9 Ways to Boost Your Immune System this Spring


, by Renee McGregor

Photography by: C Malambo/peopleimages.com

Spring might be in the air, but our bodies still need some TLC. Fortunately, there are nutritional and lifestyle behaviors you can adopt to help maintain an optimal immune system, as Renee McGregor explains.

While the days are slowly getting longer, and we may have started to notice a little spring in our step with more daylight, there are still areas of our health that need ongoing attention.

This is the time of year when many of us will be focused on a Spring sporting goal. Whether this is a marathon, 10K, or your first triathlon of the season, the reality is that you’ve spent most of the dark winter days in full training.

During the winter months, our immune health can become compromised due to several factors ranging from lower vitamin D levels, cooler temperatures, and spending more time inside, as well as higher intensity training which has the potential to depress our immune system further.

All is not lost though. There are many nutritional and lifestyle behaviors you can adopt to help maintain an optimal immune system.

Vitamin D

While Vitamin D is usually associated with bone health, over the last decade, numerous studies have shown an association between Vitamin D levels and immune health. It was noted that during winter - when Vitamin D levels are at their lowest due to lack of sunlight and thus the inability to produce vitamin D within the body - infection and illness rates, particularly upper respiratory infections, were at their highest. Supplementation with Vitamin D is encouraged in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter months (October until April), to maintain optimal immunity. Doses vary but most people will benefit from taking 1000-2000 iu a day.

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When it is warm, staying hydrated is easy as the heat encourages us to drink. However, during the cooler months, we are less inclined to reach for our water bottle. Staying hydrated encourages the production of saliva and this is our first line of defense against illness and infection. Saliva contains IgA which helps to provide a barrier against pathogens. Try including more herbal teas and diluted fruit juices if this helps to encourage drinking. When training indoors, don’t forget to use electrolytes.

Staying hydrated encourages the production of saliva and this is our first line of defense against illness and infection.


The link between low iron levels and low immunity is well established. Indeed, a recent study (2020), demonstrated the role iron played in long-term immunity. When our body is under attack by infection, the pathogens responsible compete with the host immune cells for iron, thus further depleting the source. Immune cells require iron for an effective response. The best source of dietary iron is red meat, followed by eggs. Plant-based options include fortified breakfast cereals, beans, dried fruit, seeds, and nuts but will need to be consumed with Vitamin C for enhanced absorption.

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Numerous studies have shown the importance of sleep on our immune health. Many of us don’t appreciate the amount of work our body does when we are asleep, from making hormones to repairing muscles and producing immune cells. Adults aged 19-60 years should aim for a minimum of 7 hours as below this amount, there is a much higher risk of infections developing.

Gut microbiome

The research into our gut biome is still relatively new but studies have found very strong links between our gut biome and our immune health. The gut microbiome includes a different type of bacteria that reside in our gut. Collectively they have several functions ranging from synthesizing some vitamins, short-chain fatty acids, and even neurotransmitters, which are all necessary for optimal health. The environment in the gut is an ecosystem that is constantly changing and evolving. Numerous factors can influence its stability. These include individual physiology and genetics, lifestyle, exercise, and dietary composition. A high-fibre diet rich in colorful fruits, vegetables, legumes, and wholegrain is central to increasing the bacterial diversity in our gut.

Photography by: monticellllo


These are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, that provide a specific health benefit when consumed. They work on the principle of colonizing the gut and benefit health by changing the overall composition of the microbiome and supporting metabolism. While they can be consumed daily, probiotics are most effective in restoring the microbiome to a healthy state after it has been compromised. Care needs to be taken when using probiotic supplements as most are destroyed by stomach acid and don’t make it as far as the gut. Choosing a product that is water-based ensures that the live culture passes through the stomach unaffected.

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In those of us who are physically very active; training most days and including some high-intensity or endurance-based sessions, sufficient carbohydrate availability around our training is paramount to maintaining a healthy immune system. We know that exercise adds physiological stress on the body; when there is not sufficient recovery both physically and nutritionally via carbohydrates, studies have demonstrated higher levels of inflammatory markers and a depressed immune system.

Let's be clear, you can’t boost an immune system, you can only support it so that it works optimally.


Just as we have spoken about stress relating to being physically active, emotional/life stress is equally problematic. When the body is under stress, it results in a stress response which in turn depresses our immune response putting us at higher risk of exposure to infections and illness. Managing stress is critical for our overall health. Taking time out and getting some fresh air daily can all help, as well as using strategies such as breathwork, journaling, and mindfulness.


Social media would have us believe that we need to take a plethora of supplements all promising to supercharge and boost our immune system. Let's be clear, you can’t boost an immune system, you can only support it so that it works optimally. Indeed, there is no scientific evidence that supports the use of supplements, particularly mega doses on enhancing your immune health or in fighting off illnesses and infections. So don’t be fooled by the hype. Dietary and lifestyle changes have the best chance of supporting your immune health and keeping you well this winter.

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