A sore throat, runny nose, and cough are signs that your immune system needs extra support. As your biggest defence against viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders, taking steps to strengthen your immunity is critical to your overall health and well-being.
Your immune system is influenced by a number of factors, such as age, genetics, stress, sleep, and diet. Here are five important tips to help support it:
1. Eat Real Food
Your immune system depends on a steady intake of nutrients. Indulge in whole foods such as in-season fruits and vegetables, non-refined grains (quinoa and brown rice), and healthy fats and proteins (beans, wild fish, nuts, and seeds). When possible, incorporate ingredients with immune supportive effects into your everyday diet, including:
- Raw honey
- Coconut oil
- Green tea
Overconsuming sugar, processed foods, and alcohol can lower normal immune function and deplete important nutrients, so it’s best to keep your intake to a minimum. In some cases, supplementing with key vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, vitamin C, and zinc can provide additional support.
2. Address Nutrient Deficiencies
A big part of supporting healthy immune function is correcting possible nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamins A, D, C, and zinc. Maintaining adequate levels of these micronutrients is an important part of protecting your overall health. Here’s why:
Vitamin A has multiple roles in immune function. It helps keep up the integrity of mucous membranes lining the respiratory and digestive tracts so they are able to keep pathogens out. Vitamin A is also involved in the formation of white blood cells and in regulating their activity.
Vitamin D is needed in sufficient amounts to support innate immunity and the body’s defence against microorganisms. It is essential to overall respiratory health and has been shown to reduce the incidence of respiratory tract infection when taken regularly as a supplement. Vitamin D is believed to work by stimulating protective white blood cells, such as macrophages and T cells, and by triggering the activity of antimicrobial proteins when necessary.[3,4]
Vitamin C is one of the well-recognized nutrients for supporting immune function. We rely on vitamin C to help stimulate the production and activity of white blood cells and other proteins that help fight off viral infections, as well as for defending the body against oxidative stress from free radicals. Vitamin C is also involved in connective tissue formation, wound healing, and nutrient metabolism.
Vitamin C is not produced by the body and needs to be consumed daily in adequate levels. While most people can fulfill their needs by eating a few servings of fruit and vegetables per day, supplementation at higher doses has been found to boost the body’s defence against upper respiratory tract infections.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that we need to consume daily in small concentrations to stay healthy. This is because zinc is a catalyst for many of the biochemical processes in the body, most notably those involving wound healing and immune function. When you don’t consume enough zinc it leaves you more susceptible to viral and bacterial pathogens. Supplementation has been shown to shorten the duration of cold symptoms by more than two days, as well as increase white blood cell levels in people who are deficient.[8,9]
Eating a nutritious diet that includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives is the first step toward preventing nutrient deficiencies. Some people may also benefit from supplementing with a high-potency multivitamin and mineral complex or a specific immune support formula, such as Chewable Vitamin C + D3 from Webber Naturals. Each delicious, natural orange-flavoured tablet contains 500 mg of vitamin C and 500 IU of vitamin D3 for added antioxidant and immune system support.
3. Include Probiotics in Your Diet
Did you know that a large portion of your immune system is in your digestive tract? For this reason, it makes sense that probiotics, which are essential for promoting a favourable gut flora and supporting gastrointestinal health, can also regulate immune responses. Certain probiotic strains, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also help manage and reduce the risk of diarrhea after antibiotic use.
You can support your intestinal microbiota by incorporating probiotic foods into your daily meals and snacks. Delicious choices include:
Some children and adults may also benefit from taking a standardized probiotic supplement that provides more customized support. Speak to your health care practitioner to help decide which probiotic strains are most suitable for your needs.
4. Get a Good Night’s Sleep With Melatonin
Did you know that getting fewer than seven hours of sleep can increase your risk of developing a cold by nearly three-fold? Establish a sleep routine with sleep-promoting strategies, such as:
- Going to bed and waking up on schedule
- Sleeping in a cool, dark room
- Avoiding all electronics before bedtime
- Cutting back on caffeine and alcohol
- Exercising early in the day
For more information on how to get a better night’s sleep, see 5 Tips to Get a Better Night’s Sleep.
