Optimising Your Immunity

Your immune system consists of a complex collection of cells, processes, and chemicals that constantly defends your body against invading pathogens, including viruses, toxins, and bacteria.  As you may have already heard mentioned, 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, so of course optimising gut health is of utmost importance.  There are also a number of foods and vitamins that can really boost immunity.  Let's talk about a few here....

Garlic: This pungent member of the onion family contains several compounds—including allicin—that have antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. Garlic can boost your immune system throughout the cold and flu season. Plus, garlic is an excellent natural blood thinner, helps to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, and may protect the blood vessels from developing atherosclerosis.

Ginger - Ginger is filled with immune-boosting benefits, making it one of my top “go to” ingredients in many of my healthy recipes. First off, ginger is antibacterial so it helps support the immune system and it can help to prevent nausea and soothe an upset stomach. Ginger is also a natural blood thinner and contains a phenolic anti-inflammatory compound called gingerol that may be responsible for relaxing blood vessels. I add both garlic and ginger to many of my dinners for the family, especially in winter. 

Manuka - manuka honey encourages activation of certain types of immune cells, which can add an extra line of defence come cold and flu season. Manuka honey has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties.  I love a honey, ginger and lemon hot drink in the mornings!

How about a few vitamins and minerals now to help boost immunity?

Zinc - Zinc is a mineral that's important to the body in many ways. Zinc keeps the immune system strong, helps heal wounds, and supports normal growth. Zinc helps fight infection and heal wounds.  Around 25-50 mg is what most people need as it's hard to get enough through food alone.  However, it can be found in pumpkin and sunflower seeds, oysters, chicken, beef, turkey and ginger root. 

Vitamin C - Vitamin C stimulates neutrophils, (white blood cells) to move to any site of infection, and supports a healthy barrier agains pathogens in the body. How fortunate we are to live in the "fruit bowl of NZ" here in the Bay. The obvious food sources include: oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, feijoas, kiwifruit, grapefruit and berries such as strawberries and cranberries. Did you know broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, red capsicum, kale, tomatoes and parsley are rich too? So, while some of these foods are coming into season load up and if you have several trees in your garden, (like me) then share with your community. Let's boost our Vitamin C and protect our immune systems!

Vitamin D - Vitamin D is known to boost immune cells production of microbe fighting proteins in the body, so in other words it's another line of defence. Good food sources include: eggs, mushrooms, tuna, salmon, cheese and Cod Liver Oil, (if you can stomach it).

Probiotic - A recent study has found that our modern lifestyle, diet and overuse of antibiotics are causing an increasing disruption of the gut microbes that are the basis of our immune system.

Because our intestines are inside our bodies, most people don’t realise that it forms a protective barrier between our bloodstream and the external world. What’s inside your gut is actually “outside” your body.  

The gut has to deal with the pathogens in everything you ingest and therefore needs to have an effective immune system in place to ward off attacks and prevent illness.

Boosting the action of the immune cells are certain strains of gut flora that prevent pathogens from being absorbed. This is why it is so important to have colonies of “good” bacteria in the gut. In fact, without the right balance of gut flora your body cannot maintain good health.

When the integrity of the gut is compromised, it can lead to a “leaky gut”, which means that the body is no longer protected against “invaders” like undigested food, gluten and bacteria which have passed through the “holes” in the gut lining.

A leaky gut gives rise to food intolerances which can eventually lead to autoimmune conditions and other problems.

There are other specific steps that can improve gut-related immunity:

  • Eating probiotic foods containing Acidophilus, L. casei and L. rhamnosus (kombucha, kefir, kimchi, probiotic yogurt, miso, sauerkraut)

  • Increasing fibre intake

  • Increasing Omega-3 fatty acids and decreasing the levels of Omega-6 in the diet

  • Moderate amounts of exercise

  • Enough sleep

  • Lowering stress levels

So, now that the cold weather is beginning to creep in, let's think about boosting our immune system to protect us this winter from all the nasties out there. 

I"ll leave you with this concoction that I like to make should myself or someone in my family begin to feel a bit ill:

Witches Brew (for congestion/colds/coughing)

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup ginger juice

1 cup of liquid honey

1 cup of apple cider vinegar

5 cloves garlic (add more if you can)

mix together in the food processor, put in a glass jar with a screw top lid and leave in fridge for 1 week before using.

take 1 tsp in a glass of warm water or juice before breakfast on an empty stomach