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If your immune system is weakened by lifestyle factors like ageing, lack of sleep, stress or smoking, you're much more likely to get ill. To counteract this, aim to eat a varied Mediterranean-style diet that includes wholegrains, beans, fruit, vegetables, seafood, olive oil, onions and garlic.
Lean meat is an important source of iron which is needed for immune cells to fight infections, so make sure that's a part of your diet, too. If you follow a plant-based diet, iron is found in dark-green leaves, whole grains, pulses and dried fruit.
Foods fortified with vitamin D will support winter immunity when you're unable to make vitamin D in your skin (although a vitamin D supplement is also needed). Deficiencies in vitamin D could lead to a weaker immune system, making it easier for you to fall ill.
Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that ensuring you're taking enough vitamin C may support the immune system in warding off colds and flu, especially in those who are stressed.1
Each B vitamin plays an important role in the body, including B6 which is involved in amino acid metabolism, red cell production and the creation of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals).2 It also contributes to the normal function of the immune system as well as the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.3
A child under six or an older adult has an un-primed immune system compared with someone in their 30s. Namely, a child's immune system hasn't fully matured and - if they've never been in contact with a certain illness before - they may not be immune to it. You can expect a child to get a cold eight or more times in a year.4
Any type of exercise - from a cycle ride to a yoga session or even a brisk walk - for at least half an hour on most days will give your immune system a boost. Be careful not to push your body too hard if you're already feeling under the weather, though, as over-exercising suppresses immunity.
Make sure to always cough into a tissue and discard afterwards and encourage your kids to do the same, as they're constantly bringing home nasty bugs from the school cafeteria or playground. Another good tip is to avoid sharing. It might be tempting but sharing cups and glasses - even with loved ones - means you'll dramatically increase your chances of catching a lurgy.
When you sleep less than the recommended seven to eight hours a night this can negatively affect your immune system. It also makes you prone to serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.5 If you're struggling to get to sleep take a look at these soothing drinks that could help you settle into your slumber.
If you're constantly stressed your body will find a way to tell you. Stress hormones weaken your immune system - meaning people under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu. They also prolong your recovery time.
Smoking damages and inactivates the immune cells that fight infection, making the battle against illness that much harder. This process can be reversed if cigarettes are given up.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.
1Sasazuki, S., Sasaki, S., Tsubono, Y., Okubo, S., Hayashi, M. and Tsugane, S., 2006. Effect of vitamin C on common cold: randomized controlled trial, European journal of clinical nutrition60(1), p.9.
2National Library of Medicine (2018), Phridoxine
3Nutrition and Health Claims (2018), Vitamin B6
4Colds, coughs and ear infections in children, NHS (2015)
5Why lack of sleep is bad for your health, NHS (2018)