health Organisation recommending that we aim for around 8 hours a night.
20. Drink less alcohol
Excessive consumption of alcohol impairs the immune system and increases our vulnerability to lung infections.
21. Consider probiotics
Studies show that supplements reduce the incidence of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Ask your CarePlus Pharmacist about what probiotic would best suit you.