It’s that time of year again when colds, cold sores and flu can catch you out. You struggle on at work and as soon as you stop at the weekend it hits you. You rush around so much in these busy times that it’s easy to forget to look after your fragile immune system.
Think of it like servicing your car. You do that because otherwise it would be dangerous to drive and it’s against the law to drive a car without an MOT. It’s the same with your body – don’t expect it to keep on running smoothly if you don’t treat it well – and it’s the only one you’ve got so make the most of while it’s well oiled and bits haven’t started to rust and drop off!
Here are twenty tips to help you boost your immune system. You may not want to tackle all of them, but the more the better. Your body will thank you for it.
- Drink plenty of water – avoid getting dehydrated, even in winter when central heating can dry out your skin. This includes fruit juices and herbal teas but too much coffee can make your more dehydrated as it can be a natural diuretic. Don’t drink too much water though, generally, drink when you’re thirsty but make sure you drink at least four glasses of water and cups of tea every day. One way to tell if you’re not drinking enough is to look at the colour of your urine. If it’s dark in colour then you need to drink more water – if it’s sandy yellow and almost clear that’s perfect. If it’s totally clear – you could do with drinking a bit less water.
- Get a good night’s sleep – you should need about seven hours sleep a night, some people need more. If you have eratic sleep patterns or struggle to sleep well this will affect your immune system. Avoid stimulation from computer games, iphones and ipads for at least a few hours before you sleep. Calming herbals teas instead of caffeine drinks and reading a book for a while before bed can all help to ensure you have a good night’s sleep.
- Exercise regularly – this doesn’t mean you have to be pumping iron in the gym or running marathons. Finding the sport or passtime that suits you is what’s important. That could be cycling to work, walking instead of taking the car, taking the stairs instead of the life. Arranging activities with friends that involve some kind of sporting activity, joining a running club or taking up swimming will all help. It doesn’t have to be hours and hours of exercise. Half an hour a day would make a vast improvement.
- Avoid stress – Life can be stressful but try to work out what stresses you out the most; which friends upset you, which jobs do you detest, is your job putting undue pressure on you? It could be anything, and most importantly, can you take some simple steps to reduce that stress? It’s not easy but learning to say ‘no’ when you need to is a valuable lesson. Don’t try to do too much.
- Simplify your life – this is something you could begin working towards but it’s not easy. Make a list of the things you love doing – these are important and should be nurtured and developed. But the things which you hate doing or just don’t see a need to continue with can slowly be removed from your life. It’s easier said than done and could be as simple as looking at your finances, changing suppliers so you’re on the best tarif and stopping receiving the magazine you never read. It could involve decluttering your office and wardrobe. Make time for yourself and spend less time on the stuff that doesn’t help you.
- Vitamins and nutrients – Make sure you are not deficient in any vitamins or minerals in your diet including zinc (found in pumpkin seeds), selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E. A balanced diet should deliver most of your vitamin and mineral requirements but if you’re unsure speak to your local health food shop about a suitable multi-vitamin supplement.
- Supplements – there are many products on the market which claim to boost your immune system so beware and do your research. Find something which works for you. Echinacea is one such supplement that might help, taken as drops in water when you feel rundown, it can really help to boost your immune system back to healthy.
- Garlic – Also one of nature’s immune boosters. Eat plenty of garlic if you have a cold, and use it to season your meals to get the most of this incredible herb.
- Pro and prebiotics – both of these help to maintain healthy gut flora; when this is off balance or becomes unhealthy it can lead to IBS and general poor health, migraines etc. Probiotics are living morganisms such as those found in natural yogurt and prebiotics are non-digestible substances which work to aid digestion. Many different bacteria live in our stomachs so its important to give the healthy ones a helping hand every now and then.
- Digestive enzymes – if you have a food intolerance these can be useful to help you process and digest foods you may be intolerant to. Ask advice from your doctor, dietician or local health food shop and find out which products might be good for you. There are tests you can have done to establish that you have enough stomach acid to digest you food and these also can be taken as supplement if your stomach is found to be low.
- Learn your triggers, limits and needs – this takes time, but you will learn which foods cause different reactions. Allergens obviously need to avoided totally, intolerances understood and managed and any other problem foods managed. Constant mistakes and mild reactions take their toll on your immune system too.
- Give up smoking – smoking is not really good for anything really. I would recommend anyone reading this who has allergies, asthma or eczema should consider giving up smoking. The body trys to eliminate all the horrible chemicals in cigarettes which can never help a problem immune system.
- Maintain a healthy weight – everyone is different, but if you rely too much on processed foods or eat portions that are too large and avoid exercise your weight could start to creep up slowly. This takes a toll on conditions like asthma, allergies and intolerances. An unhealthy body works less effectively. Don’t obsess about your weight but make sure you don’t overeat when you’re stressed, don’t serve up huge portions and eat fruit instead of chocolate snacks. These are just a few ideas but the general idea is a health weight means the immune system can be optimised to reduce allergic and asthma reactions.
- Cut down on alcohol – drink only in moderation. If you’re drinking every night, consider having one or two nights clean of alcohol. Once you’ve managed that, try to go all through the week and just have a drink at weekends. A nice glass of wine is a real treat but too much booze affects your sleeping patterns and strips your body of nutrients and water. It can make your more dehydrated and also adds extra calories to your daily intake.
- Avoid infection – always wash your hands, observe kitchen health and safety and take care when preparing meat etc. Getting ill, catching a cold and getting a tummy bug all give your immuny system a hard time. Generally our immune systems work incredibly well, healing wounds and fighting infection, but you can do small things to minimise your chance of infection by taking basic hygiene steps.
- Visit your doctor or specialist – make sure you keep appointments to the asthma nurse, allergy doctor or just your regular check ups to monitor your blood pressure etc. and always ask questions and share any concerns you have about your health. This may only need to be six monthly or yearly but it’s worth making the effort to make sure you’re in good health. Make sure you have the tests done for someone of your age e.g. smear tests, prostate, cholestorol etc.
- Cut down on processed foods – it’s easy to live on processed foods for pretty much every meal, especially with so many delicious freefrom products coming on the market but beware. Whilst many of these may be healthy, it’s vital to make sure you eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as oily fish; make sure you have a balanced diet and don’t go short of important vitamins and nutrients when you have to avoid certain foods. Freefrom doesn’t always mean healthier!
- Cut out sugar – Sugar has been found to depress immunity and is also one of the worst things for our bodies. Especially white sugar which is highly processed to get it looking lovely and white, just the way we like it. If you have a sweet tooth try things like honey, molasses or fruit purees. It might not be quite the same but if you crave a sugar hit often the chances are you are eating too much of the sweet stuff. Cutting it out can be tough but your body will be healthier for it. Watch out for wine, cider and other alcoholic drinks which can very high in sugar content and calories.
- Cocoa beans – are one of the highests sources of anti-oxidants, which help fight the damage done by free radicals. You could eat a few raw cocoa beans daily and always choose raw cacao chocolate. A few squares of very dark chocolate a day can help if you don’t fancy chewing the raw beans.
- Laughing and support network – Studies show that people who are lonely and have less contact with supportive friends and family have lower immune systems. Some people are happy in their own company but if you feel isolated, take steps to see the friends who support and understand you most, do some volunteering, anything to build up a regular contact with other people. Living with multiple allergies can be very isolating, expecially when you are too frightened to eat out, but don’t shut yourself away. Organise things that don’t involve food like walks, cinema visits, day trips, visit a gallergy. Laughter is very good medicine and it’s free.
So what’s your immune boosting secret? What do you to recharge your batteries and give your immune system a helping hand?