Our immune systems are unbelievable pieces of machinery. When a threat tries to attack your body—be it a virus, a bacterial infection, stress, or anything in between—the immune system is what comes out to fight off the invader.
The immune system runs throughout the body and is made up of everything from organs and cells to proteins and tissues. It shifts away dead cells that aren’t needed anymore and attacks unwelcome foreign bodies. People with underlying health may live with weakened immune systems and may be unable to prevent some illnesses, but two things most people can control is what they put into their bodies and the lifestyle they choose to live.
Before you shop Bargain Chemist to buy supplements online, learn more about our top picks for naturally boosting your immune system below.
Every part of the immune system is tied to the gut. According to the New Zealand Heart Foundation, every piece of food that passes your lips affects how your body will respond to infection. The many bacteria that live there are known as your gut microbiome. The more diverse those good bacteria are, the stronger your immune system will be.
Nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables should be everyone’s best friend when it comes to keeping your gut healthy and your body fighting fit, along with a number of supplements that can give you an extra boost in any areas you may be deficient.
Dieticians, doctors, and fitness experts quite literally want you to eat the rainbow. The easiest way to ensure you’re eating a wide variety of produce is to buy what’s in season. While some things are readily available all year round, others are fresh and affordable for just a handful of months.
Those wanting a more extensive guide to fresh produce can visit the 5+ A Day website, which is also home to healthy recipes, tips, and educational resources.
Winter immune boosters
- Silverbeet– Also known as swiss chard, this winter staple is filled with high doses of vitamins A, C, B6 and K. It can easily be added to everything from omelettes and noodle dishes to smoothies and juices.
- Cabbage– Charlie Bucket’s family was onto something with their famous cabbage soup! This crunchy vegetable is filled with soluble fibre, which is proven to increase good bacteria in the gut.
- Cauliflower– This Brassicaceae vegetable gets top marks for being a versatile kitchen staple that’s also packed with fibre and water. Maintaining good fibre levels will ensure your digestive system is in tip-top shape, which in turn is beneficial to the overall function of the immune system.
- Apples– There might be some truth in the adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Much like cauliflower, apples are high in dietary fibre, which helps the body fight inflammation caused by infection.
- Pumpkin– This hearty winter vegetable is loaded with vitamins A, C and E, all of which your body will thank you for.
- Mandarins– Aside from the obvious (vitamin C), mandarins offer up vitamin A, potassium, manganese, and magnesium.
Spring immune boosters
- Spinach– Dark green veggies such as spinach are vitamin and mineral powerhouses. Spinach is loaded with vitamin A and vitamin C, both of which provide great support to blood cells and the wider immune system.
- Kiwifruit– These tart fruits are packed with immunity-lovers vitamin C and vitamin E. The fibre in kiwifruit is also great for digestive health and overall bowel regularity.
- Asparagus– These bad boys aren’t in season for long, so it really is worth buying them while they’re cheap. Asparagus is rich in vitamin B-9, which is key to the development of cells. One serving also has more than half of your RDI for vitamin K, which is essential for bone health.
- Watercress– This peppery green—which can be foraged here in New Zealand—contains good levels of vitamin C, which is essential to produce white blood cells.
Summer immune boosters
- Tomatoes– Sure, citrus fruits are full of vitamin C, but did you know tomatoes are too? Vitamin C is key to healing damaged tissue and keeping your immune system fighting fit.
- Lemons– The ease with which lemons are imported means they’re technically available year-round, but when locally sourced, they peak between June and March. The juice of one lemon equates to 50% of an adult’s daily intake for vitamin C.
- Blueberries– These little nutrient bombs are awesome. Blueberries contain iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin K. Note that anyone on blood-thinners should consult their doctor before increasing their intake of blueberries (something that relates to the increase in vitamin K).
Beetroot – This bright purple vegetable—which also packs a punch when it’s been juiced—is filled with calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium, among other vitamins.
Autumn immune boosters
- Broccoli– Roast it, steam it, stir-fry it, do whatever's necessary to get your broccoli fix during autumn. The dark green brassica is a wonderful source of vitamins C and K, fibre, potassium, and folate (a nutrient that aids in the production of new cells in the body).
- Kale– This nutrient-dense cruciferous vegetable is packed with all kinds of healthy goodness. Regarding immunity it’s worth mentioning B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium—a mineral that supports immune function.
- Orange kumara– The orange flesh inside orange sweet potatoes contains beta-carotene, a compound that the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A supports immunity by helping to keep your gut’s mucus membrane healthy, which in turn supports overall gut health.
Immune-boosting herbs and supplements
- Echinacea– It’s common for immunity supplements to combine echinacea with vitamin C. Research has shown that the former may prevent you from catching colds, decrease the length of a cold and speed up your recovery.
