While I recognise many things are feeding the fear cycle around the current coronavirus situation, I’m not going to talk specifically about that virus, because honestly, we don’t have enough accurate information on it. What I DO want to talk about, as we head into our normal cold and flu season, the basics of supporting your immune system to do what it does best—effectively fight infection to keep you healthy. And a hint…it doesn’t involve toilet paper!

1. WASH YOUR HANDS (we all know it but can use a reminder)! This really is the single best thing you can do to prevent the spread of infection. I can’t tell you how many times I notice people NOT doing it. We seriously all need to take the time out of our busy lives to properly wash our hands. Relying on hand sanitiser is not the answer either, as it can really disrupt the protective layer of the skin, including the good bugs that are hard at work. Use that only for when you don’t have access to proper facilities to wash. It’s also important to keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth and nose to prevent transmission of any “cooties” you may come in contact with.

2. LOAD UP ON FRESH, WHOLE FOODS! While packets of rice and pasta, tins of baked beans and toilet rolls are flying off the shelf, eating the rainbow is one of the top ways to provide your immune function with all the nutrients it needs to be strong:

  • Vitamin C: Found in loads of foods including citrus, capsicum, broccoli, spinach and other greens, kiwi fruits, papaya, etc, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and can support your white blood cells to do their battle. Since we don’t actually store Vitamin C, it’s important to keep intakes up year ‘round.
  • Vitamin E: Another powerful antioxidant to keep your fighting fit, you can find it in almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds.
  • Vitamin A: Foods that are high in colorful compounds called carotenoids — carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe and squash — are all great options. Our body turns these carotenoids into vitamin A, which has an antioxidant effect to help strengthen the immune system against infection.
  • Vitamin D: Our sunshine vitamin is vital to the immune system and if you’re living here in Victoria and/or working in an office, you’re likely to be on the low side. While you can get Vitamin D through foods such as fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna) and fortified cereals (not something we do a lot here), your best source for daily intakes is sun exposure. Many of us will need a little supplementation help here, so get your levels checked and sing out for more info!
  • Zinc: A powerful nutrient to support immune function and reduce inflammation. My favourite source (and the most abundant) is oysters! I have to say eating a few oysters through last winter saw my zinc levels sky-rocket from their normally sub-optimal levels and I believe that’s one of the reasons I stayed well last season, despite working with clients who were unwell. If you’re not keen on oysters, you can find zinc in crab, lean meats and poultry, legumes, natural yogurt and pumpkin seeds.

3. STAY HYDRATED! Our mucous membranes need hydration to keep their protective layer in tact and when we’re dehydrated, so are they! We’re getting closer to cooler weather and those indoor heat sources can really dehydrate our bodies. Be sure to get your 1.5 litres (or more depending on your activity/weight/etc) to maintain hydration. You might also benefit from nasal irrigation to help moisten your nasal passages and clear out anything that might irritate them.

4. DE-STRESS! I know it can be hard to ditch the stress, worry and “what-ifs” but honestly, chronic stress is one of the main culprits of a compromised immune system. If you’re in need of a release, take a nature walk, chat to a friend, read a book, do a bit of meditating or journaling. If things are beyond that, please seek the support of a qualified professional to help you put some strategies in place. Stress that affects us physically and mentally will leave you more susceptible to infections and will also majorly affect our last tip, which is…

5. GET QUALITY SLEEP! Like stress, poor sleep or no sleep also depresses your immune function. Sleep is the time our body is in restore mode—repairing, detoxifying, replenishing. If you’re struggling with sleep, have a closer look at your sleep practices and perhaps do a little meditation designed to support sleep (I love the Insight Timer app for this) or even try a little magnesium. If you need more than that, it might be time to chat about some powerful nutritionals that can get your over the hump.

If you can master these 5 tips, you’ll be ahead of the game if and when the nasties come calling. If you’d like more in-depth, individualised support, get in touch—I’m here to support you!

REMEMBER: If you are feeling unwell or have returned from an overseas trip and are showing signs of illness, please get in touch with your GP right away. And please, please stay home. It’s up to all of us to protect the communities we live in!

A final P.S.: Leave some toilet paper on the shelf for your neighbour. ????

In health and wellness,
Heather Smith