The immune system prevents infections taking hold, and helps overcome those that do. It also catalogues infectious organisms so that the body is better equipped to fight them if they’re ever encountered again. The components of the immune system range from simple barrier defences (for example the tiny hairs and mucus secretions of the nostrils) to sophisticated cells that recognise and engulf invading organisms.
- Poor immunity may cause:
- Increased susceptibility to infections (e.g. Colds and flu)
- Difficulty resolving or overcoming infections – for example, cold symptoms that are difficult to shake, or infected wounds that are slow to heal
- A general feeling of being unwell or run-down
- Repeated or particularly virulent infections may dampen the immune response, leaving us vulnerable to secondary infections (e.g. bacterial sinusitis that develops as a complication to a cold)
- Deficiencies of vitamins A, C or E, or the minerals iron, zinc or selenium
- Elderly or frail people may also be more prone to catching bronchitis, colds, flu and other infections, especially if their nutritional status is poor
- Children are more susceptible to respiratory and other infections as their immune systems are still maturing
- Stress,depression and fatigue can deplete immune health, as can cause weight problems.
- Smoking, drinking alcohol and using recreational drugs may all compromise immune health
- Some medications decrease immunity as part of their therapeutic actions (e.g. chemotherapy)
- Some health problems are associated with depleted immunity, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, leukaemia, glandular fever and chronic fatigue syndrome
Nutritional & Herbal Support
- Echinacea has been scientifically proven to enhance immunity, and may help reduce the severity and duration of infections. It is specifically indicated for individuals suffering from repeated bouts of colds and flu, bronchitis, sinusitis and other respiratory infections
- Vitamin C supports immunity, and can help reduce the severity and duration of respiratory tract infections such as colds and flu, as well as helping to build resistance to other recurrent infections, such as cystitis. It is best taken with bioflavonoids, which enhance the absorption and utilization of vitamin C
- Zinc has many roles in the immune system, and inadequate intake may lower resistance to infection. Supplementation may be particularly beneficial for older people, because the ability to absorb zinc declines with age
- Olive leaf has antibacterial and antiviral properties. It has traditionally been used to relieve the symptoms of respiratory infections, and is considered especially useful when fever is present. Look for a product providing 5000 mg of organic olive leaf extract, standardised to contain 100 mg of the active component oleuropein
- Garlic has potent antibiotic and immune-boosting properties, and has traditionally been used to relieve mucus congestion and other symptoms of respiratory infection, and to fight bacterial and fungal infections like sinusitis, candida and tinea. Look for a product containing the equivalent of 3 g of fresh garlic bulb. Parsley is sometimes taken at the same time to reduce the odour of garlic
- Vitamin A is important for the healthy functioning of the respiratory mucous membranes, which help prevent infectious organisms entering the body. It is specifically indicated for bronchitis and sinusitis. Cod and halibut liver oils are naturally rich sources of vitamin A
- If you are susceptible to recurrent infections, take a multivitamin that’s been specially formulated to promote immunity. Look for a product combining a broad spectrum of nutrients with immune-boosting herbs such as olive leaf, andrographis, echinacea, Siberian ginseng, and shiitake mushroom
Diet & Lifestyle advice
- Severe, persistent or recurrent immunity problems may be indicative of underlying disease, and require medical investigation
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and their juices to ensure you are getting enough vitamin C, betacarotene (some of which is converted into vitamin A in the body) and bioflavonoids
- Base your diet on whole grains, high quality sources of protein (legumes, fish, poultry and meat) and plenty of vegetables (especially onions and garlic, which have antimicrobial properties)
- Most people need 7-8 hours sleep each night in order for their immune systems to function optimally. Try to stick to a regular routine, even on the weekends, and sleep in a comfortable, well-ventilated room
- Practicing good hygiene helps prevent the spread of infection. Wash your hands carefully, always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and dispose of used tissues thoughtfully
- Learn and practice meditation or relaxation techniques in order to improve your ability to cope with stress.
- Don’t smoke
If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional. Information provided is of a general nature and should not replace that of your healthcare professional.