As we transition into autumn, taking proactive steps to support our immune system becomes crucial. A robust immune system is your body's natural defence against illnesses, and by understanding how to support it through nutrition, you can empower yourself to stay healthy and energised.
In this guide, we will explore what the immune system is, its vital role in the body, how to eat for a strong immune system, the essential micronutrients it requires, and the strong connection between gut health and immunity.
Understanding the Immune System
The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend your body against harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It plays a critical role in maintaining your overall health and well-being.
The immune system's primary function is to identify and eliminate foreign invaders that could cause illness or infection. It does this through two main branches: innate and adaptive immunity.
- Innate Immunity: This is your body's first line of defence. It includes physical barriers like your skin and mucous membranes, as well as white blood cells that quickly recognise and attack pathogens.
- Adaptive Immunity: This branch of the immune system develops over time. It involves specialised immune cells that create antibodies and "remember" previous infections, allowing your body to mount a faster and more targeted response if exposed to the same pathogen again.
The Connection Between Gut Health and Immunity
Your gut is more than just a digestive organ; it plays a central role in supporting your immune system. It houses a significant portion of your body's immune cells and is a critical hub for immune function.
The gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, collectively known as the gut microbiome. These bacteria have a profound impact on your health, including your immune function.
The Importance of a Balanced Diet
A well-rounded diet provides certain macro and micronutrients that are particularly important for immune function:
- Vitamin A: sources include sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, kale.
- Vitamin C: sources include citrus fruits, berries, kiwis, broccoli and tomatoes.
- Vitamin D: sources include oily fishes, red meat and egg yolks.
- Zinc: sources include oysters, red meat, nuts, and chickpeas.
- FS-Greens: Our clean, FS-Greens blend supports digestion and gut health with naturally occurring fibre-rich ingredients. Add a spoonful to your water daily, to help reduce bloating and support your immunity.
The Impact of Seasonal Changes on Health
As the days grow shorter and daylight becomes scarcer during the autumn and winter months, many people experience a notable shift in their overall well-being and mood. This phenomenon is often referred to as the "winter blues" or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The reduction in natural sunlight exposure can have various effects on both physical and emotional health. It's important to recognise these challenges and take proactive steps to counteract them.
People Typically Feel:
- Mood Changes: The diminishing daylight can lead to changes in mood and energy levels. Many individuals find themselves feeling more lethargic, irritable, or down during this time.
- Sleep Disruptions: The disrupted circadian rhythms caused by reduced daylight can result in sleep disturbances. This can lead to difficulties falling asleep or waking up feeling less rested.
- Impact on Motivation: Darker mornings and evenings can reduce motivation and enthusiasm, making it challenging to maintain healthy habits and stay active.
Navigating Darker Days & What You Can Do About it:
- Morning Sunlight: Spend time outdoors in the morning to expose yourself to natural light. Even a short walk can boost your mood and help regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
- Light Therapy: Consider using a light therapy box or lamp that mimics natural sunlight. These devices emit bright, full-spectrum light and can be effective in reducing symptoms of SAD.
- Consistent Sleep Schedule: Maintain a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. This helps regulate your body's internal clock.
- Sleep Environment: Ensure your bedroom is conducive to quality sleep by keeping it dark, cool, and quiet.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can boost mood and energy levels. Find activities you enjoy, whether it's indoor workouts or outdoor sports.
- Balanced Diet: Maintain a balanced diet with a variety of nutrients to support your overall health. Nutrient-rich foods can provide the energy and mood-boosting properties you need.
- Social Connection: Stay connected with friends and loved ones. Socialising and engaging in activities with others can help combat feelings of isolation and improve mood.
- Meditation and Relaxation: Practices like meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Seek Professional Help: If you find that your mood and symptoms significantly interfere with your daily life, consider speaking with a mental health professional. They can provide guidance and treatment options tailored to your specific needs.
The Importance of Supplementing Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient that plays a vital role in various aspects of our health, including immune function, bone health, and mood regulation. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that the body can produce when exposed to sunlight, for this reason, during the winter months when sunlight exposure is limited, it becomes increasingly important to consider supplementing with vitamin D. The NHS recommends a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during autumn and winter months.
Roasted Salmon & Vegetable Platter for Immune Support
Nutrient-rich meals can provide the vitamins and minerals your immune system needs. Here is a delicious recipe to try during the winter months.
- 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thick sticks
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1/2 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
- 1 red onion, cut into wedges
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 salmon fillets (about 6-8 ounces each)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lemon, sliced
Preheat your oven to 200°C. In a large mixing bowl, combine the carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and red onion. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables and sprinkle with dried thyme, ground turmeric, salt, and pepper. Toss the vegetables until they are evenly coated with the oil and spices. Spread the seasoned vegetables out on a baking sheet or roasting pan in a single layer. Ensure they have some space between them for even cooking. Roast the vegetables in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes or until they are tender and have a slightly crispy edge. You can toss them once or twice during cooking for even browning.
While the vegetables are roasting, you can prepare the salmon if desired. Season the salmon fillets with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place the lemon slices on top of the salmon fillets. About 15-20 minutes before the vegetables are done roasting, you can add the salmon to the same baking sheet or a separate one if you prefer. Roast the salmon for about 12-15 minutes or until it flakes easily with a fork.
Written by Marilia Chamon
Registered Nutritional Therapist - Gut Health, IBS & SIBO Expert
Founder of Gutfulness Nutrition