A-Z of Immune Support

Your immune system is a network of organs, tissues, and cells that work together to keep you healthy by fighting off harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Your immune system acts as an interface between your body and the things you encounter (germs, bacteria’s etc) that can make you sick.

When your immune system is compromised, it’s like tearing down a wall that would otherwise help to keep the germs at bay.

Diet, environmental and lifestyle choices can all compromise your immune system and lead to frequent illnesses, such as the common cold and flu, as well as more serious infections and diseases.

The A-Z list below highlights various food, nutrients and lifestyle strategies that can all help you to strengthen your immune system and prevent illness.

A Vitamin A supports the structural and functional integrity of our innate barriers such as our skin and our respiratory tract and it’s also important for the normal function of innate immune cells including natural killer cells and has an anti-viral action in the body.


B Bone broth makes a great winter staple that can be enjoyed as a healing soup or an addition to casseroles. The long cooking time of bone broth (24-48 hours) breaks down cartilage and tendons resulting in the release of anti-inflammatory compounds that have the ability to calm an overactive immune system.  Bone broth contains gelatine which is essential for connective tissue which helps to heal the gut.  Bone broth also contains other essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.  Ensure you use organic bones.


C Vitamin C stimulates our white blood cell production, function and movement and supports antimicrobial and natural killer cell activity. It helps the body to clear spent immune cells from the sites of infection as well as promoting collagen synthesis which helps support the integrity of our tissues and barriers.


D Vitamin D stimulates our white blood cell proliferation and inflammatory response. It increases differentiation of our white cells and releases anti-microbial proteins which directly kill pathogens and bacteria’s.


E Exercise stimulates the movement of the lymphatic fluid through the lymphatic system.  The lymphatic system is a collection of glands and cells that carry excess fluids to the bloodstream and filter pathogens from the blood.  Lymphatic fluid is not actively pumped by the heart and requires muscular contractions from movement and exercise move it around the body to lymph nodes.


F Fish oils boost the activities of white blood cells and has anti-inflammatory properties.  Studies have shown that diets higher in Omega 3 fatty acids show a down regulation of inflammatory cell signals whereas diets higher in Omega 6 fatty acids show an increase.  This reduction of inflammation is helpful in the management of auto-immune diseases.  The anti-inflammatory action of fish oils helps to balance an overactive immune system and is helpful in the treatment of many chronic illnesses.  Studies have found that regular fish oil consumption reduces the risk of wheeze, asthma and respiratory infections.
G Ginger, a great herb that can be add to soups, stews, stir fries and slow cooked meals for added flavour but also has significant antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory potential. Ginger reduces inflammation and increases circulation, soothes digestive discomfort.


H Horseraddish. If you’ve ever had a good hit of wasabi, you’ll know how it clears the nose and sinuses.  Horseraddish helps to clear thick, stubborn mucous from the sinuses and may help to shorten the duration and reduce the severity of common cold symptoms.


I Infrared Sauna causes a rise in core body temperature.  This artificially induced fever mimics the body’s natural defence mechanisms, stimulating the production of white blood cells which assist the body in fighting infections.  Sweating helps to eliminate toxins and waste which increases overall health and resistance to disease.


J Just joking – studies have found that laughter reduces stress and improves natural killer cell activity.  Low natural killer cell activity is linked to decreased disease and increased morbidity.  Laugh regularly.  Spend time with friends and family who make you laugh, watch a funny movie, find a way to laugh at your own situations.


K Kimchi, a traditional food of South Korea, is a spicy pickled vegetable dish of cabbage, scallions and radishes combined with garlic, chilli, ginger and left to ferment.  Because Kimchi is fermented it contains probiotics, in particular the lactobacillus bacteria which is helpful in maintaining healthy bacterial balance in the gut.  A healthy gut is strongly associated with a healthy immune response.


L Lemons are a great source of vitamin C, a natural antioxidant that improves the immune system and has antiviral and antibacterial properties.  Try a warming drink of hot water with sliced or juiced lemon, sliced/grated ginger and turmeric and a drizzle of honey.


M Meditation. Psychological stress triggers a fight-or-flight response, prompting the release of stress hormones in various parts of the body, which ultimately disturbs the gut bacteria. In the absence of stress, a healthy microbiota produces short-chain fatty acids that exert anti-inflammatory and antitumor effects. During stress, an altered gut microbial population affects the regulation of neurotransmitters mediated by the microbiome and gut barrier function. Meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and maintaining a healthy gut-barrier function.


