10 Top Tips for Boosting Your Immune System by Suzanne Laurie, IHS Director

The immune system is made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body. It is a highly evolved series of defences designed to protect us against many of the diseases and regular assaults such as invading organisms, toxins and mutated cells (cancer cells). It is an incredibly complex body system and must constantly be on the look-out for invaders. It also needs a vast array of nutrients and a hefty dose of TLC,  to work efficiently and effectively so here are our top tips for supporting your immune system through the cold and flu season.

  1. Aim to consume 3 portions of oily fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring anchovies) per week. They contain omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA which may help to regulate the immune system. Pumpkin, chia and flax seeds are a good vegetarian alternative and green leafy veg offer some omega 3 fats.
  2. Snack on 1 portion of nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and Brazil nuts) or seeds (Pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax seed) per day. They contain antioxidant vitamins and minerals including vitamin A and E, selenium and zinc, which play a key role in regulating the immune system.
  3. Eat a rainbow. Aim for 5-10 portions of highly coloured fruit and vegetables per day. They contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients which may help to support the immune system. Examples include: dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potato, berries, and beetroot.
  4. Herbs and spices, particularly ginger, garlic, green tea and turmeric, are natures immune boosting medicines! They contain phytochemicals which have a strong regulatory impact on the immune system and have anti-microbial, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
  5. Enjoy daily doses of probiotics, which are incredibly potent immune regulators. You can take a probiotic supplement but good quality food form probiotics often contain more varied strains of bacteria. They can be found in live yoghurt and unpasteurised fermented foods such as tamari, tofu, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and kimchi, unpasteurised cheese, kombucha and kefir.
  6. Indulge in a small glass of red wine (in moderation!). It contains high levels of resveratrol, an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytonutrient.
  7. Experiment with culinary mushrooms. The list of medicinal and health benefits mushrooms provide is lengthy (think: brain booster, hormone helper, antioxidant powerhouse). But most research focuses on their immune boosting properties. However, each mushroom is unique and provides its own distinct health advantages so it’s great to experiment with different types. Try reishi, shitake, chaga and even the good old chestnut mushroom.
  8. Enjoy some calming exercise: Swimming, yoga, brisk walking, Tai Chi. These forms are probably the best for immune support, strenuous exercise can actually supress the immune system.
  9. Sleep and relaxation! Rest and relaxation are essential for immune support. Between 7- 9 hours per night of sleep is recommended. Stress management techniques. Low psychological states such stress, anxiety, depression and grief can supress the immune system. Learning how to cope with stress through mediation, counselling or visualisation is important for long-term immune support.
  10. Get out in the sun. Mounting research confirms that sun avoidance may be at the heart of a large number of health problems. Not only does your body produce vitamin D in response to sun exposure on bare skin, but sunlight also produces a number of other health benefits that are unrelated to vitamin D production. That’s the best excuse for a winter holiday I’ve ever heard!