5. Use Natural Health Products that Support Immunity
Certain herbs and natural health products can be used to further support your immune system and overall good health. Echinacea and quercetin are two fantastic options:
Echinacea is a well-known herbal medicine used to relieve symptoms and shorten the duration of upper respiratory tract infections. The effects of echinacea are due to the synergistic activity of active ingredients, such as alkylamides, polysaccharides, and cichoric acid.[12,13]
Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in many plant foods, such as apples, red onions, and capers. It is an important dietary antioxidant that helps defend against oxidative stress and helps the body use vitamin C to support immunity.[14,15,16] Taking quercetin as a standardized supplement, such as Quercetin 500 mg easy-to-swallow vegetarian capsules from Webber Naturals, provides a much higher concentration and consistent daily intake than you would get from relying on food sources alone.
Speak to your physician to determine which natural health products are most suitable for you and your family’s needs.
Supporting your immune system with well-rounded nutrition, probiotics, good sleep habits, and natural health products creates a solid foundation for overall health. You can further support your immune system year-round by:
- Resting when you are unwell
- Washing your hands often
- Staying hydrated
- Managing stress levels
- Incorporating regular physical activity into your lifestyle
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
Germs and pathogens are all around us, but it’s how your body deals with them that counts. Supporting your immune system is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of infection and keep your health on track without the set-back of a cold or flu.
- Czarnewski P, Da S, Parigi SM, et al. Retinoic Acid and Its Role in Modulating Intestinal Innate Immunity. Nutrients. 2017; 9(1):68.
- Mora JR, Iwata M, von Andrian UH. Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage. Nat Rev Immunol. 2008; 8(9):685-98.
- Martineau AR, Jolliffe DA, Hooper RL, et al. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ. 2017; 356L:i6583.
- Hughes DA, Norton R. Vitamin D and respiratory health. Clin Exp Immunol. 2009; 158(1):20-5.
- Hemila H. Vitamin C and infections. Nutrients. 2017; 9:330.
- Ran L, Zhao W, Wang J, et al. Extra dose of vitamin C based on a daily supplementation shortens the common cold: A meta-analysis of 9 randomized controlled trials. Biomed Res Int. 2018:1837634.
- Shankar AH, Prasad AS. Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998; 68:447S-63S.
- Barnett JB, Dao MC, Hamer DH, et al. Effect of zinc supplementation on serum zinc concentration and T cell proliferation in nursing home elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. *Am J Clin Nutr. *2016; 103(3):942-51.
- Wang MX, Win SS, Pang J. Zinc supplementation reduces common cold duration among healthy adults: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials with micronutrients supplementation. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2020; 103(1):86-99.
- Santé Canada. Produit de santé naturel – Probiotiques. En ligne. Accessible au : http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=probio&lang=fra [Consulté le 15 janvier 2019]
- Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Alper CM, et al. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Arch Intern Med. 2009; 169(1):62-7.
- Santé Canada. Monographie : Echinacea purpurea. En ligne. Accessible au : http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=80 [Consulté le 15 janvier 2019].
- Hudson JB. Applications of the phytomedicine echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) in infectious diseases. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2012; 2012:769896.
- Costa LG, Garrick JM, Roquè PJ, et al. Mechanisms of neuroprotection by quercetin: Counteracting oxidative stress and more. *Oxid Med Cell Longev. *2016:2986796.
- Askari G, Ghiasvand R, Feizi A, et al. The effect of quercetin supplementation on selected markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. J Res Med Sci. 2012; 17(7):637-41.
- Heinz SA, Henson DA, Austin MD, et al. Quercetin supplementation and upper respiratory tract infection: A randomized community clinical trial. Pharmacol Res. 2010; 62(3):237-42.