Winter Wellness – Simple Ways to Support Your Immune System

Support Your Immune System

Immune systems have had top billing since the arrival of Covid, and are even more in the news during winter. But what is actually meant by ‘immunity’, and is it possible to contribute to the health of our immune systems through simple, everyday actions?

What is ‘immunity’?

‘Immunity’ is the term given to our body’s ability to fight off pathogens (the nasties, such as bacteria and viruses, that cause disease). Pathogens carry antigens on their surface, and it’s these antigens that signal to our body a fighting response is required asap! An ‘immune response’ is our body going into battle against whatever it is trying to make us unwell.

As we all know, vaccines are the answer to enabling our immune system to function in the face of some serious diseases (such as Covid, influenza and Tetanus). But there are also simple ways we can help keep our immune system as healthy as possible so it can do the work it needs to alongside vaccines, and also so it can fight where no vaccines for an illness exist.

Immune system self help

When disease (such as a cold) strikes, we all reach for the throat lozenges, and lemon and honey. But caring for our immune system ongoingly, rather than attempting to assist it when illness strikes, is even more important. One of the ways we can do this is through healthy eating.


Protein is very important for immune health, and research shows if we’re lacking in this essential body building material, we’re more susceptible to disease. Meat, fish, eggs and dairy products all contribute to our protein intake. It’s also available through non-animal products such as pulses, nuts, seeds and a range of other nutritious foods. To understand just how much protein a day is right for you to stay healthy, check out our New Zealand Ministry of Health nutrition guidelines.


Antioxidants are substances which prevent or slow down damage to the cells in our body, and which improve our immune responses. They are often found in naturally colourful food. Next time you head to the shops (or out to your garden) be sure to come back with plenty of bright purples (red cabbage, beetroot and red beet), glowing oranges (carrot, pumpkin, mandarin, and oranges), and verdant greens (broccoli, celery and spinach).

Vitamin D

There’s one immune system helper we just can’t get from fruit and vegetables – and that’s vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in assisting our immune system to fight infection. Although it is available from other food sources (especially fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, and tuna), about 5% of Kiwis are deficient in vitamin D, while another 27% don’t have the recommended level of the vitamin in their blood. There are many reasons for vitamin D deficiency, but one may be we just don’t get enough sunlight on our skin in a New Zealand winter (sunlight stimulates our bodies to turn cholesterol into vitamin D). This certainly doesn’t mean you should expose your skin to more sunlight than is recommended by health professionals, however it does suggest you should check with your GP to see if you are deficient in vitamin D, as there are ways this can be remedied.

Vitamin C

There is a lot of misunderstanding around vitamin C and how it can help us with our health. What we do know is some cells in our immune system need this vitamin to perform their task. So don’t stop eating that delicious citrus! Where vitamin C can’t assist, is in preventing us catching the common cold, or reducing the severity of it.

This winter, take simple self-help actions to support your immunity – and don’t wait for infection to strike before you begin!