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6 ways to support your immune system

Expert tips to help you survive the cold and flu season

As the cold and flu season approaches, now is a good time to give your immune system some extra support. Here are some ideas for foods, supplements and natural remedies to stock up on.


"One of the key roles of the microbiome (the trillions of bacteria in our body) is to stimulate the development and ongoing proper function of the immune system," says Adrienne Benjamin, the in-house nutritionist for Pro-Ven Probiotics ( "Research is increasingly recognising the central role that the gut microbiome plays in relation to both local immune responses in the digestive system and to general immunity. Some of the specific actions of our gut bacteria in relation to immunity include encouraging oral tolerance to food antigens, protecting against colonisation by pathogens, reducing inflammation and protecting against susceptibility to infection.

Probiotics are live bacteria that, when administered in adequate amounts, provide a health benefit to the host via their ability to modify the intestinal microbiome. By reinforcing the gut bacteria’s ability to support the immune system and protecting the microbiome against imbalances associated with infections, probiotics can form part of a therapeutic approach to help support the immune system. These ‘friendly’ bacteria have been shown to help improve inflammatory conditions, regulate the immune system and enhance barrier function in the digestive tract. They have also demonstrated antiviral activity against common illnesses such as influenza, rhinovirus and Coronavirus and particularly in relation to upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs), which comprise around 90 per cent of all respiratory infections."

Vitamin C

"Vitamin C is renowned for its ability to support the immune system," says Lucy Jones (ANutr), Registered Associate Nutritionist and founder of Lutrition ( "Many people believe they should be running to vitamin C supplements as soon as they get the first signs of a sniffle, but this isn’t necessary. The recommended 40mg of vitamin C can easily be found through the diet. For example, serve your breakfast with a small glass of orange juice, snack on satsumas or strawberries, cook a stir fry with colourful peppers and green broccoli, and enjoy white potatoes in comforting winter meals as mashed potato."

Vitamin D

"Sunlight is the primary source of vitamin D in the UK," says Lucy Jones, "and as we head into autumn and winter, there’s not only less daylight but the sun isn’t as strong as it was in the summer. Whilst vitamin D can be found in foods such as oily fish (think salmon or mackerel), egg yolks and fortified margarines, these foods don’t provide us with the recommended amount of vitamin D. As a result, it’s recommended all UK adults take a 10 microgram (or 400 IU) vitamin D supplement from October to late March. Vitamin D supplements are available as tablets, drops and sprays meaning you can choose the one that works best for you!"

Beta glucan

"Beta glucan is a form of dietary fibre, found in the cell wall of certain plants, fungi, yeasts, algae and bacteria," explains registered nutritional therapy practitioner Suzy Shinner ( "It occurs naturally in plants such as mushrooms, oats, barley, rice and rye, and has a long-standing historical use for immunity – with one ancient text from India discussing the medicinal effects of mushrooms dating back 5,000 years. Several research studies support beta glucan’s role as an immunomodulator, meaning that it can up- or down-regulate specific parts of the immune system. Beta glucan helps to prime our immune cells and defend against invading pathogens like bacteria and viruses only when they come into contact with a microbe, therefore strengthening immunity without being an immune stimulant. Research suggests that daily use of beta glucan helps to reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections caused by viruses such as the common cold and flu, making it a useful tool for the winter months."

Medicinal mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms are a natural remedy that’s worth exploring, particularly Chaga, Reishi and Cordyceps.

Schia Mitchell-Sinclair, chief herbalist at the Herbtender ( explains why. "Reishi mushroom is known as the ‘mushroom of immortality’," she says, "because of its use to strengthen the heart and prolong life. It also supports the immune system. When you consume Reishi as part of your daily routine you increase the number of beneficial phytochemicals your body has to work with, thus improving your resilience. Chaga mushroom contains a higher proportion of antioxidants than just about anything else on planet Earth (1,014 ORAC units per gramme, compared to 165 in acai berries or 105 in pomegranates). It can also give a nice energy boost without the jitters. It contains naturally occurring B complex vitamins and vitamin D. Cordyceps mushroom gives more sustained energy than caffeine, so if you’re feeling low, Cordyceps will pick you up. Cordyceps can help the body utilise oxygen more efficiently and enhance blood flow."


"Zinc is vital for a strong immune system," says Tina Lond-Caulk, nutritionist and brand ambassador for Zest Active ( "This is because it supports immune cell development, including key players like T-lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Zinc also serves as a cofactor for various immune-related enzymes, facilitating DNA repair, cell division, and cytokine production. This influences the body’s inflammatory response, a critical component of effective immunity. In addition, zinc contributes to antioxidant defences by promoting the production of metallothionein, which helps protect cells from oxidative damage. It plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the skin and mucous membranes, which act as physical barriers against infections. When zinc levels are insufficient, the immune system can be compromised, making the body more susceptible to illnesses. Ensuring an adequate intake of zinc through diet or supplements, when necessary, is crucial for supporting a robust immune system and overall health."

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