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Natural ways to boost your immune system

by Elizabeth Hartland [email protected]

Elizabeth Hartland has a Bachelor of Science Degree in nutrition, together with a Diploma from the Institute of Nutritional Therapy. She is married with two young children and has a passion for good nutrition and helping others to find better health. This is the third in a series of monthly articles on nutrition.

What is a cold?

The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract that can be caused by one of around 200 different types of virus. The resulting symptoms, which include fever, coughing, sneezing, tiredness, headaches, nasal congestion, watery eyes and sore throat, are a result of the body’s attempt to rid itself of the virus.

Viruses can be spread directly from person to person by coughing or sneezing or by direct hand-to-hand contact. You can also pick up the virus from inanimate objects, such as door handles or lift buttons, by way of indirect transfer from the sufferer’s hands onto such surfaces where the virus can live for several hours.

You then come along and touch the same surface, rub your eyes or nose and catch the cold. That is why it is important to wash your hands frequently during the cold and flu season.

Colds should occur no more than twice a year, be short lived, and be encouraged to take their course. Young children, however, may have as many as nine colds a year because their immune systems are not fully operational and they have not built up an immunity against the common strains of the cold virus that are in circulation.

How does the immune system work?

The immune system protects us against invading foreign substances such as bacteria, viruses, chemicals, dust and pollen. In a healthy individual, the immune system is highly effective.

Only when it is compromised is it more open to infection. In such individuals colds and other infections may become a regular occurrence with symptoms persisting over periods of weeks or even months resulting in chronic tiredness and weakness.  

There are two main parts to the body’s defences:

Non-specific immunity: This part of the immune system attacks everything ‘foreign’ that it comes into contact with. There are many different aspects to this part of the immune system all working together to help protect the body.

They include: the skin, providing a barrier against invading micro-organisms; the stomach, secreting a strong acid which is a powerful weapon against the bacteria in the food you eat; the hairs in the nose help to stop bacteria getting into the body by trapping particles in the air we breathe.

If an invader gets passed these barriers, anti-microbial chemicals in the blood, such as interferon, come into play and white blood cells called phagocytes engulf and destroy infected and damaged cells.

An infection will often trigger an inflammatory response i.e. the tissues will become red, hot and swollen. This response helps to protect the body by bringing more blood flow to the affected area, increasing the number of white blood cells available to fight the infection. Fever also helps the body to overcome infection by inhibiting the growth of the invading micro-organism.

Therefore, unless a fever goes above 40°C or 102°F (when a doctor should be consulted), it should be encouraged and not suppressed.

Specific immunity: When an invader manages to get passed these non-specific defences, the body’s internal defences come into play. This involves the production of either cell or antibody-mediated immunity. Cell-mediated immunity involves the production of white blood cells called T cells.

These cells begin a complex process of enlarging, multiplying and forming specialised cells to mount an attack against the invader. Antibody-mediated immunity involves the production of another type of white blood cells called the B cells.

When these cells are activated they secrete antibodies which recognise a specific invader and nothing else.

The immune system is capable of producing a number of antibodies which act as a specific response to a particular disease or antigen (a foreign protein against which the immune cells act).

Should the same germ ever come back−even years later−then the appropriate antibodies quickly go into action. It is because of this ability to ‘remember’ that you can be immunised against certain diseases with vaccinations.

Maintaining a healthy immune system

The secret for protecting yourself against infections such as colds and flu is to ensure that your immune system is kept good and strong.

The efficiency of the immune system is intimately related to what we eat, the exercise we take and our mental state of mind. This means that lifestyle modifications can be very effective in boosting immune efficiency.

An immune boosting diet should include:

• Beverages

Herbal and fruit teas, fresh fruit and vegetable juices, filtered or bottled water

• Eggs

Poached or soft boiled

• Fish

Fresh, oily or white fleshed, baked or broiled.

• Fruit

Fresh, organic, raw, or stewed−especially watermelon, oranges and kiwi fruit.

• Grains

Whole grain cereals (e.g. rye, oats, buckwheat, Quinoa, millet), brown rice.

• Nuts

Almonds, Brazil, all fresh, raw

• Oils

Cold pressed oils (olive, sesame, flaxseed)

• Proteins

Organic chicken and fish (oily and white)

• Seasonings

Herbs, garlic, onions, rosemary, parsley, marjoram, ginger.

• Seeds

Sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, flaxseed

• Soups

Made from raw ingredients

• Sprouts

Beans, mung, pea and lentil

• Sweets

Black Strap molasses

• Vegetables

All fresh raw, and steamed−especially carrots, beetroot, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and bean sprouts.

With the moderation or avoidance of:

• Additives

All foods with artificial colouring, preservatives and sweeteners.

• Dairy produce

Milk, cheese, cream

• Drinks

Those with sugar or caffeine (i.e. tea, coffee and  chocolate), alcohol.

• Fats

All fried foods, saturated fats, including red meats, butter,margarine, hydrogenated products.

• Processed foods

Meats (sausages, burgers, ham, bacon, pate, pies), cereals

• Weetabix, Cornflakes, Rice Crispies etc), ready meals.

• Non Organic food

All foods sprayed with pesticides, fertilisers and organophosphates.

• Water

Tap or unfiltered water.

• Large meals

Big meals tend to disable the

immune system.

Exercise, moderate and regular (30 to 45 minutes a day), is also an important way to keep the immune system in shape.

Emotions have been shown to have an effect on our immune system. Studies show that getting angry for just five minutes can induce weakness in the immune system which can be detected a full six hours later.

On the other hand, positive emotions such as joy and love can boost immune function. Relaxation techniques and medication have also been shown to increase immunity. Keeping a positive mental attitude and taking time out to relax and unwind can help to keep the immune system in shape.

To book an appointment, please contact Elizabeth Hartland on 282427652, 916384029 or [email protected]

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