After a winter that has tested the best of us, it is easy to find yourself feeling pretty depleted.
‘Immunity burnout’ summarises the vulnerability that comes when our immune system is under constant pressure.
From the endless array of bugs and viruses, this year has thrown at us, to coping with increasingly sterile environments and now managing the response to the change in season – our immune system gets quite the workout.
This is the immune system’s job, but how efficiently it works does come down to how well we treat it. Just like we update computer software and close browsers to reduce lag time online, our immune system needs a bit of pampering and a few tabs closed now and then to keep it functioning as well as it can.
After experiencing long-term or recurrent illness, the immune system can become overwhelmed. This leaves the body more sensitised to seasonal changes as the result of the immune system being on ‘high alert.
Dampness and mould in homes, a concern for many New Zealanders throughout winter months, also increase susceptibility to illness and allergies.
As we move into spring, pollens become more prevalent and lawnmowers come back out of the shed. What may have been a minor response of sniffly nose or the odd sneeze, could become a more intensified response including itchy eyes, skin rashes, and blocked sinuses.
This is the body responding to a perceived threat and is one line of defence to stop anything ‘harmful’ from moving further into the body.
Symptoms can be amplified, too, by travelling to different regions throughout the country or overseas, as different locations have different pollens that may not have been encountered before.
So, how can we give our immune system a helping hand?
Short-term and long-term illnesses, along with auto-immune flare-ups, can be triggered by ongoing stress. This might be physical, like intense exercise, or psychological, like the pressure of deadlines, the constant laundry, or feelings of anxiety or worry.
When we are in a state of stress, the immune system responds by sending hormones to help us get through. They get the body ready for action and help the immune system in small doses.
When we are constantly experiencing stress, however, inflammation kicks in and the body’s cells release additional histamine, contributing to allergy symptoms.
Immune cells, called lymphocytes, are also reduced in times of stress, which leaves the body more susceptible to becoming ill or hyper-reacting to seasonal changes.
Whether it takes ten minutes of meditation in the morning, breathing exercises, getting up from the desk and taking a walk, making time to read a book, or setting personal boundaries that reflect your limits, stress management is essential for immune health.
Love your own bacteria
Over the past three years, antibacterial gels and disinfectants have been in the spotlight, touted as essential for antimicrobial support.
Considering that a significant portion of the body is an intricate network of microbes, sterility becomes an issue. Consistent use of antimicrobials helps to rid of harmful bacteria, but it targets commensal bacteria too - the bacteria that keep our skin healthy, digest our food and keep our immune system in order.
It starts to make sense, then, that changes in bacteria profiles can result in reduced digestion, the development of skin conditions, mood changes (including anxiety and depression) and directly impacts the immune system.
Reducing the use of these products is one way to aid the natural replenishment of bacteria. Probiotic foods, like probiotic yoghurts, tempeh, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, or sourdough bread can also help to nourish the microbiome, which directly communicates with immune cells.
Nourishing your body
One of the best ways to arm the immune system is through food.
During winter, citrus fruits are in abundance because that is precisely what our body needs – vitamin C for immune support and histamine regulation, bile stimulation for digesting heartier meals, and antioxidants to protect against free radical damage, which contributes to illness.
Similarly, pumpkin, carrots, and squash are loaded with carotenoids, antioxidants that counter the negative impact of bugs and viruses.
Packing your plate full of vegetables in a range of colours promotes healthy cell renewal, and regular and complete bowel movements (crucial for toxin removal and bowel health) and provides nutrients that support your body in staying well.
Increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids through oily fish, nuts, hemp and flax seeds can help to lower inflammation, which calms the body from being on high alert. Fatty acids are also an important factor in immune cell structure.
Even just adding a regular intake of filtered water to your day is a great way to help the lymphatic system, an important part of the immune response.
Utilising herbs, in your meals or as a formula, is an excellent way to give your body an immune boost.
Thyme, Basil, and Rosemary are common herbs full of support immunity, alongside Coriander, Peppermint, Ginger, and Turmeric. These pantry staples work as anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial champions.
As a formula, Echinacea is a favourite for immune regulation, particularly important with seasonal changes. It works to calm immune hyperactivity, lowering inflammation and gently supporting the healing of an overworked body while also acting as a line of defence against illness with antimicrobial actions.
The combination of Elderflower, Ribwort, and Peppermint in Organic De-Stuff is perfect for when congestion has already begun, working to break up mucus and prevent it from being produced. This trio work well for sinusitis, blocked nose and ears, ear infection, and allergic rhinitis. For children under 12, Organic Kids De-Stuff is a great option for seasonal allergies.
Other beneficial herbs include Elderberry, a powerful antioxidant and a source of vitamin C and quercetin (immune supporting nutrients that act as antihistamines), Horseradish for catarrh and sinus headache, and Elecampane for calming cough spasms.
Keep it simple!
Your immune system knows the job it needs to do, but sometimes it does need a bit of a helping hand to avoid immune burnout.
Every symptom is the body’s way of communicating; sometimes, we just have to listen very carefully to understand exactly what that means.