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Keeping the bugs at bay

How to give your immunity a boost to stay healthy right through the winter

I always encourage customers to eat healthy foods in order to boost their immunity,” says Jacinta Tyndall of Horans health store in Killarney, Co Kerry. “I recommend foods such as blackberries, goji berries, blueberries, oranges, cabbage, turnip and so on. In conjunction with a healthy diet, supplements such as olive leaf complex, vitamin C, echinacea and zinc can be taken.”

“A varied, wholesome diet should supply most nutrients you need,” says nutritionist Éva Hamilton from Scope Healthcare. “Old traditional diets were packed full of immune-building foods, such as bone broth, organ meats and skins of animals, and most importantly fermented foods packed full of beneficial bacteria to help us absorb all the nutrients. Nowadays most people don’t know or don’t like these foods so they have to rely on nutritional supplements. A high quality multi-strain probiotic provides much needed diversity – the more strains the better, as each have their own unique benefits.”

The role of vitamin C

“Vitamin C is the most widely researched nutrient for immune support with a wealth of evidence to support its health benefits,” says nutritional therapist Jackie Newson who works for Abundance and Health. “According to research vitamin C supports the action of several types of immune cells that help to activate the immune system against viruses. Furthermore the latest research has confirmed that vitamin C consumption is able to reduce the duration and severity of colds. A good variety of colourful fruit and vegetables in your diet should provide sufficient vitamin C, but if your diet is lacking this food group, supplementing is a good idea – particularly ‘liposomal’ vitamin C as this is shown to be far better absorbed than standard oral vitamin C products.”

The power of zinc

“Zinc plays a key role in maintaining the integrity of the immune system” says Jackie Newson. “Experts believe that zinc may prevent viruses from multiplying and targeting your nose and throat. Low levels of zinc are known to impair immunity, particularly in young children and the elderly. Zinc can be found in pumpkin seeds, seafood, beans, nuts and wholegrain bread. If you prefer to supplement, zinc is available in tablets and capsules as well as lozenges.”

How bacteria can help

“Evidence is growing daily on the multiple health benefits of probiotics – the friendly bacteria that inhabit your gut,” says Jackie Newson. “Although they are generally recognised for their importance in supporting good digestive health, they are also equally important for keeping the immune system up and running. Probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium have been found to benefit acute viral and bacterial infections. They are thought to work by stimulating the immune system and lining the intestines with a protective layer of friendly bacteria that stops nasty bugs from harming the body. Including fermented foods in your daily diet will help to keep your friendly bacteria topped up. Try: organic live yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi or Natto. Health food shops and supermarkets supply a variety of probiotic supplements if you’re not a fan of fermented foods.”

“Probiotics help to balance the immune system; boosting it or calming it as appropriate,” says Éva Hamilton. “Recently they have been found to increase the efficacy of flu vaccines in the elderly. Probiotics are crucial during winter for all ages, especially during the first 1000 days of an infant’s life as both the digestive and immune systems mature.”

Let’s hear it for winter soups

“Soups are an excellent source of nourishment at this time of year for all ages,” says Jacinta Tyndall. “They are particularly helpful with children who are fussy eaters, elderly people or a sick person who may not have much of an appetite. Lentils are full of beneficial nutrients, like fibre, protein, minerals and vitamins and can be added to soups.”

Soldier on

“I think of immune cells as robot soldiers,” says Éva Hamilton. “Amino acids from proteins and essential fats are the raw materials. Zinc, selenium, iron and vitamin C to turn on the machinery, while vitamin D helps us read the users’ instructions. We need a daily supply of these vitamins and minerals, but most importantly we need to make sure we absorb them, so digestive health is the first that should be addressed.”

A-Z of top bug busters

Aloe vera – has immune-boosting and antiviral properties.

Bee propolis – has reputed antiviral properties and is rich in bioflavonoids.

Beta-glucans – derived from mushrooms, can boost a weakened immune system.

Camu camu – has amazingly high levels of vitamin C.

Vitamin C – studies have shown that viruses cannot survive in a vitamin C-rich environment.

Vitamin D – being D-deficient undermines your immune system, so take a supplement.

Echinacea – works to support your immune system.

Elderberry – immune-boosting properties that may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes and help relieve nasal congestion.

Ginger – antibacterial and antiviral.

Garlic – antifungal and antibacterial.

Olive leaf extract – an antioxidant-rich immune supporter.

Manuka honey – look for the UMF logo to guarantee the real stuff with anti-inflammatory properties.

Matcha green tea – great source of antioxidants, helps body produce T cells, natural defence against bugs.

Multivitamin – ensure you are getting everything you need, in particular vitamins C and B complex.

Mushrooms such as reishi and the South American fruit camu camu – for amazingly high levels of vitamin C.

Selenium – the antioxidants in selenium can help the body fight a cold.

Turmeric – high in antioxidants, a natural anti-inflammatory.

Zinc – can help fight infection and shorten the duration of a cold.

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