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How To Boost Your Immune System To Avoid Colds & Flu

It’s that time of year again!  Colds, coughs, sinus infections, sore throats and chest infections.  I’m hearing it from clients, friends and family and these can certainly knock us back for a week or so.

It’s important to do what we can to keep our immune system strong and balanced, and to improve our resistance to infections and illness.

Here are some pointers to help keep you and your family healthy, this Autumn and Winter:

Immune Boosters for your Gut

A broad spectrum probiotic can be very useful for keep pathogenic microbes at bay (a very large % of your immune system is housed in your gut!) You can pick these up in a health shop or pharmacy.  Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to vary types and brands.  Beneficial yeasts such as Saccharomyces Boulardii can raise sIgA [a type of antibody that protects against infections] levels which is one of the first lines of defence against pathogens in the intestine, helping to disarm and neutralise any nasties. So worth considering, especially if recurring infections are an issue.

Food based sources of healthy bacteria include kefir, which is simple to make at home once you have some starter grains, kombucha and fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi.  I put some milk kefir into smoothies for my children, and take it regularly myself to help keep my gut and immune system healthy.

Nutrients

Vitamin C, A and zinc are required in one way or another for a healthy immune system; so make sure to include peppers, broccoli, green leafy veg, sweet potato, lemons, carrot, seeds, seafood, meat and nuts regularly in your meals.

Vitamin D is a very important immune nutrient. Try to get outdoors in sunlight as much as possible.  Consider a blood test to measure your Vitamin D levels (many of us in the Northern Hemisphere have lower than optimal levels) and supplement accordingly.  I prefer a sublingual version for best absorption.

Ciara’s tip: Vitamin D levels should be at least 50 ng/ml.  If you have an auto-immune condition I would really advise to measure your Vitamin D.

Special mention should go to antimicrobial herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger and turmeric.  The allicin in garlic is a potent antiviral.  It’s best to eat it as raw as possible, so add towards end of cooking, or try a clove crushed and mixed with a tiny bit of manuka honey!

Use ginger, cayenne pepper, cumin, black pepper and turmeric regularly in your cooking; into soups, stir fries, sauces, curries, chillies and so on.  Also consider Echinacea tea, or pick some wild elderberries and make your own anti-viral elderberry syrup (there are tonnes of recipes online.)

Ciara’s tip:  Make homemade ice-pops using elderberry syrup and kefir!

Recipe: Sea Bass With Ginger, Chilli & Spring Onions

Saline nasal rinses can be very effective for clearing congestion and preventing infection, and you can buy these in most pharmacies. I would add just 1 drop of oregano oil to the rinse to act as a natural antibiotic/antiviral.

Sleep

You need to get sufficient sleep for your immune system to function optimally.  A lack of sleep triggers inflammation; at night we release melatonin which is a powerful antioxidant which helps slow the inflammatory process, allowing for a faster recovery when our immune system is low.   Try to be in bed by 10pm, limit screen time (blue light from screens block melatonin production), consider an Epsom salt bath or meditation to help switch off and promote a restful sleep.

Read Next: How To Cope As A Sleep Deprived Parent

Stress

Stress puts a lot of pressure on your immune system.  I know how difficult it can be with young children and busy lives to keep stress levels manageable, but try to not sweat the small stuff, avoid over scheduling your diary and keep some time for relaxation and downtime. If you have a very stressful job, balance this out with gentle, cortisol lowering exercising; such as yoga, pilates or walking. Avoid intense cardio exercise when you are feeling unwell.

Read Next: Give Up Busy For A Happier Life

And of course, don’t forget to wash your (and your kids) hands regularly – viruses and bacteria spread very quickly with human contact.

If you do succumb to a cold or infection take some time out, snuggle up and rest.  Keep warm with plenty of hot drinks and up your intake of the foods above; and get well soon!

N.B. The advice given in this ​article, ​is not intended as a substitute to any recommendations that have been given to you by your doctor, or primary healthcare team.

Ciara Ryan is a nutritional therapist specialising in gastrointestinal issues and hormonal imbalances.  She is based in Drogheda, County Louth and also does consultations over Skype or by phone.  Find out more on www.ciararyannutrition.com or find her on https://www.facebook.com/CiaraRyanNutrition/


About the Author

I'm Ciara Ryan, eumom's Nutritional Expert. I'm a Nutritional Therapist and member of NTOI. I'm also a mother to three sons, age 9, 7 and 2. I'm passionate about the power of nutritional therapy in helping with both prevention of illness and the promotion of optimum physical and mental health and wellbeing.

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