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Protective measures

How to boost your family’s immunity this autumn

The last 18 months has led many of us to look to improve our immunity and lifestyle factors that can affect how our body fights off viruses, including stress levels, lifestyle, sleep and nutrition.

“Bacteria, viruses and other pathogens are constantly in our environment, however there are certain factors that make us more susceptible to succumbing to an infection,” says Alice Bradshaw, DN Med at Terranova Nutrition. “During the colder months of the year, we tend to spend more time indoors in close proximity to other people and often with poor ventilation. This increases the chances of picking up an infection.”

“While it’s possible to catch respiratory viruses all year round, flu season in Ireland typically starts in October and can continue right through to May,” says nutritional therapist Peter Harney at The Natural Medicine Company.

How can we build up our immunity?

“What we eat and drink has a major influence on our immune system,” says Alice Bradshaw. “A wholefood diet, abundant in plant foods has been shown to support the whole body and strengthen the immune system. Conversely a diet high in refined, processed foods and sugars deplete the body of vitality and suppresses immune function. Excessive dietary sugar ultimately negatively impacts the immune system in multiple ways. Adequate calories, protein and essential fatty acids are also vital to maintain immune health.”

“Eating healthy, antioxidant-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables and wholegrains is an important part of maintaining good health,” says Peter Harney. “Aim to eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables to ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs. The indigestible plant fibres found in many fruits and vegetables as well as wholegrains, can also help support beneficial gut microorganisms. Having a balance of good gut bacteria is fundamental for keeping us healthy. The immune system and digestive system are closely interconnected.”

“Having a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals will really help,” says Angela McGlanaghey of health store Simple Simon in Donegal town. “And avoid processed foods.”

What about supplements, vitamins and minerals?

“Supplements are great but only meant to supplement an already healthy lifestyle,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “You should always try to get as many of your vitamins and minerals from food sources as possible. This will help build your body’s immunity.”

“Vitamins C and D and zinc can help contribute to the normal function of the immune system,” says Peter Harney. “Unfortunately our body doesn’t store excess amounts so we can become deficient if we aren’t getting enough from our diet or through supplementation. Our main source of vitamin D is from sunlight, which is in short supply during the winter months. Vitamin D contributes to immune system function and deficiency has been associated with an increased susceptibility to infection.”

“Most people can benefit from a general multivitamin and mineral formulation as inadequate intake of micronutrients can negatively impact immune health,” says Alice Bradshaw. “Some key nutrients have been shown to specifically support immune health in quite profound ways.

Vitamin A and carotenoids play a role in the stimulation of numerous immune processes.

Vitamin D has been studied for its ability to produce a broad range of immune enhancing effects.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant nutrient that has been shown to have antiviral and antibacterial properties. Its key effect is improving host resistance.

Zinc has a wide ranging supportive role for the immune system. It helps to inhibit foreign particles and microorganisms.

Selenium deficiency results in depressed immune function, making the body more susceptible to illness.

Various botanical supplements and superfoods are also immune supportive. These include medicinal mushrooms, garlic, elderberry, astragalus and olive leaf.”

Can probiotics help immunity?

“A significant part of our immune system is in the beneficial bacteria of the gut, also known as the microbiome,” says Peter Harney. “Supporting your microbiome with probiotics (friendly bacteria) when you are not feeling well will help boost your immune system. Eating fermented food such as kombucha, kefir or sauerkraut is a good way to support gut health on a day to day basis.”

“Probiotics may help boost your gut health which plays a massive role in your body's immunity,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “Probiotic foods such as kefir, live yogurt and sauerkraut contain small amounts of probiotic but some people may need a supplement as well.”

“A large percentage of the immune system is located within the gut, so supporting immune health cannot be separated from digestive health,” says Alice Bradshaw. “Supplements that support gut health such as digestive enzymes, microflora and certain beneficial fibres should be considered a fundamental part of an immune supportive supplement programme.”

Should we change our lifestyles?

“Getting active and physically fit can help you to maintain a healthy weight and many people find exercise good for reducing stress,” says Peter Harney. “In addition to good nutrition, lifestyle changes can help make a difference too. Smoking can have a negative effect on the immune system so if you smoke, it's never too late to quit. Getting enough sleep, regular exercise and taking steps to reduce stress are all simple things that can make a huge difference to our overall wellbeing. Take steps to avoid infection in the first place, such as washing your hands and routinely cleaning frequently touched objects and surfaces.”

“Regular exercise gets blood moving around the body,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “Proper quality sleep plays an important role in our immunity and wellbeing. Lack of sleep can lead to being run down and poor decision-making, so our diet may not be as healthy and causing our bodies to become exhausted. Get plenty of quality sleep and avoid too much screen time, get out into the fresh air as much as you can.”

“The mind and attitude play a significant role in the health and functioning of the immune system,” says Alice Bradshaw. “Unavoidable life-stressors, such as bereavement or depression have been shown to diminish important immune function. Laughing regularly, having a positive mental attitude and meditation are some ways to support immune health. Stress is a factor that causes suppression of the immune system. Under stress, adrenaline and cortisol are increased, leading to an immune-suppressed state. Learning to manage stress is an important tool for optimal immune health.”

Liposomal Vitamin C and immunity

“Vitamin C’s best-known benefit is the positive effect it has on the immune system,” says nutritional consultant Vanessa Ascencao who works with Coyne Healthcare. “In a review published in November 2017 in Nutrients, vitamin C was found to support the immune system by protecting against oxidative stress, aiding in microbial killing and decreasing the potential for tissue damage. Vitamin C deficiencies have been associated with increased risk of virus-induced respiratory infections, including colds. Vitamin C is also an essential nutrient, meaning our bodies cannot make it naturally, so we need to get it from foods and supplements. Liposomal vitamin C is even more effective thanks to an increase in absorption, with better uptake into the bloodstream and less degradation by stomach acid.”

Did you know?

Viruses can live for up to three days on objects such as escalator handrails, door handles, coffee cups, drinking glasses and plastic surfaces. Wash your hands to keep bugs at bay, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking.

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