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8 natural immune health heroes

Fight colds and flu with these natural ways to support your immune system

Give yourself a fighting chance against colds and flu by following our experts’ advice. Eating a balanced diet, prioritising sleep, reducing stress and taking supplements could help to keep infections at bay.

1 Eat a balanced diet

“Immune systems are closely linked to our digestive systems and in fact 70 per cent of our immune system is found in the gut,” says Simone Thomas, bioenergetics practitioner, nutritionist and founder of Simone Thomas Wellness ( “For the gut and the immune system to operate to their best, it’s essential to eat a balanced diet rich in micronutrients. Foods like bell peppers, papaya and grapefruits are a great way to prevent infection as they contain vitamin C, which stimulates the formation of antibodies and improves your immunity. Other good immune-supporting food includes organic fruits and vegetables, plenty of beans and legumes, whole grains such as brown rice and healthy fats such as avocado. Also keep alcohol down and be sure to drink plenty of water, as well as herbal teas rather than tea and coffee.”

2 Don’t sit still

“We all know that exercise is a great way to feel good, keep fit and stay in shape but it can also help protect you from infection,” says Simone Thomas. “Research has found that moderate exercise reduces your chances of catching upper respiratory tract infections like the common cold, sinusitis and tonsillitis. So, enjoy the gym, take a spin class, go to a yoga session, or just get outdoors and get your heart rate up.”

3 Take some antioxidants

“Antioxidants can help fight off infection,” says Caroline Hind, a registered nutritional therapist from Vitaminology ( “Choose supplements containing a blend of antioxidants such as quercetin or extracts of green tea, grape seed, pine bark or other plant compounds. Supplement labels may use the words ‘bioflavonoids’ or ‘carotenoids’. Research is emerging to support the use of targeted antioxidant supplements such as PEA (palmitoylethanolamide) and oxaloacetate for conditions ranging from infections to fatigue. Take antioxidant supplements before 3pm in case they have a stimulant effect and interfere with sleep.”

4 Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D

“Vitamin D is important for fighting off infection as well as regulating inflammation in the body,” says Caroline Hind. “Every cell in the body has receptors for vitamin D. Vitamin D3 is made by the body from sunshine and is the form of vitamin D the body can use; the other form, D2, has to be converted by the body first. Food sources include eggs and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring. Summer stores of vitamin D run out gradually and our lowest levels are between December and March. Ideally, get your vitamin D level tested in autumn to determine whether you need supplemental vitamin D3 to reach the healthiest levels.”

5 Reduce stress

“Chronically raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol can result in the immune system becoming resistant to the stress response,” says Paula Werrett, a BANT-registered nutritional therapy practitioner and Head of Undergraduate Provision the Institute for Optimum Nutrition ( “Swollen glands, a sore throat and aching limbs can all be signs that the body is trying hard to cope, and a good indicator to take time to rest and relax. Gentle exercise such as meditation, yoga or walking can help you to do this.”

6 Prioritise sleep

“Studies have shown that sufficient sleep helps the immune system to work well, with chronic sleep deprivation an independent risk factor for impaired immunity,” says Paula Werrett. “It’s important to prioritise quality sleep by eating meals at least a couple of hours before bedtime. Avoiding technology close to bedtime and winding down with a bath or listening to some music can help to aid sleep.”

7 Avoid sugar

“Sugar is the enemy of the immune system,” says Caroline Hind. “There’s no need to give up all of your treats, but look for a couple of ways you can comfortably reduce your sugary foods. Examples include heating up some frozen berries or stewing some apples for a warm, low-sugar pudding that still feels like a treat but which contains a good dose of immunity-supporting antioxidants.”

8 Look after your gut

“Our inner ‘garden’ of bacteria, our billions of gut microbes, are impacted by our food and lifestyle,” says Registered Nutritionist Dr Lucy Williamson DVM MSc ANutr ( “They’re vital for our long-term health, not least our immunity. This is because many of the cells which make up our immune system are located within the wall of our gut. To optimise our gut health, we want to nurture as big a variety of gut microbes as we can. We can do this by eating as big a variety of plants every week as you can – aim for 30 different types! Remember, this includes beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, cereals, grains, herbs and spices as well as fruit and veg. Eat small amounts of fermented foods every day. These are naturally probiotic like yogurt, kefir, kimchi and kombucha. Recent research from King’s College London has also shown plenty of happy gut bacteria when we include minimally processed animal-based foods in our diet too, like sustainably sourced fish – great for vitamin D which is another important nutrient for a strong immune system. As a golden rule, two-thirds plants to one-third animal foods provides a balanced gut healthy diet.”

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