You don't need to get your regular dose of a cold this winter - if you take action now, you can help boost your immunity and nip infections in the bud. Your immune system is a powerful defense mechanism against those nasty winter bugs, but it needs your help if it is to work at its best. A poor diet, excessive exercise, lack of sleep or emotional stress can weaken your immunity and make it easier for common winter viruses to take hold. Tune up your immune system with nutritional supplements to keep the bugs at bay.
Supplements to boost your immune system
Humans, apes and guinea pigs are among the few species that cannot make vitamin C. Most other animals, including your pet cat or dog, make vitamin C as required. The amount that animals make varies with body weight; a 70 kg animal is estimated to make from 2,000 mg to 13,000 mg a day under normal conditions, even more when stressed or ill.
Researchers have found that humans actually have the gene to make vitamin C but it has mutated and is now inactive and some researchers believe that this inability to make vitamin C is the cause of our susceptibility to common infections.
However, the dose is everything. Most vitamin C doses used in clinical trials are far too low and that's why people will tell you that it is useless for colds and 'flu. In fact, a recent review of vitamin C trials found that it reduced the incidence of colds by 45-91% in five trials of people who were also very physically active. A careful analysis of thirty trials that used more than 200 mg of vitamin C daily to prevent colds found a consistent benefit and one trial found that taking vitamin C at the onset of symptoms shortened the duration of colds.
Echinacea has been used for centuries to stimulate our immune system. Not only is it able to assist us fighting off a cold, flu, or infection during the acute stage, recent studies* have also found that it assists to raise our long term immune defences, so our body is better able to fight off any infections that might come our way.
Other studies* have found Echinacea to be a potent anti-inflammatory, which may explain one of its benefits on our long term immunity. Echinacea preparations made up of a combination of both the root and aerial parts of the herb, have been found to be the most effective in the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections such as colds. Studies* have shown Echinacea may reduce symptoms and the duration of the common cold.
A number of recent studies* have also demonstrated the preventative action of Echinacea, to reduce the incidence of the common cold. Echinacea has also been found to be helpful in soothing a sore throat.
Cod liver oil:
Your mother might have made you drink it as a child for its vitamin D content, which helps grow healthy bones. You also got, at the same time, a good dose of ready-made vitamin A for your eyes, skin, nails, hair, mucous membranes and your immune system.
During the early part of the twentieth century, cod liver oil was recommended as an 'anti-infective' therapy. Unfortunately for our general health, cod liver oil is out of fashion… the strong fishy taste didn't help its popularity. Taken in capsule form, it is tasteless and easy to swallow and provides concentrated vitamin A, vital for our immune system and the mucous membranes that are part of your defence system.
A deficiency of vitamin A reduces your resistance to infection by reducing T-cell function and antibody production. A bonus in cod liver oil is vitamin D, which works like vitamin A to help the immune response.
Did you know that approximately 70 to 80% of our immune system is located in our gut? Our immune system and gastro intestinal health are closely tied, and so by ensuring we have a healthy gut we are giving our body this best chance to be able to fend off any infections that might come our way.
Probiotics are able to activate the immune system, both at a gut level and a systemic level, and increase the body’s ability to keep infections at bay. If you’ve recently taken a course of antibiotics, a probiotic supplement would be extremely beneficial to help restore any good bacteria in the gut the antibiotics may have killed off. Studies* have found in particular, Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Boulardii) to be beneficial post antibiotic use, to replenish and feed the good bacteria in our gut.
Probiotics such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Boulardii) are also able to be taken at the same time as taking antibiotics, and may support immune health during this time.
Zinc deficiency impairs overall immune function and resistance to infection and supplementation has been shown to boost immunity and decrease the incidence of infection in elderly people. Without zinc you can't make retinol-binding protein, the carrier that takes vitamin A (retinol) from your liver and delivers it to the tissues that need it.
There is evidence that selenium stimulates the immune response. Studies have shown that low levels of selenium may increase the incidence of infection in adults and selenium supplements, even in people who do not appear to be deficient, improves immune function.
Andrographis is an extremely helpful herb for the treatment of colds and flus, as it helps to stimulate our acute immune response and help us to defend a cold or flu. Andrographalide is the main plant chemical of Andrographis, and the herb is best used at the onset of the cold or flu. Those taking it may find Andrographis will help alleviate the symptoms of a cold or upper respiratory tract infection.
It is most appropriately used for conditions such as the common cold, pharyngitis and tonsillitis. Not only is Andrographis a helpful herb for the immune system, it has also been used of centuries in Traditional Ayurvedic Indian medicine for the general wellbeing of the body and to promote good health. It has also been used to an aid to digestion, and for liver support.
Garlic has been used as both a food and a medicine for many centuries, and by many ancient civilisations such as the ancient Egyptians, who used it to increase the ability of their workers to resist infection. The sulphur compounds in garlic have the ability to dispel infection in the body, rendering garlic as an extremely helpful plant medicine for immune conditions.
Garlic can increase the resistance to cold and flu’s, and if you happen to catch the dreaded lurgy, garlic may help to reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms. Traditionally, garlic has been used to treat upper respiratory tract infections, including cough, sinusitis, catarrh, hay fever and mucous congestion. Garlic is an antioxidant, which may also assist in immune system health and support the cardiovascular system.*Braun & Cohen, Herbs & Natural Supplements: an evidence based guide, Elsevier, 4th ed, Vol 2, 2015