The real reason you’re always sick
Have you ever wondered why some people can power through winter without missing a beat, while others seem to be sick all the time? Or why there are days when you feel completely rundown for no particular reason?
There are many factors that impact our immune system. We spoke with nutritionist and personal trainer, Pip Reed, and sports dietitian, Robbie Clark, from The Health Clinic, to find out why we get sick and how we can boost our immunity with the onset of winter.
Stress and adrenal fatigue
It’s arguable that stress has become a norm in the lives of many people. A recent 2015 survey found that 35% of Australians report having significant levels of stress in their lives, while 26% report above normal levels of anxiety. The real problem, however, arises when these symptoms are ongoing.
“Being stressed can cause a host of issues in our bodies, including sleep problems, fatigue, cravings, weight issues, anxiety, hormone imbalances, poor gut health and even depression,” says Reed and Clark. “If these issues become prolonged, you run the risk of developing adrenal fatigue.”
Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenals (stress glands) become overworked as a result of chronic, prolonged stress. According to Reed and Clark, signs of adrenal fatigue include “physical and emotional fatigue, depression, lack of motivation, abdominal fat accumulation, seasonal allergies, salt cravings, insomnia, body aches and back pain, reoccurring colds and flus, abnormal blood sugar levels and hormonal imbalances.”
Low nutrient profile
If we become overwhelmed with stress our nutrient profile starts to suffer. Our body becomes deficient in essential vitamins and minerals, in particular, Vitamin D, Bs and Zinc, which reduces our ability to fend off sickness.
“Vitamin D is important for many essential bodily functions including calcium and phosphorous absorption and facilitating normal immune system function,” says Reed and Clark. “Vitamin D is activated in the skin by sunlight, and you can obtain limited amounts through food sources such as salmon, sardines, mushrooms, egg yolk and fortified milk.”
B vitamins, on the other hand, can reduce the effects of stress on the body and assist with boosting immunity. “B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, and folate help to promote a healthy metabolism and keep your skin, gut lining and blood cells healthy,” says Reed and Clark. “They’re found in green vegetables, whole fortified grains, dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds and meats.”
Zinc is essential for the functioning of healthy immunity and digestive systems. According to Reed and Clark, zinc helps to reduce stress levels and promote energy metabolism, plus it plays a vital role in protein synthesis and helps to regulate cell production in the immune system.
Poor gut health
According to recent studies, a low nutrient profile can lead to poor gut health, which can make us more susceptible to falling sick. “The gut is comprised of 75% of the body’s immune system,” says Reed and Clark. “There are over 400 species of microbes living in your gut, so it makes sense that if you don’t keep them healthy you are likely to get sick.”
Nobel Prize winner and microbiologist Elie Metchnikoff once said that, “Death begins in the colon” based on his early 1990s research, which found that diseases and ageing are most likely due to toxic bacteria in the gut.
So what are some of the tell tale signs? “Poor gut health may result in gas, bloating, burping, and inadequate digestion. It can also result in passing undigested food, diarrhoea, bad breath and nausea, not to mention low immune function.”
How can we build immunity to avoid getting run down and sick?
Photo: Instagram @foodfixup
While no single food will boost your immune system, Reed and Clark suggest it’s important to look at what specific vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals are essential for optimal immune function, and consume a variety of those foods on a regular basis.
- Vitamin C – leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, capsicum, chilli, berries, parsley
- Vitamin E – nuts and seeds, spinach, broccoli, dark leafy greens, avocado, trout, prawns, olive oil
- Vitamin B6 – banana, chicken, tuna, salmon, chickpeas
- Vitamin A – carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, dark leafy greens, dried apricots, rock melon
- Vitamin D – fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna), mushrooms, fortified milks
- Selenium – nuts and seeds (especially Brazil nuts), sardines, tuna, wholemeal bread, pork, chicken, rye
- Zinc – oysters, beef, lamb, spinach, nuts and seeds, raw cocoa, pork, chicken, chickpeas, mushrooms
Similar to a healthy, balanced diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, therefore improving cellular activity, which allows the cells of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job more efficiently.
“Exercising in moderation can help give the immune system a boost and it is thought that approximately twenty minutes of exercise a day is sufficient to take advantage of the benefits,” says Reed and Clark. “When a person exercises, the white blood cells, which combat bacteria and viruses, travel throughout the body faster and more efficiently. Exercise also helps lower the cortisol hormones that are released as a result of stress.”
When you’re stressed it’s common for sleep to become disrupted, with our overactive minds often causing us to wake throughout the night. Therefore, it’s important that you try to keep a normal bed routine to remind your body when to switch off and turn back on again.
“If you are really struggling to sleep for a prolonged period of time, it may mean that your melatonin levels and circadian rhythm is out of balance and you should seek the advice of a healthcare practitioner to help you get back on track.”
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