Walk into any health food shop at this time of year and you’ll be bombarded with products claiming to ‘boost your immunity’. Now you may be wondering whether any of it really works. Today, we want to talk a little about the immune system – including the evidence behind vitamins and minerals with immune boosting claims – and what you can do to keep yourself healthy throughout the winter months.
Winter bugs can be particularly challenging for people with cancer.
So, what can you do to support your immune system during winter?
Many nutrients involved in immunity and supplements geared toward immune support often contain the vitamins A, C and D, plus the mineral, Zinc. So, let’s take a closer look at the role of these nutrients in immunity.
Vitamin A is important for the development of immune cells, also for the integrity of the gut lining. The best sources of vitamin A are animal products; eggs, liver, fish and dairy. Many of us rely on foods like carrots, sweet potato and leafy greens for our vitamin A but these foods don’t actually contain Vitamin A, they contain beta-carotene, a pre-cursor which your body must convert into vitamin A. Unfortunately, studies suggest that nearly half of us have a genetic mutation which significantly reduces our ability to complete this conversion. So, unless you’re vegan, we encourage you to regularly include some animal produce in your diet.
Vitamin C has a vitally important role in immunity as it stimulates the production of our white blood cells. Eat plenty of vitamin C rich food, to support your immunity this winter. Think peppers, fresh fruits – especially strawberries – citrus fruits and kiwis. Also, broccoli, brussel sprouts and leafy greens.
Vitamin D is crucial to our immune system and studies show it may play an important role in immunity, specifically against winter flu and upper respiratory infection. We can obtain some vitamin D from food sources including oily fish, shellfish, egg yolk, and mushrooms but our main source is exposure to sunshine. When our sun exposure is reduced, we can run low on vitamin D. Public Health England recommend all adults take a 10 microgram vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter.
Zinc is a mineral which your body uses for fighting off infections. Zinc is important for maintaining the integrity of the gut lining. The best sources include meat, fish and eggs. Plant options include sea vegetables, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms and wholegrains.
So far, we’ve talked a lot about food and its importance in maintaining a healthy immune system, but having a healthy diet is only part of the picture. Equally important is our lifestyle including sleep, rest, stress levels, exercise and social connectedness.
By Janey Twigger, Nutritional Therapist at Penny Brohn UK. Penny Brohn UK is the leading charity in the UK to take an integrated and whole person approach to cancer support. To find out more visit pennybrohn.org.uk or telephone 0303 3000 118.