It’s well established that there is a connection between seasonal changes and challenges to immune health.1 The average immune system does a pretty great job of defending against daily assaults – but between the change in season, packed public transport, stress, busy offices and shopping centres, even having small children who pick up bugs from school and day care, it’s no wonder that more and more people are considering how to give their immune system that extra boost in performance.
Vitamin C is the first thing we tend to reach for when we feel a cold coming on, but there is evidence to suggest that to further support your immune health we should also be including vitamin D and zinc for more comprehensive immune support.2 The immune system is a complex system that requires a variety of different nutrients to work optimally.
If a sore throat, cough and other mild upper respiratory symptoms are the main concern, consider the use of the herbs thyme, andrographis and marshmallow root– these are time-tested and are traditionally used in western herbal medicine (WHM) to soothe the throat and provide relief from cough, while echinacea is a popular herb traditionally used in WHM to support healthy immune function.3,4
The immune system encompasses the whole body, but did you know that 70% of it resides in the gut?5 With the ever-evolving information about the importance of the gut for our overall health, it stands to reason that probiotics play a role in supporting immunity.6 It’s not the first thing we tend to think of taking when we begin to feel under the weather – but perhaps that should change!
Some daily habits that help to ensure you and your family have the best chance of staying healthy through the seasonal changes includes:
- Ensure you’re eating a balanced diet. This is as simple as eating five serves of fruit and vegetables daily and including a variety of whole grains, healthy fats and protein at each meal. Following these basic (but important!) guidelines helps ensure you receive a range of essential vitamins and minerals to support your immune system.7
- Reducing stress. Too much stress increases the hormone cortisol, which can suppress the immune system.8 Stress reduction techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or other activities you enjoy can have a positive impact on your immune system.
- Practicing good hygiene habits – wash hands thoroughly, avoid touching your mouth, eyes or face, dispose of used tissues in a closed bin, and ensure you sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow or a tissue (not your hands!).
- Stay hydrated.7 It sounds so simple, but its importance is sometimes underestimated. Drinking plenty of water, including in the form of non-caffeinated herbal tea, helps cells to do their job and keep you healthy, as well as aiding in the removal of toxins from the body.
- Castro Dopico X, Evangelou M, Ferreira RC, et al. Widespread seasonal gene expression reveals annual differences in human immunity and physiology. Nature Communications 2015;6: 7000.
- Rondanelli M, Miccono A, Perna S. Self-care for common colds: the pivotal role of vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc and echinacea in three main immune interactive clusters (physical barriers, innate and adaptive immunity) involved during an episode of common colds – practical advice on dosages and on the time to take these nutrients/botanicals in order to prevent or treat common colds. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2018; 2018:5813095.
- Braun L, Cohen M. Herbs and natural supplements: an evidence-based guide, 2nd Edition. Marrickville: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2007.
- Hechtman L. Clinical naturopathic medicine 2nd Edition. Sydney: Elsevier, 2019.
- Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, et al. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol 2008;153(1):3-6.
- Ozen M, Kocabas Sandal G, Dinleyici EC. Probiotics for the prevention of pediatric upper respiratory tract infections: A systematic review. Expert Opin Biol Ther. 2015;15(1):9-20.
- National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, 2017. Accessed 25th March 2020 from https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-guide-healthy-eating
- McLeod S. Stress, illness and the immune system. Simply Psychology, 2010. Accessed 25th March 2020 from https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html