This Morning: Dr Chris on how to boost the immune system
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Winter is the worst time for colds, flu and COVID-19, thanks to less sun, less time spent outdoors, and a switch to a carbohydrate-heavy diet that causes your vitamin levels to plummet. For that reason, you might want to consider taking immunity-boosting vitamins from December to the end of February at least. Express.co.uk chatted to the nutritional experts at OriGym to find out the six vitamins you need in winter to beat the blues and boost your immune system.
In the winter, we get far less exposure to the sun, and therefore our bodies don’t make enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D not only keeps your bones, teeth and muscles healthy, but it also is one of the best vitamins to boost the immune system. It helps to facilitate normal immune system function and it provides improved resistance against certain diseases.
The NHS advised everyone in the UK to take a daily vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter.
Vitamin D is mainly produced in your skin in response to sunlight, but it’s also readily available in a supplementary form and found in some foods too, including:
- Red meats
- Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines
- Egg yolks
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is the best vitamin for protecting cells and keeping them healthy, maintaining healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage, and helping with wound healing.
This vitamin is found in a wide variety of fruit and vegetables such as oranges, strawberries, broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes, blackcurrants and peppers.
Eating any of these plants will give you an immune system boost. Regularly eating foods full of vitamin C can help your body fight off colds and flu.
This is because vitamin C is an antioxidant and plays a role in strengthening the body’s natural defences against invaders such as viruses and bacteria.
One way it does this is by encouraging the production of white blood cells known as phagocytes and lymphocytes which help protect the body against infection.
Unlike vitamin D, our bodies don’t produce vitamin C naturally, and it is best absorbed in natural sources or supplementary form.
Zinc plays a vital role in a number of functions and is another one of the best vitamins to support the immune system all year round (but especially in the winter).
This mineral is needed by the body to make proteins and DNA, the genetic material in all cells, and it also helps the immune system fight off invading viruses and bacteria.
To ensure that you get enough zinc to help keep your immune system strong and beat a common cold, try to incorporate zinc-rich foods into your daily diet. This includes:
- Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans
- Red meat
- Dark chocolate
If you’re still low on zinc, try taking a daily supplement.
Vitamin E is another vitamin we should all be taking in the winter because it’s one of the best vitamins for the immune system.
As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin E helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Luckily, vitamin E is found in a range of foods, including:
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Sunflower oil
- Sunflower seeds
- Red bell peppers
You can also take a daily vitamin E supplement.
Iron deficiency is more common among women and specifically pregnant women, but the mineral is one of the most important for your immune system and a multitude of other biological functions.
This nutrient is especially needed for efficient immune cell proliferation to fight infection.
Iron deficiency could cause your immune system to weaken and anaemia to develop, which is a decrease in the number of red blood cells present in your blood.
The mineral also helps your body carry oxygen to cells, so if you don’t have enough iron, your immune system is going to take a hit and be weakened.
Especially in winter, it’s worth taking iron supplements or increasing your intake of iron-rich foods such as:
- Red meats
- Beans, such as chickpeas, red kidney beans, and edamame
- Pumpkin seeds
Calcium is mostly known for keeping bones and teeth strong, but it is also one of the best winter vitamins to boost the immune system.
The mineral helps blood to clot, muscles to contract and regulates normal heart rhythms and nerve functions.
It also helps to maintain strong teeth and bones, allows muscles to move and nerves to carry messages from the brain to the rest of the body, and of course, supports the immune system.
Calcium activates cells in the immune system and controls whether immune cells can use the nutrients they need to fuel their multiplication for fighting off foreign bodies, like germs, viruses, or bacteria.
Some foods that are are rich in calcium that you can easily add to your diet include:
- Whey protein
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