Living Food: Protecting Your Immune System in Winter

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A strong immune system is necessary to help ward off winter ills. A healthy gut biome is key. Daphne Lambert explains why and which foods are best.

Our immune systems are truly remarkable, this complex system has the ability to produce a million specific antibodies within a minute and to recognise and disarm a billion different harmful invaders. Bone marrow, the lymphatic system, the thymus, liver and spleen all play a very important role but the cradle of the immune system is the gut and the diversity and vitality of the micro-organisms that form the gut microbiome.

A healthy gut wall is packed full of lymphocytes ready to protect the body against foreign material. Lymphocytes in the gut wall produce immunoglobulins. The most important one in the gut is Secretory Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which protects the body from unwelcome invaders like bacteria, viruses and parasites. When the bacterial layer on the gut wall is damaged through abnormal gut microbiota there are serious consequences to the immune system. Less immune cells are produced and nutrients required to support the body’s entire immune system are deficient due to lack of absorption. A constant stream of invaders and undigested food pass through the damaged gut wall adding to the workload of a compromised immune system. In addition, a healthy microbiota actively synthesises various nutrients many of which are essential nutrients for immune function, and without them the immune system is further malnourished.

A healthy immune system is dependant on a myriad of nutrients – probably most known vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fats are involved,

The thymus gland produces hormones responsible for immune activity and special white blood cells called T cells, which destroy infected cells. T cell activity and the production of antibodies depends on vitamin B6. Spinach, turnip greens, leeks, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and shiitake mushroom, all in season at the moment, are a good source of vitamin B6, as are whole grains.

Vitamin C intake is essential to immune function. Vitamin C helps immune cells to mature and improves the performance of antibodies and macrophage. Citrus fruits, cauliflower, broccoli and kale are good sources and all abundant at the moment.

Vitamin D plays a key role in boosting the immune system in particular it triggers and arms the body’s T cells without vitamin D they are unable to react to and fight off serious infections. Vitamin D is produced from the skin’s exposure to sunlight, lack of sunlight however means a deficiency: eggs, fatty fish, butter & shiitake are good food sources.
Chlorophyll in green leaves supports the immune system by combating unhealthy colonies of bacteria, yeasts & fungi in the body and reducing inflammation.

Good bacterial balance in the gut is supported by eating plenty of probiotic foods like onions, leeks, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, apples, whole oats & barley, as well as prebiotic lactic ferments like sauerkraut and kefir.

Spotlight on cabbages
Cabbages are a classic winter vegetable, store well, and have many healing properties.

• Like all brassicas – kale, Brussels sprouts, turnip and cauliflower – cabbages contain sulphur compounds which are linked with protection against cancer as they bind carcinogens and help in detoxification.

• Cabbage contains S -Methylmethionine which is closely associated with beneficial effects on the digestive tract. The remedy of a freshly made cabbage juice twice a day between meals has long been used for ulcers.

• Cabbage contains iodine and is a rich source of vitamin C and calcium. Sauerkraut, naturally fermented cabbage, is one of the most beneficial ways to eat cabbage – the fermentation process enhances anti-oxidant activity and increases vitamin C content. Sauerkraut enhances intestinal health by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria which, amongst a myriad of other benefits, improves nutrient absorption.

To make your own seasonal red cabbage, apple and juniper berry kraut – click here for Daphne’s health-boosting recipe.

Note: Cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, contain goitrogens which inhibit the formation of thyroid hormones. This is not a problem in healthy people but may pose a problem for people who have a thyroid condition or those taking thyroid medication.