Sugar and your immunity

As we enter the colder months of the year, our immune systems are going to be tested far more than during the warmer months of the year. As much as we have it in our power to control outside influences (i.e. regularly washing your hands, dressing in enough warm clothes and not getting caught in the rain) it is equally important that we give our immune system all the help and support it needs to give our body the best chance to avoid the dreaded flu or other viruses.


So what exactly is your immune system? Quite simply the immune system is the millions and millions of tiny cells and organisms that work together to protect your body. When bacteria, viruses and other pathogens attack, this systems response is to stop them from spreading and limit increased spread of infection. At the same time our bodies use special cells called phagocyte’s to effectively kill these invaders. It is extremely important that your body can identify these invaders so that they can be quickly quarantined and destroyed before causing significant damage.


So why does our immune system fluctuate up and down? It can seem strange when one week you may be out on a run, get drenched in the rain and don’t get sick but then the next week you are sitting on the couch, dressed warmly and chowing down on comfort food,  when you come down with the flu faster than you can say “pass the Tim Tams”. Why is this?


Quite simply the answer could be: Sugar. Not only does sugar cause weight gain and obesity, but it can also cause metabolic dysfunction, elevated blood sugar levels and high blood pressure among other symptoms. It does this primarily by attacking the strength of our immune system by curbing and restricting the effectiveness of the special cells that attack bacteria and infection. In fact its been shown that sugar can reduce our body’s immune defences by 75% for 4 to 6 hours after you have finished eating it. Crazy?


This is where vitamin C can be of great use to boost immune health. If we reduce the amount of sugar that we are taking in on a daily basis and start taking more vitamin C regularly, this can provide excellent support to your overall immune health. This is primarily because your white blood cells need 50 times more vitamin C then your other blood cells. If there is not enough vitamin C in your blood, your white blood cells will use glucose (sugar) by mistake. If this concentration of glucose in the blood gets too high the amount of vitamin C will decrease, which will in turn effect the white blood cells ability to absorb invading viruses and bacteria by up to 75%.


I’m sure you’ve all heard of vitamin C and its health and the commonly held (and very true) belief that when you have a cold one of the best things you can do is drink orange juice and/or take vitamin C powder. The reason for this is because our white blood cells, which are critically important in fighting disease, use this vitamin c as fuel to fight off infection. If there’s too much sugar or glucose in your system this will misappropriate the vitamin c fuel meant for your white blood cells and your immune system will not be able to fight off infection as easy as it would. My only additional point here would be that if you are feeling under the weather and looking for great source of vitamin C I would suggest limiting excess orange juice where possible because its very low in fibre and also contains high amounts of sugar, especially when compared to other great sources of vitamin c like fruits (kiwi fruit, berries, grapefruit) and vegetables (kale, broccoli, capsicum, tomatoes) to name a few.


Your body is amazing at protecting itself from outside ‘invaders’ but like an complex machine, it is only as effective as the fuel it is using to perform. In this case by limiting sugar intake and having regular intakes of good quality vitamin c from the right fruits and vegetables you can give your immune system the best possible change to avoid the flu and stay healthy this winter and beyond