How to boost your immune system in good time for flu season

Already starting to panic about flu season? You’re not alone.

Do you need a flu jab? How can you tell the difference between flu symptoms and coronavirus? How can you boost your immune system ahead of winter?

There has been an intense focus on health and immunity this year thanks to Covid-19 and now everyone’s starting to think about how best to protect themselves for the winter.

‘The immune system is one of the most complex and comprehensive systems in the human body,’ says Mike Wakeman, a clinical pharmacist and ambassador for health food supplement CurraNZ.

‘It’s also one of the most important. It’s the invisible barrier against all sorts of foreign assaults from micro-organisms (fungal infections, bacteria and Covid-19) and allergens (pollens, dust mites and chemicals) that we encounter on a daily basis.’

Our first level of immunity is called the innate immune system and is activated as soon as a disease-causing micro-organism is detected. It can detect invaders such as viruses, bacteria, parasites and toxins and attempt to kill them off, before they can enter the body.

‘Innate immunity is made up of things like skin, the gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory tract. Inside these parts of the body are barriers like mucus, secretion and gastric acid, which try to stop the invaders getting in. The innate system also has immune cells (called macrophages), which are some of the most abundant cells in the human body and specialise in detecting and destroying bacteria and other harmful organisms by engulfing and killing them,’ says Mike.

The second level of protection is called the adaptive immune system, which is activated to enhance the innate system.

‘This is mainly cells called lymphocytes,’ explains Mike. ‘They are a type of white blood cell that have the ability to recognise a unique part of a micro-organism, memorise it and produce specific pathogen-neutralising compounds known as immunoglobulins. So when the body encounters this particular antigen [foreign substance] again it can produce more of the immunoglobulins it knows can kill it. This is the basis of how immunisations and flu jabs work.’

Generally, our immune system does an amazing job of defending us but a recent review in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that ageing, obesity, and inactivity have a negative effect on the immune system.

‘The idea of boosting your immunity sounds like a simple enough process, but it’s not like giving yourself an injection or taking a shot,’ says Mike.

‘You need to think more about optimising your immunity on a daily basis as some vitamins and minerals take longer to generate their effect than others. Vitamin C is water soluble so absorbed straight away, while vitamin D is fat-soluble so is stored in fat cells rather than circulating in the body.

‘Autumn is the best time to think about how to build up immunity for winter and a good quality multi-vitamin is a cheap way to start optimising your protection.’

Spot the signs of a weakened immune system

Don’t wait until you become poorly to start looking after yourself – if you are suffering from any of these problems it’s worth taking stock and taking some extra care, says Mike.

Spot the signs

Cracks in the corner of the mouth

‘This can indicate some aspects of the immune system might be under stress. Vitamins and minerals are vital as they can help to resolve minor issues like this.’

Constant cold symptoms or infection

‘Constant and repeated colds are not only a sign of a weakened immune system, but also place extra demands on immune micronutrient status.’

Wounds take longer to heal

‘Poor healing is a typical symptom of a challenged immune system, and a number of vitamins, such as vitamin C can help improve the skin function.’

Bleeding gums

‘Often poor oral hygiene can be a major challenge to the immune system, so brush your teeth regularly, twice daily and don’t forget to floss.’

Constantly tired and over-stressed

‘Stress can really impact on our immune function, so take time out to look after yourself, get some exercise and relieve stress and exhaustion as much as possible.’

A weakened immune system can be helped with simple diet changes. ‘Most of us are deficient in vitamin D which is produced by the body when we’re exposed to sunshine,’ says Mike.

‘We don’t get enough of it during the summer and definitely not in winter. Oily fish, like pilchards, sardines, mackerel and some salmon are a good source of vitamin D and also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may also help enhance the function of the immune cells.’

Mike is keen to emphasise that lots of what you need to bolster the immune system can be found in food. ‘You should be eating at least five portions of fruit and veg a day,’ he says.

‘Not only do vitamins and minerals optimise the immune system, they have an anti-inflammatory effect too, so if the immune system over-responds, these micronutrients can help resolve the inflammation this causes. These vitamins and minerals also help the body produce anti-bacterial compounds that fight infection within the body while compounds known as polyphenols support immunity.’

So, a healthy diet has never been more important. When teamed with a good quality multi-vitamin you should stand a better chance of fighting off the winter nasties.

Supplements to help boost your immune system

Five of the best supplements to give a helping hand

1. Extra special

Vitabiotics Immunace Extra Protection contain lycopene, resveratrol, astaxanthin, alpha lipoic acid and vit D. £10.15 (30 tablets)

2. Gum deal

Sambucol ImmunoForte Gummies contain black elderberry flavonoids, plus vitamin C, zinc and high levels of antioxidants. Suitable for vegans. £11 (30 gummies)

3. Vit blitz

Urgent-C Everyday Immune Support contains 1,000mg of vitamin C, plus vitamin D, zinc, selenium, beta glucans and elderberry extract which all help the normal function of the immune system. £14.95 (30 sachets)

4. Berry nice

Blackcurrants offer anti-viral and anti-microbial properties to help the body ward off infection. A single capsule of CurraNZ is equivalent to a handful of berries. £21.75 (30 capsules)

5. Sweet Treat

Made with all-natural ingredients and boosted with 100 per cent NRV vitamin D, C and B12, these new Perkier +Immune bars are tasty plant-based snacks to boost immune health. £15.99 (15 bars)

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