I don’t hate it as much as I used to though, because I’ve learnt that there are a few things I can do to keep my immune system strong and avoid getting sick. When I suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, my immune system was in ruins. It seemed as if someone could cough in New Zealand and I’d catch something.
I’ve come a long way. I have weathered cold temperatures, early mornings, sleep deprivation, stress, poor diet and sick people in the last month and not succumbed to anything.
Here are some of the tips and strategies which have helped me to develop a strong immune system.
(Remember, this is general advice only, based on my own experience! I hope you find the information useful as a starting-point for doing your own research and in consulting health professionals about the best approach for you.)
A Balanced Diet
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a saying that one should first attempt to cure illness through proper diet. Only if it can not be remedied with diet should one take other treatments or medicines. Before you take any supplements or herbs, make sure you are eating well. Sometimes we overlook the obvious and forget that food is not our enemy tempting us with calories to be burnt, but our ally providing vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Make sure you’re getting five serves of vegetables in different colours (red, green, white, yellow and orange), three serves of different fruits, one or two serves of dairy (preferably yogurt, but we’ll get to that later), lean protein, and some “good oils” such as olive or flaxseed.
I can’t advocate this herb enough! Echinacea boosts immune function, and is widely available in tablet form.One tablet a day is the maintenance dose, with three per day helping to overcome cold or flu once symptoms have developed. The best brand I have found is Medi-Herb, however this is a practitioner-only brand and you will have to see your naturopath to get it. (Don’t have a naturopath? I recommend Kathy Sedun.)
Zinc plays many roles in the body, but the most important when it comes to immune function is that it helps the body to build new cells, which it needs to do in order to fight infection. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, wheat germ, whelks (a type of sea-snail, have you ever seen one??), liver, sesame and pumpkin seeds, beef, lamb and poppy-seeds. My personal favourite zinc supplement is available in liquid form from Metagenics, another practitioner-only label, although I have also experienced good results with popular over-the-counter brand Blackmores.
Vitamin C also plays many roles in the body as well as boosting the immune system, including helping the body to produce collagen and to heal wounds. The best way to include more vitamin C in your diet is to increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, capsicums, strawberries, and tomatoes. Most over-the-counter vitamin C supplements tend to work quite well, and since this vitamin is easily depleted when the body is stressed it may be worth supplementing if you are eating well but still succumbing to colds, flus and infections.
We’re familiar with these as the “energy-boosting” vitamins, available in orange tablets that dissolve in water to make a fizzy orange drink. B Vitamins can become depleted through stress and illness. Signs of deficiency include lethargy and cracks around the corners of the mouth.
These are the “good bacteria” found in yogurt which help us to digest food. Naturopaths believe that the directive tract is key to a healthy immune system. Include a serve of home-made, Greek or European yogurt every day, and consider taking a probiotic supplement. My brand recommendations are Metagenics or Ethical Nutrients. Avoid flavoured yogurts as these tend to be processed concoctions with a high sugar content and are not necessarily rich sources of good bacteria.
Avoid The Following…
Over-training, sleep-deprivation, smoking (including passive smoking) and stress all harm the immune system. If you feel that your illness may have been brought on by stress, avoid caffeine and refined sugar, and make sure not to let yourself get hungry or skip meals. This will minimise stress to your adrenal system and improve your chances of recovery.
The medicine itself tastes bad, and its efficacy requires that you approach your illness holistically, and follow the appropriate dietary and lifestyle recommendations. It requires a shift in the way you view your body if you come from a Western background, but Chinese Medicine is be very effective. I frequent medical halls here in South Australia and in Singapore. If you’re in Adelaide, pay a visit to John Quach at the Nam Bac Duong medical hall. If in Singapore, visit Cheong Hoe Medical Hall at Serangoon Gardens.
I hope you find these ideas useful! As is the case with most things, the best cure is prevention, so eat well, take care of yourself and enjoy the winter in good health! (And please tell me if you’ve seen a whelk!)
The information in this article is intended as general advice only, and is not intended to take the place of advice from a health care professional.