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Top 10 tips to boost your immunity this winter

Top 10 tips to boost your immunity this winter

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About the Author

Asti Renaut

Asti Renaut (BHSc. Comp Med, BA, Adv Dip Nat, Adv Dip Herb Med, MNZAMH)

Asti Renaut is a degree-qualified medical herbalist and naturopath with over ten years clinical experience. Asti practices in Christchurch, New Zealand, treating a wide range of health issues. She especially enjoys working with infants and children, and finally has one of her own to practice on! One of the cornerstones of Asti's practice and philosophy is the importance of education and sharing information. She believes that empowering clients to understand their own bodies and health, and giving practical tips and tools to use from the garden and kitchen are just as important for wellness as qualified professional care. 

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Prevention is better than cure right? Right! The full quote states that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and may have come from Benjamin Franklin. Apparently he was talking about fire safety, and in some ways getting a winter infection is like a fire spreading rapidly through your body- sudden and stealthy! Priming your immune system is like recruiting and training your fire fighters, then giving them hoses with a plentiful water supply. Here are ten easy ways to make sure your immune defence system is at its utmost readiness, no matter what comes along.

1. Cool, Calm & Collected: We want our fire fighters to be an orderly bunch don’t we? Definitely not hot-headed. Cool under pressure. Long-term stress depresses immune function, reducing the ability to deal with unwanted pathogens. Keeping calm and balanced and reducing stressors in our lives is something most of us aspire to, and immune resilience is just one more vitally important reason to do so! Whether its yoga, meditation, exercise or a night out dancing that gives you equilibrium, be sure to make it happen. If you’re looking for extra inspiration here, be sure to read on to number 7.

 2. Snoozers are...Winners actually! Well definitely when it comes immunity. Lack of sleep has dire consequences for your immune resilience, so be sure to get plenty of early nights. There is abundant herbal support for sleep if you need a little re-set!

 3. Feed Your Fighters: Food really is our first and best medicine, it literally makes us, and lays the foundation for our immune function. Immunity isn’t just about charging up white blood cells, its also about the basics- digestive function, gut health, the robustness of our tissues, our state of inflammation and our general health. What does our immune system love to eat to make it big and strong? Plants, mostly! Pretty much any plants actually, especially fresh ones. What doesn’t it like? The usual suspects- sugar, processed foods, too much of anything that is too refined.

 4. Herbal Heroes:  Herbal medicines have been our botanical superhero allies for as long as humans have been around. Using medicinal herbal tonics on a daily basis helps us to strengthen our immunity and prevent infection, while specific immune enhancing, antibacterial and antiviral herbs can help to speed recovery from illness and reduce symptoms if we do succumb.  Good quality New Zealand-grown organic Echinacea root is one of our very best preventative medicines. It helps increase many arms of our immune system by enhancing the production and activity of immune cells and balancing the inflammatory response. Take a small dose daily for prevention or increase fourfold for treatment. Bam! Have high potency herbs on stand-by for just in case; sorting a sore throat at the first tickle with a herbal throat spray can be the difference between it disappearing or laying you low for a week! Check out the amazing properties of Kawakawa, Manuka, Thyme, Olive Leaf and Propolis for infection. Remember its all about quality when it comes to herbal medicines, and the right dose.

 5. Super Snacks: Soup up your drinks and nibbles for some extra immune action - try making up a scroggin mix that includes zinc-rich sunflower and pumpkin seeds, or whipping up a batch of pesto with plenty of raw garlic, lemon juice and fresh parsley, naturally rich in Vitamin C and Iron. Berries will give you extra flavonoids and antioxidants, hummus will give you protein and some more of that immune boosting garlic. Swap coffee or tea for a hot Ginger & Kawakawa or Echiberry. A boiled egg can make a perfect afternoon tea and is packed with protein, as is a chia seed smoothie. Take your snacks to the next level by packing them with goodness, so the lame cheese scone or Moro bar doesn’t get a look-in.

 6. Mineral Therapy: Minerals are our bedrock, our most common denominator, the most abundant compounds in our body. So if they’re in balance, all good, and if not, the ground can shift a bit and give way to infection more easily. Key minerals for immune function are Zinc and Iron. Zinc is important for the replication of every cell, so is extra important at times of growth (eg. children, teens, pregnancy), repair (tissue healing after accidents or surgery), and illness (think of all those extra little white blood cells being made!). Zinc has a specific role to play in the immune system, so if you seem more vulnerable to picking up infections, or take longer to recover than average, think zinc. Iron is also absolutely essential for immune function, those with iron deficiency anaemia are much more prone to all manner of infection. If in doubt, a blood test can easily pick up iron deficiency.

 7. Green Supreme: This time I don’t mean the greens you eat (although they are also awesome for your immune system), I’m talking about the green outside. Walking in the green, breathing in the green. Trees, gardens, forests, bush, green spaces, wild spaces, nature in all its complex raw beauty. Research proves that spending time in natural environments protects us against a massive array of chronic degenerative diseases and it also improves our natural immune function. Scientists think this is because of the way we are naturally calmed and connected when in nature. This switches us from our ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic brain into our ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic mode. Guess where the immune system is most active? Yep, when we’re in rest and digest. If we’re in flight we don’t have time to fight infection.

 8. Vitamins are Vital: I’m not just playing on words here, the term ‘vitamin’ comes from ‘vital amine’, in other words they are actually molecules that are vital (ie. necessary) to our biological function. They are definitely vital to our immune function, and can rapidly deteriorate in some foods when transported, processed, and heated. If I could choose my top 3 immune vitamins they would definitely be A, C and D. Vitamin A is not only important for the health of all of our ‘mucous membranes’- the tissues that line our gut, sinuses, lungs, but also it is specifically important for our immune response to viruses. Vitamin C probably needs no introduction! There is a reason that it has a long-standing reputation as a natural immune booster, so don’t overlook it in favour of the latest thing. Vitamin C helps not only with the health of your tissues (its used to make collagen) but also with the mobility and activity of white blood cells, our infection fighters.

 9. Sunshine- Not Just Vitamin D! Ah sun. Glorious sun. We’ve all heard about the importance of Vitamin D which we get from sun exposure. More and more research is pointing to the fact that Vitamin D does far more than just help protect our bones. Increasingly we are coming to understand how Vitamin D is key for helping to activate our immune defences and ward off infection, especially respiratory infections. So sunshine gives us Vitamin D if we have our skin adequately exposed, but that's not all. I think a major significance of sunshine is really an extension of our Green Supreme idea, it helps us to relaaaaaax. It melts our tension, it brightens the colours, it brings us into our senses and sensuality in an easy and comfortable way. Be sure to get out in the sun during the winter months!

 10. See The Children Laugh and Play: Last but definitely not least, take your fire fighters to hang out with some crazy kids. Laughing pumps your diaphragm and helps move the lymphatics, which helps keep your immune system healthy. Laughter also directly activates immune cells, increasing numbers of B and T cells, and also Natural Killer Cells.

 But seriously. Its easy to write lists. This list may look like the most simple thing in the world. But actually prioritising these steps will not only improve your immune function but, like the best of natural medicine, it will make your whole life a little better and brighter too! You’ll have the fittest fighters on the block, ready to squash that spark before it starts to blaze.