Strengthening your immune system means taking action regarding your lifestyle (changing your diet, preserving your sleep, practicing physical activity, etc.). What comes at hand for improving your immunity are the natural products: vitamins, essential oils and so forth.Read below how to get immunized and prepare for the onset of cold, winter and the diseases that go with it.
Immunity refers to the body’s ability to defend itself against substances that threaten its proper functioning or survival. These threats can be microbes such as viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites, cells that have become cancerous, or a foreign material such as a splinter for example.
“Immunity is a complex machine,” states Jean-Luc Teillaud, immunologist. “It involves several types of white blood cells, interacting with each other and able to react very quickly in the event of external aggression,” explains the specialist.
Each time an intruder is encountered, the immune system modulates its activity to effectively eliminate infectious agents. It is the same reaction we want to get from vaccines: boosting the immune response. The immune system is thus immediately very effective. This is the only way to effectively stimulate it.
Our lifestyle, our diet and certain medicinal plants can nevertheless contribute to its proper functioning.
In this context, here are the substances to make use of now, when the cold seasons are approaching us and about to bring more viruses. “In terms of food, the unconscious need to build up reserves through a more fatty diet can cause intestinal inflammation,” explains Dr. Teulières, general practitioner and immunologist. If immunity is half-mast as winter approaches, then it is not so without reason. For some people, serotonin secretion declines between fall and winter, leading to depression syndrome, fatigue and stress.
However, this hormone is secreted not only by neurons, but also by the cells of the immune system, and more than 95% of serotonin is not produced by the brain but by the intestine. It is not uncommon to have sugar cravings, especially at the end of the day and in the evening, when the days are getting shorter and the light is dimed. This is completely normal: the body tries to compensate for the low serotonin in the brain. So boosting your serotonin production is fighting stress, and therefore boosting your whole immune system!
Start by improving your lifestyle
“Entering the winter period represents a considerable adaptation effort for the body,” argues Dr. Teulières.
Hence food plays a major role. The content of our plate is surely one of the most important elements in maintaining and strengthening our immune system. It has been proven that people with a varied and balanced Mediterranean-type diet are better prepared to face winter infections. Consumption of fruits and vegetables, oilseeds and cereals provides vitamins and minerals that are essential to the immune system (vitamins A, E and C, zinc, selenium) but also dietary fiber.
The advice of Dr. Teulières: do not suddenly change your diet, favor seasonal products, and do not enrich your diet with sugar or fat by blaming it on winter depression. And ideally: you really need to ease off alcoholic drinks and sugary sodas, which can deregulate the immune system.
In order to boost the production of serotonin, and therefore the functioning of immune, neuronal and intestinal cells, be sure to favor slowly digested carbohydrates from bread, pasta, cereals, rice rather than consuming rapidly digested carbohydrates from sweets, cookies, pastries. Get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and during the day allow as much sunlight as possible into your home or workplace. A tip from our Scandinavian neighbors: place a few mirrors in strategic places to reflect the daylight back into the interior. Regular physical activity, such as walking for 30 minutes a day, by improving blood circulation, helps increase cells’ immunity and improves their function. But their concentration drops 24 hours after exercise. To benefit from physical activity, it is therefore necessary for the practice to be regular. In fact, active people have about 50% fewer respiratory infections than inactive people.
On the opposite, sporting over one’s own limits would have a rather negative impact: after a workout that is too intense, there is a drop in the level of lymphocytes, which means fewer potential antibodies in case of aggression. It’s up to you to find the right balance, without forcing your body.
Vitamins, allies of immunity
Vitamin A stimulates the proliferation of white blood cells and the production of antibodies by lymphocytes. It is also essential for the barrier function of the intestinal mucosa. The right dose: 600 to 800 micrograms per day. For an extra-dose, consider carrots, pumpkin or even spinach. Be careful, for pregnant women, supplements containing vitamin A (retinol), and in particular fish liver oil, can be harmful and cause birth defects if the recommended dose is significantly exceeded.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects white blood cells and increases their mobility. It stimulates the production of cytokines, the messengers that activate the immune response. It is found in fruits and vegetables. The recommended daily dose is 110 mg per day.
Vitamin E refers to a group of molecules called alpha-tocopherols. These are naturally present in food, such as in sunflower seeds or vegetable oils. Studies have shown that vitamin E compensates for the loss of immune response due to aging by stimulating the production of white blood cells and its benefit in fighting respiratory infections.
Vitamin D is known to activate white blood cells (T lymphocytes) needed to make antibodies and destroy germs. It is mainly found in fatty fish (cod liver and its oil, smoked herrings, mackerel, etc.). Two forms are the most common, D2, of plant origin, and D3, of animal origin. No difference in effectiveness between the two, but it’s recommended a minimum intake of 5 micrograms per day potentiated by daily exposure to daylight, the production of vitamin D being mainly induced by UV rays.
Selenium and zinc, two essential minerals
Selenium, found in Emmental, cooked ham or button mushrooms (also called table mushrooms or white mushrooms). At a rate of 50 micrograms per day, it intervenes on the immune level by keeping a pool of white blood cells alerted.
Zinc, (seafood, poultry, cheese etc.) at a rate of 10 to 15 mg per day, protects cell membranes from infections by microbial agents.
These minerals, in quarterly cure, will restore your annual stocks to a winter in all serenity.
Essential oils, antiviral and immune-stimulating
The essential oils of ravintsara, the “leaf good for everything” coming from Madagascar, tea tree, thyme with savory leaves or thujanol and eucalyptus are excellent antivirals and immune-stimulants.
How to use them? As a mixture for a powerful stimulating effect, mix 20 drops of EO of ravintsara, 20 drops of EO of eucalyptus, 20 drops of EO of lemon. Place 3 drops of this mixture on a neutral tablet once a day, 5 days a week, for as long as the epidemic lasts. Do not use in case of breast cancer, in case of pregnant or breastfeeding women, and in case of children under 7 years old.
Food supplements have a modest and uncertain effect
We often hear that vitamin C, zinc, propolis, Echinacea or probiotics stimulate our immune system. Studies suggest that they may decrease the duration of the common cold and / or its severity. But the effect remains very modest. And these results have yet to be confirmed as studies are typically performed in the laboratory, on mice, or on a small number of patients. It is therefore excessive to say that these dietary supplements or herbs can boost immunity. Moreover, European regulations state that only the syntagm “contributes to the proper functioning of the immune system” can be related.
What about the children?
Children under 3 years old should be seen by their pediatrician before considering supplementation. Above that age, only food supplements that have received a favorable opinion from the authorities can be administered. Labeling must clearly indicate the age range of children targeted by the supplement, and claims relating to their health and development are strictly regulated. Some overdoses can have serious consequences on their health. If in doubt and before any purchase, seek professional advice.
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