Our immune system protects us all year long against viruses and bacteria. However, dry heated air and temperature fluctuations make us more susceptible to colds in the cold time of year. Anyone who would like to support their body’s own defence should strengthen their immune system in a timely manner …
Our body has many protective barriers in order to repel pathogens. For example, the penetration into the body is already complicated by sneezing, coughing, saliva, an acidic skin environment or gastric acid. Our immune system is only challenged once this protective barrier of the body is overcome.
Viruses and bacteria are active all year long. But particularly in the cold time of year there is much work for the immune system, because due to the colder temperatures the circulation of the nose and throat region is impaired and more susceptible as a result. If it gets uncomfortable outside, more people are close together in closed rooms and can get infected easier.
If our body is now weakened or inadequately supplied with nutrients, the pathogens have it even easier. In fact, people among whom the immune system is not functioning optimally have three or more infections per year and take longer until they are healthy again. So we should remember to strengthen our immune system at an early stage.
A healthy and balanced diet has an influence on our overall well-being and our body’s performance. Naturally our immune system also benefits from a good supply of nutrients, because then our body has many possibilities to successfully defend itself against pathogens.
It is not without good reason that the German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends eating at least three portions of vegetables and two portions of fruit every day. You can also specifically support your defence with certain vitamins and minerals:
Vitamin C – eat kiwis again …
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is arguably the most well-known vitamin when it comes to strengthening the immune system. During and after intensive physical activity vitamin C also contributes to a normal function of the immune system when 200 mg are taken in addition to the recommended daily dose.
Citrus fruits, but also vegetables such as broccoli, kale or Brussels sprouts are among the good suppliers of vitamin C. Between 100-20 mg of vitamin C should be eaten daily. Our tip: since vitamin C is very sensitive, foodstuffs should be eaten fresh and not be stored for a long time.
Vitamin D – the key hormone of the immune system
Vitamin D is known to many people as a byword for bone health. Recent research efforts have not shown that vitamin D is the key hormone of the immune system because it supports the normal function of the immune system. The immune defence can only be mobilised if the vitamin is present in sufficient quantity.
Vitamin D is actually not even a vitamin at all, but the precursor of a hormone that the human body can form itself through the regular exposure of sunlight to the skin. But particularly during the autumn and winter months this self-production is often not enough, precisely when the immune system is especially challenged.
Vitamin D is only present in higher quantities in few foodstuffs. Good sources are saltwater fish containing fat, veal and eggs, but mushrooms and avocadoes are also included.
Zinc and selenium protect the somatic cells
The trace element zinc is essential because it controls the function of more than 200 enzymes and is involved in many metabolic processes. For example, the good defence function of our body depends on the zinc balance. But it also contributes to protecting our somatic cells against oxidative stress.
It is recommended to ingest at least 10 mg of zinc with the food intake daily. It can also be readily more in case of additional physical strain, pregnancy or stress. Anyone who likes oysters can do something good for themselves, because they are the foodstuff richest in zinc. But saltwater fish, seafood, milk products or beef also contain zinc.
Just like zinc, selenium also contributes to protecting cell components against oxidative stress and ensures a normal function of the immune system.
The selenium requirement is particularly satisfied via meat, fish, chicken eggs as well as lentils and asparagus. However, the high degree of processing in foodstuffs and soils which are low in selenium lead to the fact that the ingested quantity of selenium is not always optimal.
Do you already know about chokeberries? Hardly anyone in Germany knew about these “power berries” until a few years ago. But the small chokeberry originating from North America really packs a punch: the chokeberry has certain secondary plant substances (flavonoids), so-called anthocyanins. These provide the purple, almost black colour of chokeberries. Basically the following applies: the darker the berries are, the higher their anthocyanin content is.
Anthocyanidin content (per 100 g) of berries:
The little berry is not suitable for nibbling in between meals, because it is much too sour and bitter in taste. But it can be enjoyed wonderfully in a fruit tea or in a delicious fruit quark. Most chokeberry lovers like to drink the extract pure. But a dilution with other fruit juices is also popular.
Naturally a balance and varied diet is extremely important in order to resist the next outbreak of the common cold. But there are also other factors which can contribute to supporting our body’s defences:
Wash your hands: Viruses are often transmitted when shaking hands or during contact with door handles, shopping carts etc. Avoid touching the face with your hands. Wash your hands several times a day with warm water and soap.
Drink enough! Unfortunately, our mucous membranes in the nose and throat region dry out due to heated air. The natural barrier for viruses and bacteria is restricted as a result. That is why you should definitely make sure to drink at least 2 litres of water or unsweetened tea every day.
Ventilate regularly: By opening windows and doors you ensure a healthy exchange of air. A few minutes are enough to exchange fresh, oxygen-rich air in place of old, virus-rich air from closed rooms.
Sauna and contrast showers (alternating hot & cold showers): An alternation of cold and warm water stimulates our circulation and trains the body for a rapid temperature change. But beware: anyone who already has a cold should forego sauna visits and not additionally burden their body through temperature fluctuations.
Exercise in fresh air: Exercise gets the circulation going and keeps our mucous membranes moist. Running or walking 3 times a week for half an hour is already enough. Make sure you wear suitable clothing during the cold and damp time of year. You should no longer pursue strenuous sports if you notice signs of a cold!
Just no stress! If possible, take a short break from time to time, do yoga or take a hot relaxation bath. Try to sleep 8 hours per night, because only a rested body can produce new antibodies.
Healthy intestinal flora: The intestines and the immune system are closely connected, because approximately 80 % of immune cells are located in the intestines. Healthy intestinal flora is particularly important for an effective immune system.
Alcohol and nicotine: Alcohol and nicotine actually weaken the immune system. Our immune system is deactivated for at least 24 hours during a period of intoxication. Nicotine severely restricts the function of certain white blood cells so that pathogens have it easier.
Avoid crowds! Naturally the risk of encountering a person with a cold increases with crowds of many people. Viruses are spread by droplet infection through coughing or sneezing. We can hardly protect ourselves against this, but if possible, avoid closer physical contact such as shaking hands or hugs.
Sleep: Our body’s defences are closely associated with the quality and duration of our sleep, because while we sleep, large quantities of immune-active substances are released in the body and strengthen our immune system.