How to optimise immune function - a Nutritionist's perspective

Optimising immune function is at the forefront of most of our minds right now and there are numerous things we can do from a nutritional perspective to help us to be better protected and bounce back more quickly if we do get sick.

As a Clinical Nutritionist and Functional Medicine practitioner, ensuring my patients have all that they need for strong immune systems is central to my practice; largely due to the fact that 70% of our immune system is produced in our gut. This means that optimising gut health is critical to optimising our immune function; but before reaching for jars of probiotics (which can often do more harm than good), there are plenty of things we can add to our diets to give us a greater abundance of beneficial bacteria, improve gut integrity and support overall gut health.

Try to include

· Probiotic food sources (the living guys)

Fermented foods such as – sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurts, kefir and kombucha

· Prebiotic food sources (the food for the living guys)

Onions, garlic, leeks, apples, bananas (slightly green), asparagus, legumes, brown rice and even a little bit of dark chocolate

· Broths, soups, fresh juices, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, clean sources of protein, pineapple and ginger.

Try to avoid

· Processed foods

· Refined sugars

· Chemicals, additives and preservatives

· Alcohol (Everything in moderation)

· Non-organic wheat and corn

· Excess coffee consumption (more than 2 cups per day)

Our bodies are truly incredible and at any given moment, our immune systems are working to keep us fit and healthy and protected from bugs such as viruses. In addition to good gut health, a balanced and varied diet helps to provide us with particular nutrients that are required to nourish our bodies and optimise immune function.

What are the top vitamins and minerals to support immune function?

· Vitamin C is critical for immune function due to its antiviral, antibacterial and potent antioxidant effects. Where can you find it? Citrus fruits, leafy green veggies such as spinach and kale, red capsicum, brussel sprouts, strawberries and pawpaw.

I love a good smoothie with berries and spinach each morning to ensure that I get my daily dose of C.

· Zinc (one of my absolute favourite minerals) helps to slow down immune responses and reduce inflammation. Where can you find it? Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, cashews, oysters, crab, lean meats, poultry, baked beans, yoghurt and chickpeas.

I get my patients to make up a little jar of nut and seed mix so they can sprinkle it over cereal, yoghurt, in smoothies, on veggies or meat to up their intake of zinc.

· Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant and helps to boost immune function. Where can you find it? Orange veggies – carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, rockmelon, red capsicum, broccoli and spinach.

· Vitamin D a key nutrient as it modulates immune function (adequate levels have been shown to be more effective in preventing the flu than immunisation!) Where can you find it? Sunshine (and you get the added bonus of fresh air!) Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines), egg yolks, liver, mushrooms and fortified foods.

One tip I love giving my patients is to put some mushrooms in the sun with their gills facing upwards for 24 hours. This increases their vitamin D content by a whopping 40,000IU! In addition, mushies contain certain compounds which stimulate and modulate immune function.

· Glutathione the “master antioxidant” and helps immune cells fight off viruses. Where to find it? Cruciferous veggies such as cauliflower, broccoli and brussel sprouts. Garlic, onions, avocadoes, apples, pears, asparagus, spinach and parsley.

What else can be done to support our immune systems?

· Sleep! The aim is to get 7-8 quality hours each night to maintain adequate immune function. Avoid screens at least 2 hours before bedtime, ensure you are sleeping in a cool and dark space, minimise the amount of liquid you drink in the lead up to bed and try and stick to a routine.

· Stay hydrated – critical in keeping blood and lymphatic volumes where they need to be for immune function and to assist in removing bugs from the body.

· Breathe! Stress negatively impacts the immune system through depleting the nutrients we spoke about earlier, impacting gut health and increasing inflammation (which reduces immune function). Do some yoga or meditation, practice breathing through your nose (not your mouth) or consider downloading apps such as Calm or Headspace to incorporate into your day.

If you require any additional support or advice, please feel free to touch base with us at the clinic on 08 8166 7561 or email or head to the website to book a free 15 minute discovery call

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