- Vitamin C– We've stressed it already, but it’s worth stressing again; vitamin C benefits many parts of the body (the skin’s barrier, wound healing, white blood cell production). While it won’t stop you from getting a cold, vitamin C supplements may strengthen various parts of the body that contribute to overall health and wellness.
- Vitamin D– Vitamin D levels are at their lowest during the cooler months, when the sun appears less often, and we tend to stay inside more. Research has shown people with low levels of vitamin D in their bodies are at increased risk of contracting a cold, cough, or upper respiratory infection. To counteract this, people may wish to add a vitamin D supplement to their day.
Foods available all year round
- Yoghurt– Yes, yoghurt is rich in protein and calcium, but it’s also loaded with probiotics that can enhance your immune system and help your digestive system.
- Chickpeas– These affordable immune powerhouses contain zinc and copper—two minerals that help with the growth of immune cells.
- Probiotics– Probiotics are excellent for maintaining good gut health. They do this by balancing gut bacteria, which has roll-on benefits for immunity, weight loss and digestive health. Some foods containing probiotics include kefir, kombucha, yoghurt, miso, and sourdough. You may also want to visit a health store to speak with someone about adding a probiotic supplement to your day.
- Carrot– The humble carrot can be found in supermarkets year-round. Juicing the sweet orange vegetables is an awesome way to load up on the antioxidants and vitamin C needed to make it through the cold and flu-filled winter months.
- Water– We get it, this one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s still worth talking about! Water travels through the kidneys where it flushes toxins out of the body. Your body also needs water to produce white blood cells known as lymphs, which fight infection. We recommend that men consume 3.7 litres per day and women consume 2.7 litres (remember: 20% of your usual daily water intake will come from food).
Foods that weaken your immune system
Unfortunately, the list of foods that can weaken the immune system covers pretty much anything that doesn’t come from a plant or animal. If colourful fruits and vegetables support your immune system, it makes sense that beige-coloured processed foods can weaken it. Foods that may compromise your immune system include:
- Anything high in refined sugar
- Fizzy drink
- Processed foods
While these foods are okay to consume in moderation, the bulk of your diet should always be built around fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, lean meat, and a handful of healthy dairy and wheat-based products. People interested in learning more about how to build a healthy diet can visit the Heart Foundation website.
Benefits of exercise
The role exercise plays in maintaining overall good health means the effects of regular exercise will ultimately domino, leading to a healthier immune system. Exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, increase mood, lower blood pressure, and help people maintain a healthy weight. While it doesn’t directly strengthen your immune system, when taking a holistic approach to wellness it certainly contributes to overall good health, meaning the immune system is one of many body parts that will benefit.
Stress and immunity
When we feel stressed, our endocrine system (which produces and releases hormones) releases hormones that prepare us for potentially life-threatening situations. The body uses adrenaline to increase heart rate and energy, while cortisol increases glucose in the blood and blocks anything deemed nonessential (remember, your body thinks it’s in danger, even when you know you’re physically safe).
The immune system also becomes compromised when the body is stressed. Put simply, when we’re stressed out, the immune system struggles to fight off threats, which makes us more at risk of contracting disease and infection.
There are several lifestyle changes that can help reduce stress in your day-to-day life. Some of these actions include:
- Practice yoga (lots of free classes are available on YouTube)
- Sit down with a cup of tea. Fight the urge to scroll your phone, watch tv or listen to the radio while doing this
- Go for a walk
- Sit down and phone a friend or family member for a catch-up
- Run a bath and light a candle
- Escape into a good book
- Invest in an adult colouring book (colouring can be a kind of meditation)
- Schedule some time for yourself, away from kids, partners, family, and friends
- Reduce the amount of caffeine you’re consuming. Drinking a lot of coffee and/or energy drinks can trigger the body’s “fight or flight” responses, which can translate to an increased heart rate and a general feeling of being jittery.
- Spend some time outdoors. This can be as simple as sitting on your doorstep with a cup of tea or playing ball in the park with friends.
Why immunisation matters
Another important piece in the immune system puzzle is ensuring you’ve been immunised. The Ministry of Health defines immunisation as a kind of vaccination that “uses the body’s natural defence mechanism—the immune response—to build resistance to specific infections.” This means that “when an immunised person comes in contact with that disease in the future, their immune system will respond to prevent them from developing the disease.”
Common vaccines issued in New Zealand protect against influenza (AKA the “flu jab”), tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (AKA a “whooping cough” jab), and human papillomavirus (HPV). Check out the full list of recommended immunisations from the Ministry.
Give your immune system a boost
Whether you want to boost your vitamin C intake, make up for a vitamin D deficiency, or add a little to an already balanced diet, Bargain Chemist has all the vitamin supplements you need to stay healthy year-round. Visit one of our many locations throughout New Zealand or shop online today for the immune-boosting supplements you need at great prices!