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Boosting your own personal defence force and immune system

In Health and Nutrition by Kane ParsonsLeave a Comment

Are you up for the challenge of getting through the coming winter without even a sniffle?

Over my next three articles we will be exploring naturopathic strategies to boost your resistance to the dreaded winter lurgy and help you emerge unscathed from the cold, dark and dreary winter months a new, improved, reinvigorated, happier and healthier version of yourself.

When we are tired, stressed, over-worked and under-nourished, our immune systems simply just cannot function at their best. We progressively become more and more susceptible to common coughs, colds and ‘flu. And in the longer term we can become susceptible to more serious health conditions.

Professional naturopaths have invested years of study in the use of an impressive array of potent and powerful immune-boosting herbs, nutrients and diets. Specific key supplementation when used at the right dose at the right time has been shown to effectively boost immune function and broadly provide protection against a range of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi and viruses.

Our immune system is comprised of physical barriers such as the skin and mucous membranes that block the entry of antigens into the body; functional barriers like body temperature and acid/alkaline balance; various lymphatic organs and the individual white blood cells of the immune system itself; and last but not least to the often overlooked average of 4kg beneficial bacteria we carry around with us day in and day out, inhabiting our digestive systems (and we will discuss these friendly little critters in the coming issues).

Here we will be discussing the importance of vitamins C and D, the under-utilised very important mineral zinc, and the regular use of a high potency multivitamin combined with some very sound and important lifestyle considerations.

Vitamin C

Universally recognised for its role in keeping our immune systems strong and vigilant, in fact vitamin C is the most widely taken supplement globally! Side note: cherries, chillies and kiwi fruit are far more potent sources of natural vitamin C than the popular orange.

Studies have shown that doses of at least 1000mg daily can prevent the common cold and shorten the duration of symptoms. Vitamin C supplementation is of particular benefit. And higher levels are called for when people have physically demanding jobs, injuries, or are pregnant and breast feeding, as well as regular consumers of aspirin and the oral contraceptive pill. It is also an important supplement for those who regularly smoke or drink! Vitamin C also plays an important role in maintaining optimal skin health, collagen formation and wound healing.

Zinc

Zinc is an essential trace mineral with an enormous body of scientific evidence showing benefits for boosting immunity as well as strengthening the healing process.

Such is the importance of zinc that, apart from immune function, zinc is also a major factor in approximately 300 other enzymatic reactions in the body! This includes serotonin production in the brain, to keep us feeling cool and poised.

Zinc also contributes to proper taste and smell perception, wound healing, and general skin health. It also assists with maintenance of the central nervous system, including eye health.

Zinc deficiency is very widespread in children and adults. Studies show only about 20% of children aged from one to three years obtain ‘adequate’ zinc from their diets. And just over half of those from four to six years old. Such zinc deficiency can seriously impact a child’s long-term immune function. And it increases their susceptibility to a variety of health issues in both the short and long term. Zinc supplementation has the capacity for enhancing antiviral activity via the stimulation of our white blood cells.

Zinc and C combined is a safe and excellent supplement for the whole family during the cold and ‘flu season. Especially little Jimmy at day-care, to keep him strong and resilient against the absolute zoo of nasty bugs found wherever infants congregate for extended periods of time! Next time you’re in the local health food store enquire about a zinc challenge test. A simple and effective ‘taste test’ to assess zinc status in the body.

Vitamin D3

The ‘sunshine’ vitamin D deficiency is all too common in Australia. This is likely because during the hot summer months we have been increasing sunblock, hats and UV protective clothing use while we stare pondering and perplexed at the flocks of English tourists to our beaches basking fully exposed during the hottest parts of the day for hours on end in what we can only perceive to be an act of pure insanity! “Oh but it’s sexy to have a lurverly tan init”, they protest! Who can argue with that?

With the discovery of vitamin D receptors in virtually every tissue in our body, renewed research and interest in vitamin D has surged. This has resulted in a massive and ever-growing body of research linking low vitamin D levels with poor immune health. General consensus is that adequate vitamin D levels are far more important than we previously imagined in a balanced, healthy and stable immune system.

Vitamin D has a proven role in maintaining healthy immune balance. Also in preventing the development of autoimmune disease (where our immune system begins to attack the body). Vitamin D also enhances first-line immune defence against microorganisms.

It’s a good idea to get your family’s vitamin D levels tested yearly as part of a general check-up. Joining the UK visitors for 15-20 minutes’ sun exposure most days is sound advice! However, it is very important not to lather up and wash off in the shower all that hard-earned vitamin D you just made by lazing about. Vitamin D gets produced on the skin and gets gradually absorbed into your body over a period of hours. Having said that, supplementation is still beneficial and routinely suggested for many people.

Multivitamins

A landmark study by the Harvard School of Public Health has confirmed that there is widespread sub-optimal nutritional intake of vitamins and minerals in Westernised societies. Poor diet and nutritional status is associated with many chronic diseases. Multivitamin supplementation is generally recommended for everyone every day to ensure daily nutritional requirements of vitamins and minerals are met.

Long-term studies around the world have investigated the effects of multivitamin and mineral formulas in a variety of populations. They revealed that regular supplementation may improve all-round general well-being and increase resistance to infection. Check with your naturopath for a suitable high quality multivitamin that has the right ingredients at the right dose. There are even some with a good dose of selected herbs for stress, energy and even detoxification.

Interestingly the same part of the brain that controls your immune response also controls your stress response. So from this perspective it makes sense that, when we are under constant stress, our immunity can get compromised!

So along with vitamins C and D and zinc here’s a couple of equally important lifestyle tips to consider!

Sleep

We still don’t fully understand exactly why we sleep. Although we all know that a good sleep makes us feel great. Good sleep is one of the cornerstones of health. Six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep a night seems to be the optimal amount for most adults. Too little can have adverse effects on your immune health.

Stress

We all face stress every day and we all react differently to the same stressors. If we haven’t learnt how to fundamentally cope with the routine regular stresses of day-to-day life in a balanced, healthy way, and let’s face it, they didn’t teach us this at school or university, it will exact a terrible price on our health and quality of life. Mood and stress issues have now reached epidemic proportions in the Western world seemingly unchecked! If you feel that stress is taking a toll on your health, consider taking it up with a health professional who is best placed to make some sensible personalised lifestyle recommendations. Naturopathic lifestyle recommendations may include regular massage, reflexology, kinesiology, acupuncture, a holiday, weight training, cardio, meditation, yoga, or self-development workshops. Even professional, specialised counselling may often be appropriate.

So the challenge is on. Are you getting enough vitamins C and D and zinc? Are you over worked, stressed and under sleeping and nourished? Preparation starts NOW! Get your / your family’s personal defence systems primed and on track for a winter free of colds and flu. We all have areas in life we could work on, and no one is perfect!

Next article we will continue with the role of specific powerful immune and stress herbs such as andrographis, astragalus, and olive leaf. And look at some proven benefits of meditation in boosting immune function and stress relief! Once you realise first-hand the benefits of some simple safe supplementation and lifestyle tweaks you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner!

About the author
Kane Parsons

Kane Parsons

Kane Parsons, N.D., is a consulting naturopath and owner of Dunsborough Home of Health in W.A’s beautiful Dunsborough/Margeret River region. Kane possesses a solid background in both clinical practice, research and education. He has delivered educational seminars on natural medicine to health professionals across the country. Kane is also passionate about promoting the timeless principles and practical applications of the ancient Indian yogic system of philosophy called Vedanta or ‘self knowledge’.

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