Written by Aida Rejzovic
We all know winter as the cold and flu season, but why do we get sick more often during the colder months? There are several reasons we tend to get sick more often during winter, including less vitamin D from sunshine, seasonal changes in our genes that affect our immune response and an increase in viruses that thrive in cold weather.
With the current global health pandemic, optimizing your immune system has never been more important. So how do you know if your immune system is up to scratch?
3 Signs of a Low Immune System
When your immune system is not functioning at its best, you may feel more tired than usual. While low iron and vitamin B12 may cause fatigue, ongoing feelings of fatigue may be the first indicator that your immune system is on the low side.
Frequent infections and time to recovery
Along with fatigue, frequent infections is one of the most obvious signs of lowered immunity. While getting the odd cold now and then is usual for most people, getting sick frequently is an indication of impaired immunity. Of equal importance of frequency of illness, is how long it takes to recover. If it takes you a week or longer to recover from a simple cold, it is likely your immune system is on the low side.
Slow wound healing
Taking a long time to heal from a simple cut or graze is a good indication that your immune system is not functioning at its best. During the healing process, the body should be able to direct inflammatory cytokines to the site of injury to facilitate healing. Nutrients like zinc and vitamin C are essential for the healing of tissues, and deficiency of these nutrients may lead to a decreased immune response and healing time.
3 Ways to Improve Immunity
Getting a good night's sleep is essential for health, including your immune system. During sleep, the body releases proteins called cytokines. These cytokines play a role in helping the immune system fight off infection when you encounter pathogenic bacteria or viruses. Sleep deprivation may decrease the production of these important cytokines, resulting in an impaired immune response.
Staying active helps to lower your chance of developing chronic diseases, and it may help to boost your immune system by improving the circulation of white blood cells, which are the cells involved in the immune response. Moderate regular exercise is beneficial to maintain health, but it is important not to overdo it. Too much physical exercise can dampen the immune system, so it is important to have a good balance of moderate to high impact physical activity, balanced with rest days or calming activities such as yoga.
Studies reveal that mindfulness meditation may improve the immune response. (1) Regular meditation may boost immune antibodies, which are proteins that form part of the immune system's memory database. Antibodies help the body fight off common bacteria and virus, by recognising the foreign antigen and signalling the body to mount an immune response.
Best immune boosters for adults
Chaga mushrooms have been used medicinally for hundreds of years as an immune tonic and health elixir, and work by stimulating white blood cells to fight off pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Chaga mushrooms are also beneficial for reducing long-term inflammation, which is a known contributing factor to chronic disease and lowered immune system function.
Tumeric has gained popularity over recent years due to its many health benefits and immune-boosting properties. Curcuminoids, which are the active component of the turmeric root, have powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that support the immune system by stimulating the production of immune cells and regulating the inflammatory response.
Omega-3 is an essential fat that is needed for many roles within the body, including supporting the immune response. Deficiency in omega-3 may contribute to a lowered immune system, chronic inflammation, dry skin and poor skin healing and an increase in chronic illness. Omega-3 is found in fish, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and in marine algae such as phytoplankton.
Best immune boosters for kids
Vitamin C is needed to form our skin and mucous membranes, the body's first line of defence. It is also used in regulating the immune cells to defend and attack harmful bugs and virus, making vitamin C is an essential nutrient for immune system function.
Eating a healthy diet rich in vitamin C is important for immune health and general wellbeing, but supplemental vitamin C may be effective during times of illness. Clinical studies have shown a reduction in cold frequency and duration in children after taking vitamin C compared with placebo. (2)
Eucalyptus oil helps clear sinus and chest congestion which is a frequent concern in babies and children. A eucalyptus rub on the chest and soles of the feet helps reduce congestion in children and babies, and a little eucalyptus oil in a vaporiser at night-time helps the clear the airways and aid restful sleep.
Lavender oil is a favourite for children due to its calming and sedative qualities, but lavender is also an antimicrobial and can be used as a surface wipe or room spray to reduce harmful bacteria and support a healthy house biome.
Getting healthy food into children can be challenging, so including superfood powders into their smoothies can be a simple way to boost nutrition and immunity.
Superfoods such as baobab, camu camu, acerola berry, acai berry and spirulina are concentrated in vitamin C along with other important antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that are all involved in a healthy immune response.
- Black DS, Slavich GM. Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016;1373(1):13-24.
- Maggini S, Wenzlaff S, Hornig D. Essential role of vitamin C and zinc in child immunity and health. J Int Med Res. 2010;38(2):386-414.