I have always loved living in South Africa purely because I love the warmer months and I would never survive in a cold snowy country, but even with our warmer weather we are not excused from the occasional cold or flu. In fact I think most South Africans get sick at many times all year through.
Too often people ask how best to treat the common cold and with everything else in our busy lives we’re looking for an ASAP (as soon as possible) solution. The best solution is ‘training”, so how do we go about strengthening our immune systems?
WHAT IS THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Our immune system is that misunderstood army of cells in our bodies that try to protect us from all the bad germs out there and in case we do get sick, the immune system will fight off the invaders. But too often our immune system is weakened by the stressful lives we live and we end up with sniffs and sneezes every other week.
So how do we ‘train’ the immune system? Easy, by eating the right foods! Your immune system is dependent, but not solely, on a good intake of vitamin and minerals such as Vitamin A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C, E, FOLIC acid, selenium and zinc. Let’s take a closer look at these nutrients:
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that is crucial for immune defence. It has been shown in studies to help protect against diseases such as measles and other viral infections. Vitamin A helps to keep your front line of defence; which is your stomach lining, lungs and cell membranes; healthy to prevent viruses and bacteria from entering the body. In addition Vitamin A is a good antioxidant that helps to neutralise the free radicals produced by foreign agents such as those produced from smoking, pollution, etc.
The B-Vitamins often work together in a team known as the B complex. B complex play several different roles in the immune system such as: Vitamin B2 enhances resistance to bacterial infections, Vitamin B6 and B12 helps to make and mature different types of T and B cells important in the immune response and Vitamin B9, better known as folic acid, also plays a critical role in developing and maintaining the immune system.
Vitamin C is our super hero nutrient. How often have you been told to eat an orange when you have a cold? This is not an old wives tale. Citrus fruits contain great amounts of Vitamin C. To date more than a dozen immune boosting roles of vitamin C have been identified such as helping to mature immune cells, improve the performance of immune cells and it in itself can kill viruses and bacteria. In addition, Vitamin C is an antioxidant and can detoxify toxins produced by bacteria.
Getting some sunshine can increase your Vitamin D. Researchers have found that vitamin D, which is produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight, signals an antimicrobial response to the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis. Thus, vitamin D may have a similar ability to fight off other diseases and by making sure you have enough, should certainly be beneficial.
Vitamin E is an all-rounder. It improves B-and T-cell function and is a powerful antioxidant. Its immune boosting power increases when given with selenium.
Selenium, iron, manganese, copper and zinc are minerals that are all involved in neutralising those nasty free radicals and have all been shown to positively affect immune power. Of these, selenium and zinc, are probably the most important. Zinc is needed in the rapid production of immune cells and necessary for the proper function of these cells. Zinc is often used in creams for skin infections. Studies have shown that Iron deficiency can weaken the immune system.
Fats can also make your immune system stronger. I mean specifically omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 and 6 help the immune system to balance its’ anti-inflammatory, pro-inflammatory responses which are necessary in disease and injury protection.
Before you run out and buy an expensive multivitamin though, consider that these above nutrients are better absorbed by the body as part of a food. The best way to get all these lovely immune boosters is through a healthy, complete and balanced diet. Eating a variety of foods including 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables can help you get all these nutrients.
So the best way to avoid those colds or to get better sooner is to make sure your immune army is well equipped. Stock up on your vitamins and minerals so that when the chilly weather brings invaders, your body can win the battle.