Winter is typically the season which sees many of us come down with a cold or flu, and as it approaches it is wise to be armed with methods to strengthen our immune system and strive to prevent such ills and chills from taking hold.
A decrease or impairment to even a single facet of immunological function could put one at an increased risk of infection or disease from bacterial, viral, fungal or protozoal origin. Ideally, we need to keep these nasty critters at bay, and this is where the Immune System really comes into it’s own.
In Part 1, we explored the what, why’s and how’s of this sophisticated system to provide a deeper understanding of its great importance in protecting our overall health and wellbeing.
In this second part of our immune system focus, we will explore lifestyle choices we make that might impair immune function, signs to look out for that immunity may be compromised and some easy ways to boost the body’s immune defence back to optimal fighting form.
How can immune function become impaired?
Environmental pollutants and chemicals not only have a negative impact on our overall health and wellbeing but also can reduce efficacy of our immune system. Studies have shown that exposure to pesticides, heavy metals, cigarette smoke, plastics (such as BPA) and other inhaled toxins is associated with increased rates of infection as a result of immune system impairment.
Caffeine, alcohol, artificial flavours and preservatives as well as sugar can all have a dampening effect on immune responses. Sugar’s immunosuppressant effects are strongest 1-2 hours after consumption, but may still have an impact up to 5 hours later. So, even if sugary treats are limited to morning and afternoon tea, the body is vulnerable to pathogenic attack for the majority of the day.
Alternatively, problems may arise from the consumption of foods which are lacking in specific macro and micro nutrients vital to immune function. Deficiencies (both moderate and severe) in dietary nutrients such as protein (amino acids), zinc, iron, selenium, beta-carotene, folic acid and vitamins A, C, D and E suppresses a range of immune functions, thus increasing susceptibility to infection. It is here that the situation may spiral, as infection further aggravates micronutrient deficiency by reducing nutrient intake, increasing loss and impairing utilization of the nutrients by cells.
Other conditions of health where the immune system is under extra pressure to perform include (but not limited to) ageing, chronic stress, diabetes, cancer, obesity and auto-immune disorders. Anti-biotic use may also impede immune function as beneficial bacteria are destroyed as result of treatment.
What are the signs of a weakened immune system?
Commonly presented signs of impaired immune function include:
- Recurrent or frequent infection
- Prolonged recovery time from illness
- Poor wound healing
- Gastrointestinal complaints such as IBS
What can be done to support and strengthen immunity?
Firstly, consider the factors mentioned above which impair immune function.
- Limit exposure to environmental pollutants and toxins as much as possible. The benefits of removing some of the chemicals we are exposed to daily in the form of cleaning products, packaging and food by choosing spray free or organic produce will have benefits to our entire body which extend far beyond supporting immune health alone.
- When it comes to what we are putting into our body, choose fresh, whole foods like fruit and vegetables in varying colours to provide many of the essential vitamins and minerals the immune system requires.
- Good quality essential fatty acids such as those found in flaxseed, hemp seed, algae and fish oils also help in the activation of immune cells as well as being anti-inflammatory.
- Substances such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine, artificial flavorings and preservatives should be limited as much as possible.
A second consideration to overall immune health is our gastrointestinal tract and the resident microbes within it.
The gut bugs of our microbiome have the ability not only to protect the physical barrier of our gut wall, but also aid digestive processes through the liberation of micronutrients from food for absorption as well as being able to influence signaling and coordination of the immune cells from our second and third line defences.
To support our gut bugs, look to include daily consumption of probiotic rich whole foods.
Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms which when consumed in adequate amounts, confer health benefits to the host. Benefits of probiotics upon reducing the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections for example, have been well evidenced in research.
An important part of the probiotic definition is the word ‘live’. We can find living beneficial probiotics in fermented foods such as yoghurt, cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh. Alternatively, a daily supplemental probiotic can support gut and immune health.
Immunity Fuel is the ultimate probiotic formulation which provides multiple live strains of the most extensively researched Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces species, all fermented from natural whole foods.
Finally, evaluating stress is key to looking after the ability of the immune system to function optimally.
Since it is known that stress dampens immune responses, particularly chronic stress, it is important to discover stress management techniques that resonate with you and implement these into daily life.
The trick is to start with small and achievable goals such as practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing each night before bed, a 10-minute guided meditation most mornings or finding some type of creative expression to enjoy each weekend.
The live bacteria in Immunity Fuel may also assist to reduce stress by producing serotonin, or the “happy hormone” in the gut.
In Part 1, and Part 2 of The Immune System, you now have all of the what’s, why’s and how's of this incredible system, and are armed with all the information needed to take charge of your wellbeing to ensure a happy and healthy winter season.
Author: Kate Dalliessi, BNHM (Bachelor of Naturopathic and Herbal Medicine)
Erickson, K. L., Medina, E. A., & Hubbard, N. E. (2000). Micronutrients and Innate Immunity. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 182(Supplement_1), S5–S10. https://doi.org/10.1086/315922
Hechtman, L. (2012). Clinical naturopathic medicine. Chatswood, NSW: Elsevier.
Maldonado Galdeano, C., Cazorla, S. I., Lemme Dumit, J. M., Vélez, E., & Perdigón, G. (2019). Beneficial Effects of Probiotic Consumption on the Immune System. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 74(2), 115–124. https://doi.org/10.1159/000496426
McMurray, D. N. (1984). Cell-mediated immunity in nutritional deficiency. Progress in Food & Nutrition Science, 8(3–4), 193–228.
National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on Immunotoxicology. Biologic Markers in Immunotoxicology. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1992. 5, The Capacity of Toxic Agents to Compromise the Immune System (Biologic Markers of Immunosuppression) Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235670/
Wintergerst, E. S., Maggini, S., & Hornig, D. H. (2007). Contribution of Selected Vitamins and Trace Elements to Immune Function. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 51(4), 301–323. https://doi.org/10.1159/000107673
Zhang, H., Yeh, C., Jin, Z., Ding, L., Liu, B. Y., Zhang, L., & Dannelly, H. K. (2018). Prospective study of probiotic supplementation results in immune stimulation and improvement of upper respiratory infection rate. Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology, 3(2), 113–120. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.synbio.2018.03.001