Can’t shift that cold or cough, and constantly feeling run down? With winter illnesses rife during the colder months, our immune systems need all the help they can get to fight off pesky viruses and infections. So, to keep your body fighting fit and illness-free, try these natural immune boosters for an instant health fix.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise and cold and flu season well underway, people are looking for more and more ways to boost their natural defences against illness.
But can a supplement really give your body that extra edge to fight off nasty viruses and bacterial infections?
In truth, there’s no one magic pill to bolster your immune system. In fact, it’s a myth that making it stronger will defend your body against illness. You don’t actually want your immune system to be stronger. Too much of an immune response is just as bad as too little a response. It’s about finding the right balance for your body, so it can do its job properly — to recognise and identify an infection or injury in the body.
So actually, when you get sick, it’s your immune system’s response to fighting off illness. It’s not actually because your immune system is weak. With every cold symptom you’ve experienced, it’s your immune system telling you it’s hard at work.
What is the immune system and how does it work?
The immune system is a complex network of cells, chemicals, tissues and organs harmful bacteria, that can potentially invade the body and make you sick. It identifies these ‘invading pathogens’ by triggering an immune response, with the goal of restoring your body’s immunity to a normal function.
Many people assume that when they get sick, their symptoms are a sign that they have a virus or an infection as a result of a weakened immune system. But in actual fact, it’s a sign that your body's immune system is fighting back against the illness. Your symptoms are an ‘immune response’, letting you know your immune system is working hard to protect you and keep you healthy.
But if your immune system is supposed to protect you, why do you still get sick?
As we’ve already said, the immune system is a very complex structure, and each person’s immune response differs from one person to the next. It’s not entirely known why some people have a more balanced immune response, while others do not. A number of factors, including certain lifestyle choices, can affect your immune response.
Every day we come into contact with germs, including bacteria and viruses. A healthy immune system works hard to stop you getting sick from these germs. It recognises these harmful substances, and triggers an immune response to defend itself, as soon as these germs enter the body. It first, tries to flush the virus or infection out of the body (i.e. a cough or cold) and then tells your white blood cells to attack the foreign invaders, preventing them from causing any further harm.
White blood cells are integral to your immune system — they’re produced by your bone marrow to help your body fight infection. If you have fewer than normal white blood cells, you have a higher risk of getting an infection, because your immune system isn't working as well as it should be.
Some people may only experience a sniffly cold or tickly cough for a few days, while others might experience much worse symptoms, and as such, their immune systems have to work much harder to destroy the infection or virus.
So how can you avoid getting ill?
Keeping your immune system healthy and balanced is the key to preventing infections and disease. You can do this simply by making healthy lifestyle choices — like eating nutritious foods, getting optimal sleep and exercising.
But it’s also about taking precautions too. Viruses and bacterial infections are rife during the winter, but that’s not necessarily due to the cold weather.
Respiratory infections are transferred from person to person much more easily in winter. This is for two reasons: firstly, because we tend to spend more time indoors in enclosed spaces, so germs are passed much quicker when you come into close contact with someone who is already sick. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that social distancing does actually minimise your risk of transmitting illness.
Secondly, viruses (like the flu for example) thrive in cold, dry air. Low humid environments, such as those in winter, cause the air to be much drier. Research suggests that these dry conditions offer the perfect environment for the flu virus to flourish. That’s because when the virus is expelled into the air (via breathing or via germs on your hands), that little bit of moisture that surrounds the virus evaporates. As a result, the virus remains in the air for a longer period of time, allowing someone sufficiently close to breathe it in.
So, taking the necessary precautions to avoid illness can help protect your immunity and prevent further illness. These include:
- avoid coming into contact with anyone who is already sick
- wash your hands regularly and throughly with anti-bacterial soap to prevent any further spread of germs and bacteria
- avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- get vaccinated — vaccines (like the flu jab for example) contain weakened versions of the virus, so that your body develops cells and antibodies that protect you against future infection. Your immune system essentially becomes more equipped to deal with the virus, by developing a much more efficient immune response.
So what can I do to keep my immune system healthy?
You may not have a lot of control over how your immune system functions, but there are ways to keep it balanced and working efficiently. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the first (and most effective) step you can take to encourage your immune system to work the way it’s supposed to. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when it’s protected against harmful environmental assaults. The best way to keep it healthy is to adopt the following:
- don’t smoke
- eat a heathy, balanced diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables
- exercise regularly
- maintain a healthy weight
- drink alcohol in moderation
- get at least 7-8 hours’ sleep per night
What about supplements?
You can also take certain supplements that help to optimise your overall health, which in turn, can help your immune system function more efficiently. Some are well-known for their infection-fighting benefits, but they also work to boost your overall health. By taking them, your body will be much healthier, and your immune system more equipped to fight off illness.
In fact, research has proven that supplementing the body with specific vitamins, minerals, herbs and other substances may help to boost immune response, and potentially protect against infections and illnesses. Supplements essentially give your body that extra line of defence to ward off illnesses before they strike.
Which supplements should I take?
We asked Daniel Zhou, our in-house pharmacist, to give his expert advice on how to stop illness the natural way. Here are of the best immune-boosting supplements to keep your body fighting fit all-year-round.
Eagle Beta A-C Powder
This high potency, effervescent vitamin C powder contains buffered forms of vitamin C, Beta A-C, zinc, natural vitamin E and citrus bioflavonoids as antioxidants, all of which work hard to boost the immune system, fight cold symptoms and help with skin repair and wound healing.
Swisse Ultiboost Vitamin C Chewable Natural Orange
Get your daily dose of immune-boosting vitamin C. These chewable tablets help reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms, support healthy immune function and antioxidant activity.
This hard-working herbal formula combines andrographis, echinacea, olive leaf, vitamin C and zinc — scientifically formulated to protect the body against illness and provide support for healthy immune function.
A daily dose of immune support packed with andrographis, siberian ginseng, echinacea, turmeric and zinc, that work together to fight against symptoms of cold and flu.
A combination of natural active ingredients (astragalus, shiitake mushroom and olive leaf) that builds your body’s immunity to protect against illness.
These little lozenges pack a powerful punch, with antioxidant-rich black elderberries, vitamin C and zinc, to help relieve sore throats and boost your immune system.
Loved our round-up of the best supplements to boost your immune system? We've got lots more health advice on our Health & Wellness Edit, guaranteed to give your body a well-deserved boost. Want to know if practitioner-only supplements are better than over-the-counter? Plus, could you be making these common mistakes with pain killers?