Winter is coming and with it the dreaded flu, colds and viruses show their ugly faces.  Luckily, our immune system is there to help us defend against all these disease-causing organisms. Sometimes these organisms win the fight and make us sick, needing weeks of recovery.  Getting sick in winter might seem the standard, But what if there was something we could do to prevent it? How can we “boost” our immune system? Could improving our diets, taking certain vitamins and supplements and changing our lifestyle help reduce our chances of getting sick this winter and reducing our sickness downtime?

The short answer is yes…

The body’s immune system  doesn’t work on its own. All systems in our body interact, and in order for them to function optimally they need to work together and, balance and harmony is required.

Here are 8 ways to boost your immune system this winter…

  1. Improve your diet - include all micro and macronutrients into your diet.  When it comes to the immune system, there are some important micronutrients which are needed to ensure optimal function.  These include, zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folate, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E.  Add loads of vegetables and fruits to your daily diet, as well as eggs and protein.  Some examples are citrus for vitamin C, carrots for vitamin A, eggs for B6, nuts and seeds for vitamin E, brazil nuts for selenium, red meat for iron, mussels for zinc and spinach and dark leafy for folate.

  2. Get out into the sun - vitamin D is one of the major micronutrients needed when we get sick as they stimulate the receptors on T and B cells so they can attack the foreign microorganism. Just 20 minutes in the sun per day is substantial.  

  3. Reduce your stress - this is hard for a lot of us but when our body is stressed our immune system becomes compromised. Scientists have found that there is a direct correlation between stress and immune function. Try meditating, yoga, breathing exercises, legs up against the wall, walks in the open air and apps like “Calm” and “Insight Timer” to help reduce any stress that is happening in your life.

  4. Exercise regularly - regular exercise has so many benefits including improving cardiovascular health, helping control weight, lowering blood pressure and lifting our mood.

  5. Sleep - when our sleep is reduced our body’s ability to produce protective cytokines. These cytokines are required to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress.

  6. Maintain a healthy microbiome - consider eating prebiotic foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, asparagus, buckwheat and sauerkraut, and probiotics that include at least the two key strains of bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.  The microbiome has been shown to influence neutrophil (white blood cells) migration and function and the activation of T cells into helper cells.

  7. Eat protein - protein foods such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, and dairy are rich in zinc. Zinc deficiency can adversely affects the growth and function of T and B cells. Zinc supplementation can also be helpful but consult your nutritionist or health specialist before taking supplements.

  8. Increase Vitamin C - vitamin C is an antioxidant which contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular function such as supporting epithelial barrier function against pathogens and protecting against oxidative stress. Vitamin C can be depleted by stress and increased illness. It is recommended we have 65 to 90 milligrams (mg) of Vitamin C a day.  One kiwi fruit has 64 mg of vitamin C. Note: to increase vitamin C absorption, eat it away from iron.