The winter season is the cold season. Your own medicine cabinet at home offers many helpful remedies against symptoms such as coughing, a runny nose and hoarseness. To prevent the onset of an infection, you should strengthen your immune system – preferably with exercise, healthy food and probiotics.
Many people are used to getting sick several times during autumn and winter. Whether a harmless cold or the real flu with high fever – such diseases are unpleasant and can keep you bedridden for a few days. However, many of these infections could have been avoided by strengthening the immune system in time.
The impact of the intestines on our immune system
The immune system is a complex cooperation between cells and proteins that protect our body against harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. Astoundingly, scientific evidence shows that 80% of the immune system lies in the intestines – it is, therefore, more than just a machine that processes food! The intestines and it’s trillions of inhabitants not only react towards the things we eat but also many other stimuli and irritants. One of these irritants is stress, and its duration can have a major effect on the immune system. Constant psychological strain (a.k.a. distress), e.g. through work at the end of the year, combined with a traditional fatty and sweet Christmas treats can upset our sensitive intestines. The aftermath not only includes complaints such as diarrhoea, constipation or an irritable colon but also a weakened immune system. This also has consequences for the entire organism. These include increased susceptibility to infections, the above mentioned intestinal complaints and a higher risk of developing severe diseases.
How to strengthen my immune system?
There are several easy options to strengthen the immune system and reduce the susceptibility towards infections:
- Keep your body fit: Every form of exercise is better than no exercise. A large study with over 400.000 participants showed that already 2,5 hours of exercise per week, whether daily activities such as vacuuming or sports with medium intensity, can slightly improve your life expectancy. Taking regular walks out in the open stimulates the circulatory system and allows the skin to produce vitamin D and prevent a lack thereof.
- Avoid stress: Stress provokes the release of hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These put the body in an emergency situation and weaken the immune system. Even here, exercise can have a positive effect.
- A balanced diet: The choice of food has a huge impact on the immune system. The renowned Mediterranean diet is rich in vitamins, minerals and micronutrients, all of which are essential for a strong immune system. Ideally, you should avoid processed products or ready-made meals and fast food, and choose food with quality and sustainability – seasonal, regional and „organic“ are the „magic words“ you should look out for.
- Support the intestines: A disturbed ratio between „good“ and „bad“ intestinal bacteria increases the risk of various diseases. Selected probiotics help maintain a healthy balance or can rebalance the ratio. Many food ingredients, so-called prebiotics (e.g. pectin, acacia fibres), support the growth of „good“ bacteria.
- Drink enough: Thirst is just as much a warning signal as hunger for our bodies. You should drink at least 1,5 to 3 litres of water or unsweetened tea a day to boost the immune system. Try to avoid alcohol since it weakens the defence system.
- Good hygiene: Harmful microorganisms spread through the air through droplets and direct skin contact. Sneezing properly (in your elbow) and washing your hands regularly aren’t only good manners but also reduce the risk infection and infecting others.
This list of helpful tips, which help the immune system with its many tasks, could go on for a few more paragraphs. One point, however, deserves special attention: antibiotics.
Use antibiotics with cation
Antibiotics are a silver bullet against bacterial infections – and only bacterial infections! However, you should take them with caution. Pay special attention to the recommended dosage: If an antibiotic is prescribed for seven days, don’t stop taking it after four days, even if the symptoms improve. The carefree use of antibiotics causes increasing resistance towards antibiotics. In other words, bacteria are becoming less and less sensitive towards these drugs, and the consequences are fatal: In 2014, 25.000 people in the EU died because of antibiotic resistance and in 2018, it increased to 33.000.
Be a little more hesitant with the use of antibiotics in children. It is normal for infants under the age of two to contract up to eight infections per year since their immune system is still developing. Nevertheless, doctors are too quick to prescribe an antibiotic upon the pleas of worried parents. Out of ten infections, six to eight are treated with antibiotics, although only two infections are caused by bacteria. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take every infection of your child seriously or delay the visit to the doctor. Instead, it is essential to find the cause since antibiotics are futile against viral infections.
Household remedies for a stronger immune system
To put a little less strain on the whole antibiotic situation, experts recommend the use of the above-mentioned probiotics as well as herbal medicines (so-called phytopharmaceuticals) with natural ingredients. For example, echinacea, blue wild indigo and thuja are perfect for stimulating the immune system. Many other plants such as aniseed, okra, ivy, eucalyptus, the South African geranium, mountain pine, primrose, ribwort and thyme help alleviate the acute symptoms of an infection. Ask your local pharmacy for advice and help.
Four foods for a strong immune system
- Nuts: Nuts contain the natural antioxidant vitamin E that supports the body’s own defence systems.
Tip: Nuts are a great snack to munch on.
- Broccoli: This vegetable is, among others, rich in vitamin A, which is important for the immune system.
Tip: Why not add a little butter? Vitamin A, D, E and K are fat-soluble and require a small amount of fat so that they can be absorbed by the body.
- Carrots: Even carrots contain large amounts of vitamin A.
Tip: Make fresh juice with a few drops of high-quality oil.
- Paprika: Paprika contains massive amounts of vitamin C and supports the immune system.
Tip: Chilli and spicy peppers warm you up from the inside during the cold season.