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Supporting our immune health is top of mind after the last couple of years. As we hunker down through winter, it’s a good time to check in on how we are feeling, starting with our immune system. In my last 19 years working in the natural health industry, I’ve seen countless examples of people’s health and wellbeing being supported by the products and lifestyle advice available. I’ve also seen an explosion of research into many of the ingredients, and the good reasons why people are using them.

We all want to help ourselves, to feel empowered to take care of our health, and so many of us are looking for some specific immune support to have on hand at home. Taking an organised approach to our immune health is proactive and supports our health in an empowered way.

There are excellent botanicals, vitamins, and minerals available that have research to show how they support the body's natural response to immune threats. Alongside your chosen supplements, you can give your immune system some extra love with rest and exercise in good balance. Practicing good hygiene (like hand washing and cough etiquette – elbow not hand), managing stress, and eating a low sugar diet with plenty of plant foods are all great immune system helpers. It’s a sustainable way to put your best foot forward to stay well and healthy.

I’ve put together a guide on ten popular, well-researched natural health ingredients, suitable for all ages, that you can consider adding to your daily routine. As always, if you’ve got an existing health condition, it's best to talk to your healthcare provider to make sure any supplements you want to take are a good choice for you.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A supports the body’s innate immune function within the mucous membranes that line the respiratory tract. It’s essential for a strong healthy immune response. Vitamin A supports healthy macrophage and neutrophils (white blood cells) that our immune system uses to resist immune challenges. Vitamin A can be found naturally in fatty substances like Cod Liver Oil, cream, and eggs. Beta carotene can be turned into Vitamin A and is found in brightly coloured orange, yellow, and red fruit and vegetables.

  • Vitamin A – consider if you find your lungs need support each winter
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Vitamin C

Taking Vitamin C has been shown to support a quick healthy recovery as well as the intensity of the ills and chills. Vitamin C supports the body by keeping the normal resistance healthy and strong when it responds to immune challenges. Liposomal and Ester C have been shown to stay in the body for longer periods and be better absorbed than normal oral Vitamin C. Kiwifruit, guava, capsicum are all good sources of Vitamin C.

  • Vitamin C – consider if you’re not eating much fresh food .
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Vitamin D

Healthy Vitamin D levels have been associated with a well-functioning immune system, and better outcomes if someone is overcome by ills and chills. This well researched ingredient has been shown to support a fast recovery from ills and chills when levels of Vitamin D are optimal in the body. The Ministry of Health reports that around 5% of adults in NZ are deficient in this essential nutrient, with another 27% below the recommended blood level. Risk factors for low Vitamin D levels include not being exposed to sunlight regularly or having naturally dark skin.

  • Vitamin D – consider if you cover up with sunblock all year round, or you’re inside a lot.
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Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) root is an excellent option to take in preparation for ills and chills season or when travelling and wanting to support a primed healthy immune response. Echinacea root supports the body’s healthy active response to immune threats. Echinacea supports a balanced and well-functioning immune system and the number of T-helper cells working actively for our immune system.

  • Echinacea – consider if you’re travelling or on-the-go a lot.
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Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) became famous in 2009 when it was shown to be highly effective at supporting the way the body naturally responds to immune challenges. Elderberry also supports the body’s response to temperature changes during ills and chills. This immune tonic is not only excellent support, but also delicious. Elderberry is available as a chewable gummie, great for all ages, powders and liquids which can be made into tasty drinks, and the usual capsules.

  • Elderberry – consider if you want something on-hand in case you need it.
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Glutathione is one of the body’s most important  antioxidants, critical for supporting good health. Glutathione is made from the amino acids cysteine, glycine and glutamine, and plays a vital role in the health and function of the immune cells. Glutathione can support immune signalling of a threat so that the immune response is strong.

As an antioxidant, glutathione supports the health of DNA, regular cell division, and recycling of other antioxidants in the body. As we age, our levels reduce by around 10% per decade. Poor diet, stress, lack of sleep, and exposure to environmental toxins also reduce levels. Glutathione is extremely important for the support it offers the liver with healthy detoxification processes of medication, environmental pollutants, and metabolic waste.

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Nasal Rinses

The lining of our nose is one of the first places that immune activity is triggered when challenges arrive. Nasal rinses are a supportive additional step by cleansing and clearing anything in the nasal cavity that shouldn't be there. This can be done in short bursts throughout the year, when pollens are high, during ills and chills season, or when additional support is needed.

Nasal rinses can moisturise and protect the delicate sinus tissue and support open airways for easy breathing.

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Good immune health starts in our gut. Research shows a strong connection between the health of our microbiome and a robust immune system. Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that form part of our microbiome, keeping our immune health in tip top shape to fight off invaders when a threat appears. What’s key for a thriving microbiome is probiotics with broad spectrum formulas to support a flourishing diverse range of good bacteria to help keep bad bacteria at bay.

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Already popular for the support it offers for seasonal allergens, quercetin is making headlines for the broad support it provides the immune system when there is a sudden threat. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid polyphenol, a type of antioxidant used commonly when tissues become “full” and uncomfortable. Quercetin is excellent support for comfort where you need it – the bowel, the uterus, and smaller areas like the sinus cavities. Recent research is uncovering quercetin's ability to be used to support a powerful immune response when you need it most.

  • Quercetin – have it on hand for first signs of ills and chills
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This mineral is essential for the normal functioning of the immune system. Zinc has a wide body of research behind it to show how it can support the body’s natural response to ills and chills. Zinc in a lozenge form supports the throat tissue and a normal fast recovery time. Zinc is an immune ‘all-rounder’ and provides great support to keep us healthy. Zinc is commonly found in meat, almonds, pumpkin seeds, seafood, and seeds.

  • Zinc – consider if you’re eating a vegan or vegetarian diet.
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