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Beat the bugs

How to boost your family's immune system this autumn

2020 is shaping up to become a game changer in Irish life – Covid 19 has changed the face of the world, and Ireland is no exception. We have never been more aware of the importance of our health, and boosting immunity and the body’s ability to deal with viruses is even more crucial.

“Our immune system works to protect us every day,” says Lucy Kerr at health store The Good Earth in Kilkenny. “But when it's compromised that's when we can face illness. Keeping our immune system strong is vital to maintain a healthy body.”

So what are the main things people can do to boost their immune system?

“Studies have shown chronic stress can suppress protective immune response so it is important to try and reduce stress where possible to maintain proper immune function,” says Lucy Kerr. “Trying to include things such as yoga, meditation and getting outside for some fresh air can help. Lack of sleep stops the immune system functioning properly - studies have shown that adults who get less than six hours sleep a night are four times more likely to catch a cold or flu than people who sleep for seven hours. Physical activity into your daily routine is very important for strengthening the immune system, even a brisk 10-minute walk gets the circulation in your body going. Reducing refined sugar is also important as it can have a suppressive effect on the immune system and increase inflammation in the body, which weakens the immune system.”

“We find ourselves in unprecedented times and now more than ever, you need to place a daily emphasis on top quality nutrition,” says Rachel Graham, a nutritional therapist and medicinal chef with Maya Foods. “While you can’t expect to become bulletproof overnight, it will stand you in good stead if you consume plenty of nutrient-dense foods on a daily basis, giving your body the support it needs to protect you.

"A health immune system also needs good quality sleep, regular exercise and daily relaxation”

Foods for immunity

“Brightly coloured vegetables contain carotenoids such as beta-carotene that are important antioxidants that aid immune system function,” says Lucy Kerr. “Good sources include red and yellow peppers, oranges, lemons and grapefruits. Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries are all high in bioflavonoids which help keep your immune system healthy. Try making a smoothie or adding them to your porridge in the mornings to give your system a good boost.

“Always at the top of the list for immune support, vitamin C is the master immune-boosting antioxidant,” says Rachel Graham. “Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, berries, broccoli, green leafy veg and bell peppers.”

“Herbs and spices can also help – turmeric has been shown to slow down the replication of viruses," says Lucy Kerr. "Try adding to soups, stews, or curries. Garlic is another which has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Raw local raw honey is full of anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties which help keep your immune system healthy.

A warming drink of honey and lemon is great for boosting your immune system.”

“Including fermented foods in your diet on a daily basis is the optimum sustainable solution for year-round protection,” says Rachel Graham. “It is the diversity of strains that create protective immune- boosting benefits. Fermented foods include kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut and apple cider vinegar.”

Zinc may prevent viruses from multiplying and targeting your nose and throat. “The body doesn’t have much ability to store zinc, so it’s crucial that your daily diet supplies plenty of this immune-boosting mineral,” says Rachel Graham. “Zinc-rich foods are meat, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, pumpkin and sesame seeds.”

The role of probiotics

“Keeping a healthy balance of good bacteria in your gut means that food will be more effectively broken down and nutrients can be properly absorbed, which equals your body getting more nutrition,” says Lucy Kerr. “Good bacteria provides a protective barrier against harmful bacteria that enter your body. Good sources include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir.”

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. Health food shops and supermarkets supply a variety of probiotic supplements if you’re not a fan of fermented foods.

A-Z of top bug busters

Aloe vera - has immune-boosting and anti-viral 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 C in your diet helps boost your immune system and can reduce the duration of respiratory tract infections.

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 in upper respiratory tract infections.

Ginger – anti-bacterial and anti-viral.

Garlic – anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.

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

Mushrooms such as reishi and the South American fruit camu camu – for amazingly high levels of vitamin C. Reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms are especially rich in beta glucans and also anti-viral and anti-microbial and a good source of vegan vitamin D. Cordyceps mushrooms are high in beta glucans, are a natural substance that helps boost the immune system.

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. Increase your white blood cell count which the body needs to fight infection.

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