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Nutrition

7 Easy Ways To Supercharge Your Immune System

7 Easy Ways To Supercharge Your Immune System
Elle Kelly
Writer and expert2 months ago
View Elle Kelly's profile

A strong, healthy immune system is always important, but especially over the winter months, when colds, flus and other bugs are flying about. Here are seven of the best things you can do during the colder months to help keep illness at bay.

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Tips for Supporting Your Immune System

Maintain a healthy and balanced diet

Supporting your immune system starts with the food on your plate. You want to eat a varied diet full of vitamins and minerals (we’ll delve into specifics later on) and a well-rounded balance of the essential macronutrients — protein, carbohydrates and fats.

Protein, in particular, plays an important role. Evidence shows that a deficiency of amino acids may be connected to impaired immune function and can increase the susceptibility of infections.1 Protein also regulates T-cells, the white blood cells essential for fighting infections.2

If you struggle to meet your protein goals, check out these high-protein recipes for some inspiration.

Stay hydrated

Water is essential for many physiological functions in the body, including the immune system. It is required for the transport of nutrients throughout the body including the movement of immune cells and the removal of waste products.

If you struggle to drink enough water, worry not. Fruit and vegetables contain water. And tea and coffee count, too. You can also try some of these nutritious immune-supporting smoothie recipes.

Don’t sacrifice sleep

Good sleep is linked to many positive health outcomes, and this includes the ability to fend off illness. Poor sleep has been associated with changes to the innate and adaptive immune responses.3 with one study finding that those who had less than seven hours of sleep were almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who got eight hours or more.4 So, make sure to get in plenty of sleep every night.

Be mindful of your alcohol consumption

The effects of excessive consumption of alcohol on the immune system are well established, but you don’t have to be a regular or heavy drinker for alcohol to have an impact on your immune health, as studies have shown that a single drinking session can impact the immune system for up to 24 hours.5

To support your immune health over the winter months, try alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks to reduce your overall intake or try to have several alcohol-free days per week.6

Keep up your exercise routine

It’s not uncommon to lack motivation to exercise when the days are short, dark and cold, regular exercise is not only great for your mental health, but it could also reduce the likelihood of catching a cold as well as the intensity of symptoms.7

Supplements

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is important for the production of immune cells and antibodies, with a deficiency of this vitamin linked with a reduced immune response and increased susceptibility to viral infections.8,9,10

Vitamin B6 is found in many foods including poultry, pork, soya, peanuts, oats, milk and some fortified breakfast cereals.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C supports immune health as it helps to regulate oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Vitamin C deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of infection.11

Evidence has illustrated that regular supplementation of vitamin C can reduce the duration of colds and considering that vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning excess amounts of it are excreted from the body, it is considered safe as a supplement.11,12,13

You can get vitamin C from many fruits and vegetables, including oranges and other citrus fruits, peppers, kiwis, berries and tomatoes.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is well known to support bone health as it enhances the absorption of calcium. However, vitamin D has many important roles related to the immune system too, with a number of studies illustrating that vitamin D supplementation can reduce the risk of contracting colds.14

In the UK and Ireland, it’s recommended that a daily vitamin D supplement of 10ug is taken from October to March due to the limited sunshine during this time.

Vitamin D can be sourced from oily fish like salmon and trout, in fortified breakfast cereals, and certain dairy and plant milks (some organic brands don’t fortify their products so read the labels), and, of course, from sunshine.

Supplements

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Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that also acts as an antioxidant. Interestingly, it is found in higher concentrations in immune cells compared to other cells within the body and is known to play a key role in the regulation of the immune system.15

Deficiencies of vitamin E are rare but it has been demonstrated that this can affect the immune system and inflammation levels within the body, which can affect susceptibility to bacterial and viral infection, particularly in older individuals.15,16,17,18

Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds and oil, almonds, peanuts and nut butters, and in vegetables such as avocado, bell pepper and pumpkin.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that is vital for the function of the immune system and for wound healing. It is important for the production and maintenance of cells including immune cells such as monocytes, macrophages and natural killer cells.19

Zinc supplementation has been linked with a reduced duration of colds.20 One study found that supplementing with over 75mg of zinc once a day within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms significantly reduced the duration of the cold.21

Zinc can be found in red meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, lentils and whole grains.

Magnesium

A review published early in 2023 found that magnesium is essential for optimal immune function and supporting the regulation of inflammation within the body with deficiencies of magnesium leading to temporary or long-term immune dysfunction.22

A balanced diet usually provides sufficient amounts of magnesium and excessive supplementation has been linked to negative impacts on immunity.

Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and in nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains.

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Take home message

If you want to give yourself the best chance of fighting away winter bugs, try your best to stay active, get good sleep, and eat a rounded diet, making sure to get all the essential minerals and vitamins.

Remember that supplements are intended to replace real food, so consider your diet first and how you can get more nutrients in.

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

Elle Kelly
Writer and expert
View Elle Kelly's profile
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