It's been about 7 years since I experienced my last sinus infection. Before I understood how to boost my immune system, if I caught a cold I knew I might be sick for weeks.
Catching a cold was always the first step to a sinus infection, crippling sinus headaches, and then a chesty cough that I couldn't shake for weeks. It was something that I accepted as being 'normal' for me.
Our immune systems are amazing and complex and always hard at work to protect us from invaders.
as I have discovered, we actually have a lot of control over how well we support our immunity.
Over the past few years I have made quite a few very small and very simple changes. These small changes have resulted a big boost to my immune system and my overall health. I've put together a few diet and lifestyle tips that have worked for me:
1. Eating fresh fruit and vegetables
I used to eat a banana on my breakfast every morning, and I almost always ate 3 vegetables with my dinner. However I regularly ate the same fruit and 3 or 4 vegetables, day in, day out.
Fruit and vegetables contain a wide array of vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients such as antioxidants. These nutrients are essential to the correct function of our immune cells.
The nutrient profiles in each piece of fruit or vegetable are different. The key is that the wider the variety in your diet, the wider the range of beneficial nutrients that you will be consuming.
I now aim to have a seasonally rotating variety of at least 20 different fruits and 40 different vegetables in my diet.
2. Eating protein at most meals
Protein is important for the enzymes that conduct all the immune responses in our body. Nuts and seeds, meat, seafood, fish, eggs, soy beans, lentils and quinoa are good sources of protein. Once again, variety is the key to consuming a wide range of amino acids.
Many of these protein sources also contain essential minerals such as iron and zinc. A zinc deficiency puts your immune system at risk because it is needed to support many of the immune system enzymes. Zinc is found in high levels in oysters, mussels, other seafood and meat.
Sunshine is essential for our health and evidence is growing to show that high vitamin D levels are associated with a lower risk for some cancers and autoimmune disease.
Our bodies make vitamin D from exposure to the suns rays. Vitamin D is important for the prevention of many diseases. Vitamin D assists with the production of antibodies and other immune cells and also with prevention of inflammation.
A minimum of 15 to 20 minutes of daily, safe, sun exposure is recommended to boost your vitamin D levels.
4. Take time to unwind
Stress is something that affects our immune health in silent ways. Life is so full of everyday stresses that often we just take them for granted. Stress might be getting to work on time, dealing with traffic, bills piling up, deadlines, relationship problems, meeting other peoples expectations or being disappointed by others.
The hormones produced when we're chronically stressed can slow down the immune response and make us more susceptible to illnesses. Anything you can do to reduce your stress response is good for the immune system. Examples are deep breathing, daily meditation, exercise, doing things that you enjoy, spending time with people who make you laugh, and trying not to sweat the small stuff.
5. Adequate sleep
If you're not sleeping around 6 to 7 hours each night, then you're not giving your body a chance to rest and recuperate over night. Sleep deprivation suppresses the immune response and decreases your ability to respond to colds and infections.
If you do get sick, rest and sleep is an important part of fighting the infection and recovery. Take it easy for 2 or 3 days until the symptoms have passed and you're feeling better.
6. Moderate daily exercise
Exercise is beneficial for so many aspects of our health that it shouldn't be surprising that exercise directly enhances our immune system. When we exercise we support the work of our lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system is a major part of our immune system, assisting with the work of detoxifying and cleansing. We can improve the efficiency of our lymphatic system by walking, swimming, playing tennis, lifting weights, doing yoga, or anything that gets our muscles contracting.
Exercise additionally provides stress relief and improves the quality of our sleep. To be beneficial for your immune system, exercise must be balanced and you should rest if you feel that you're coming down with a cold.
7. Nutrient rich, flu fighting foods
Anyone who has read my previous blogs will not be surprised to read that herbs and spices are a great way to add extra nutrients to your diet to help with prevention of colds and flu.
Many herbs and spices can be used when you feel a cold coming on because they have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.
Garlic, sage, thyme, chilli, cinnamon, ginger, onion, oregano, rosemary and turmeric are good for fighting the common cold and easy to add to meals, with a bonus of extra flavour!
Other nutrient dense foods that are beneficial when you're feeling a little sick are fruits such as berries and citrus (for vitamin C), fish, seeds, legumes and chicken soup.
And remember to keep your water consumption up when you're feeling down.
8. Herbal medicine
At the very first sign of a sore throat, I jump onto my preventative herbal medicine. Herbal formulas provide anti-viral and anti-bacterial support to fight infections and assistance for a healthy immune system response. I mix up different blends depending on what the symptoms are.
I no longer believe that it's normal for me to get sick. I now use a proactive approach to my immune health and realise that regularly coming down with the same thing is a message that something in my immune system needs extra support.
I love to work with people who have recurring problems with their immune system. For me it was always sinus problems, but for others it can be hay fever, asthma, flu, chest infections or urinary tract infections.
I often see people get better by embracing natural treatments and be able to reduce or eliminate their antibiotics or anti-allergy medications over time. If you feel that you have health problems and you are struggling to make self care a priority, please work with me. I'd love to help you live a healthy, energetic and balanced life, even if you don't think it's possible!
I am a naturopath, herbalist and wellness coach.
I love to welcome clients to my clinic in Gladesville, Sydney.
I specialise in women's health, peri-menopause and menopause, stress and burnout.
This blog is not intended as health advice. Please seek medical advice if you are unwell.