Best ways to boost your immunity this autumn

Autumn is the perfect time to get your immune system fighting fit and ready to defend you from seasonal illness. Here’s how.

It’s that time of year when you are more likely to start getting sick.

From April onwards, cases of flu typically start to rise.

You may also find yourself visiting your GP or local pharmacy for treatments to relieve a pesky cold.

“As soon as autumn arrives, start looking at the things you can do to prepare your body for the harsher weather,” The George Institute for Global Health researcher Dr Anthony Sunjaya says.

A strong immune system is key when it comes to fighting viruses or ensuring they don’t stay around for too long.

Here are some proven ways to support a healthy immune system:

Make sleep a priority

“If you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces higher levels of stress hormones that cause inflammation, which has a negative impact on the immune system,” Dr Sunjaya says.

“Research suggests between seven and nine hours of sleep a night is about right for adults.”

Studies have found being well rested increases the ability of our body’s immune cells to attack invading virus-infected cells.

Research has also found that sleep deprivation suppresses our immune system, making it less effective.

Eat a healthy diet

You are what you eat, and that certainly applies to your immune system and how strong it is – or isn’t.

Dietitians Australia spokeswoman Dr Anika Rouf says there is no single miracle-boosting nutrient.

“An array of nutrients can support our immune system, including fruit, veggies, protein, grains and dairy,” Dr Rouf says.

Aim to include the following in your diet:

  • “Include healthy fats in your diet because there is some evidence that they may enhance the response of immune cells and reduce inflammation – nuts, seeds, oily fish and extra virgin olive oil are good sources,” Dr Rouf recommends.
  • Eggs and red meat are good sources of complete proteins and also lifts iron levels – low iron makes it harder for your body to fight infections.
  • Meat, along with chicken and seafood, is also a good source of zinc, which helps your immune system function.
  • Eat foods containing probiotics because there is growing recognition that gut health and immune health are closely linked, with good gut bacteria supporting the immune system.

Probiotics help maintain a balance of good gut bacteria, so include plain Greek yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi in your diet.

Consider herbal help to boost immunity

According to Chinese medicine, autumn’s change in temperature makes our body more vulnerable to infections.

Naturopath Mim Beim says specific herbal preparations can give our immune system a handy boost.

“Some herbs help attack viruses and some have more of a preventative role,” Mim explains.

Preventative herbs include:

Mim says these herbs and medicinal mushrooms help improve the body’s fighter cells so the immune system is more robust.

Herbs that help attack viruses include:

Many of these herbs are available in pharmacies or from a naturopath.

“The first weeks of autumn are the time to think about what you can do to help your immune system,” Mim says.

Drink plenty of H₂O

“Water plays a role in overall health and bodily functions, and it makes up around 50 to 80 per cent of our body weight – so it’s essential for all processes in our body to run smoothly,” dietitian Felicity Curtain says.

While water doesn’t directly protect us against fighting infection, it’s an important ingredient in staying well overall and is involved in carrying nutrients and oxygen through the body, eliminating waste and regulating temperature.

“In general, adults need eight to 10 cups of water a day, and foods with a higher water content, like fruits and veggies, also help with hydration,” Felicity says.

Written by Sarah Marinos.