N Natural. We know that preservatives and additives in packaged foods aren’t supportive of good health.  However, did you know that preservatives and additives damage immune cells and weaken the gut resulting in leaky gut.  Preservatives and colorings may also interrupt sleep patterns and effect sleep quality.  Aim to eat foods as nature intended them to be eaten.  Avoid using packaged sauces and flavour meats and vegetables with fresh herbs and spices.  This will increase the nutrient density of the meal and reduce your exposure to potentially harmful ingredients.


O Outdoors and being close to nature has wide-ranging health effects.  Spending time in “greenspace” has been found to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress and high blood pressure.  Spending more time outside also increases exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas which has a positive impact on the immune system and reducing inflammation.


P Probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. Our immune system constructs and maintains our intestinal barrier, which consists of a combination of mucus, intestinal cells, immunoglobulin A (IgA), antimicrobial and other immune cells.  Research shows the healthier our gut, and the more diverse the bacteria’s that live in our gut, the healthier our immune system is.


Q Quercetin, a compound found in citrus fruits, apples, onions, red wine, black tea and leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale has been found to reduce the severity of allergic reactions by inhibiting the release of histamines in the body resulting in decreased allergy symptoms.  Quercetin also has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and antioxidant properties.


R Rest.  Your body needs rest and sleep just like it needs air and food to function.  During sleep your body heals itself and many chemical balances are restored.  Sleep loss not only determines whether we get sick or not, it can also determine how well we recover from illness. The higher your degree of sleep loss, the higher your CRP – a marker of inflammation in the body. Studies show that people who get 7 hours of sleep per night have the best survival and less than 6 hours is detrimental to our health.


S Slow cooked soups, stews and casseroles are warming, nourishing and easy to digest in these cooler winter months.  Herbs and spices that boost immunity such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, oregano, thyme, parsley, coriander can be used to add flavour to vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, parsnip, broccoli and cauliflower for a delicious meal.


T Thyme is an antimicrobial powerhouse of a herb that is great for fighting infections of the respiratory tract such as bronchitis or tonsilitis.  Thyme can be used in cooking or can be steeped in hot water and sipped to soothe sore throats and coughs.


U Understand that sometimes despite our best efforts we all get sick.  Patience, rest and good nutrition will help you to recover quickly however remember not to overdo it too quickly.  Sometimes a short period of convalescence is required to get you back to full strength.


V Vitamins. Deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals can contribute to a weakened immune system.  Modern farming practices have depleted our soils of many essential nutrients and modern day cooking methods damage many heat sensitive nutrients.  Poor digestion due to stress, medications and a western style diet can impact the absorption of nutrients from food leaving us lacking in certain essential vitamins and minerals.  Vitamins should never replace a healthy diet and should always be recommended by a professional as even though they are natural they may interact with pharmaceutical medications.


W Water. Your immune system relies heavily on the nutrients in your bloodstream, which mostly consists of water. Without water, the cells and tissues of your immune system don’t receive the nutrients they need. Your immune system relies on water to flush out germs and waste materials.  Water also helps your lungs release carbon dioxide.  Water aids digestion and supports nutrient absorption.  Aim for .33ml per litre of body weight per day.  More is required in hot weather or strenuous exercise.


X XO – A study has found that people who receive more hugs experience less severe illness symptoms than those who didn’t receive as many.  The apparent protective effect of a hug may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioural indicator of support.  Either way, those who receive more hugs seem somewhat more protected from infection. So next time you’re worried about coming off as weird when you hug someone for too long —remember that hugging can benefit you both and protect you from stress and sickness.


Y Yoga helps lower stress hormones that compromise the immune system. It also helps to condition the lungs and respiratory tract, to stimulate the lymphatic system to eliminate toxins from the body.  Yoga helps to bring fresh oxygenated blood to the various organs to ensure their optimal function.


Z Zinc is important for both innate and adaptive immunity. Zinc deficiency is common in Australia especially in toddlers, adolescents, the elderly especially those in nursing homes and hospitals and people with diabetes. Demands for zinc increase even further during acute infection. Zinc is also required for formation and production of digestive acids and enzymes which act as first line immune production.


Author: Kerryn Odell

Kerryn Odell is a well-known Nutritionist who is passionate about helping clients who are experiencing digestive issues, hormone problems, poor sleep, anxiety, skin issues and auto-immune problems. Kerryn works with people of all ages and especially enjoys working with families. Kerryn loves being part of the Health Space team in Mona Vale, and looks forward to meeting the community and helping reach their health goals.

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