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Protective measures

How to boost your family’s immunity this autumn

Going back to school can be tough on our immune systems due to the spread of viruses, cold, flus and bugs which kids may pick up at school or playschool and bring back home to the rest of the family,” says Lucy Kerr from health store The Good Earth in Kilkenny. “Keeping our immune system strong is vital to maintain a healthy body.”

“Back to school time can mean a sudden exposure to a larger pool of bacteria and viruses,” agrees Sian Eustace of Healing Harvest, Kinvara, Co Galway. “This is especially true for those families where a child is starting school or crèche for the first time. Where children are newly exposed, they then bring these bugs home to the rest of their family.”

The best foods for boosting immunity

“To boost immunity through food, it is important to eat a good variety of fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Sian Eustace. “Avoiding processed foods and refined oils and sugars will help to keep the immune system in tip top shape. Remember that the gut houses much of the immune system – think about fermented foods such as live yoghurt or kefir and even foods such as sauerkraut if your child is a more adventurous eater.”

“Eating a variety of fresh foods, healthy carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats equals a balanced diet full of nourishment,” says Lucy Kerr. “Brightly coloured vegetables are packed with important antioxidants that aid immune system function. Good sources include red and yellow peppers, orange, lemons and grapefruits. Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries are all high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids which help your immune system. Try making a smoothie or adding them to your porridge.”

Herbs and spices

“Turmeric has been shown to slow down the replication of viruses,” says Lucy Kerr. “Try adding to soups, stews or curries. Garlic has antiviral and antibacterial properties. Adding it to your food is a good way to get all the beneficial properties. Local raw honey is full of antiviral, antibacterial properties that help keep your immune system healthy. A warming drink of honey and lemon is great for boosting your immune system.”

The role of friendly bacteria

“Fermented foods provide the body with good bacteria, helpful microorganisms that inhabit the gut and help the body to fight off infections,” says Sian Eustace. “These helpful bacteria, or gut flora, can also be taken as a supplement called a probiotic, many of which are suitable for children and can take the form of liquids, gummies or chewable tablets. Prebiotics are basically the food good bacteria require to thrive and multiply. They are sometimes included in a supplement but are essentially fibre, so making sure there is enough fibre in the diet will provide enough food for your gut flora.”

“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,” says Lucy Kerr. “Good bacteria provides a protective barrier against harmful bacteria that enters your body. Any bad pathogens in the body will be fought off by a good bacteria. Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as kefir, sourdough bread, miso and sauerkraut. Prebiotics are found in bananas, garlic, oats, onions, leeks and artichokes.

Lifestyle tips

“In terms of lifestyle, it is important to allow airflow through the house without making yourselves too cold,” says Sian Eustace. “You could use a HEPA filter to improve air quality if you are being frequently affected. Remember to cover sneezes and coughs, and to bin tissues. Get plenty of rest and eat unprocessed, fresh foods.”

“Reduce stress,” says Lucy Kerr. “Studies have shown chronic stress can suppress protective immune response. Try to include activities such as yoga, meditation and getting outside for some fresh air. A lack of sleep stops the immune system functioning properly. Aim for seven hours a night if possible.

Try to include physical activity into your daily routine as it can strengthen the immune system. Reduce refined sugar as it can have a suppressive effect on the immune system and increase inflammation in the body, which weakens the immune system.”

Best immune-boosting supplements

“Take a multivitamin and mineral to make sure that all levels are boosted,” says Sian Eustace. “Specifically for immune health, I would recommend vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc and echinacea.”

Lucy Kerr’s recommended supplements:

  • Cordyceps – mushrooms are high in beta glucans which are a natural substance that helps boost the immune system. Reishi, shiitake and maitake are especially rich in beta glucans and a good source of vegan vitamin D.
  • Echinacea – many of echinacea’s chemical constituents are powerful immune system stimulants that can provide significant therapeutic value.
  • Elderberry – several studies have shown it has the power to boost the immune system and help treat symptoms of the common cold and flu and upper respiratory tract infections. It is antiviral, antibacterial and antimicrobial.
  • Vitamin C – studies show getting enough vitamin C in your diet helps boost your immune system and helps reduce respiratory tract infections.
  • Vitamin D – we advise a supplement between November and March due to a lack of sunshine during the winter months.
  • Zinc – optimises the immune system due to its ability to increase the white blood cell count which the body needs to fight infection.

Other natural immunity aids

  • Aloe vera – has immune-boosting and anti-viral properties, is a good all round tonic.
  • Garlic – an immune-enhancing herb. Cook and eat with it or take Kyolic garlic tablets
  • Herbal teas – ginger, peppermint, eucalyptus, elderberry and echinacea can be soothing on a sore throat or for respiratory infections.
  • Manuka Honey – look for the UMF logo to guarantee anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Olive leaf extract – an antioxidant-rich immune supporter.
  • Selenium – the antioxidants in selenium can help the body fight a cold. Brazil nuts are the richest natural sources of selenium, followed by fish, shellfish, offal, meat, chicken and game.
  • South American fruit camu camu – has amazingly high levels of vitamin C.
  • Zinc – can help fight infection and shorten the duration of a cold.
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