Ready for the white stuff? You may not be guaranteed to see any snow this winter but winter is coming (to quote a very famous series), and the best way to avoid colds and flu this winter – or at least reduce their severity, is to make sure your immune system is strong and healthy now.
Foods to keep you well this winter
Make sure your diet is as healthy as possible. When it’s cold outside, it’s tempting to turn to comforting, stodgy foods instead of fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables and filling wholegrains.
Good immune-supportive foods include garlic, onions, olives, beetroot, peppers, apples, nuts, seeds, tofu, miso, lemon, lime, honey, blueberries... the list goes on, but lots of brightly coloured ingredients, as these will generally contain high levels of vitamin C. You should also include plenty of green leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale and spinach. Soups and breakfast smoothies are a good way to get extra veg into your diet.
Complex carbohydrates like brown rice, brown bread, wholewheat pasta, oats and starchy veg are great ways to keep you fuller for longer and keep unhealthy cravings at bay. They’ll provide lots of energy and will support a healthy gut which, in turn, will keep your immune system strong.
Having a happy tum is hugely important. When you are first exposed to a virus, your immune system uses antibodies to bind to the virus in the respiratory and digestive tracts. These antibodies work to prevent the virus from entering the body further, and also identify it to be destroyed.
Roughly 70% of your active immune cells are found in your gut, and they don’t work very well without the ‘good bacteria’ that live there. Live, natural yoghurt is a good food source, and if you’re supplementing with a probiotic aim for 5-25 billion friendly bacteria daily. Some probiotic strains have been studied specifically for their beneficial immunomodulatory action. Try OptiBac Probiotics Immune Support, which has been formulated especially to help support the immune system.
Specific vitamins and minerals can also lend support. Vitamin C is of course widely documented for its immune system potential. This is because it supports the development of white blood cells (important for fighting infection) - viruses find it hard to survive in a vitamin C-rich environment. Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. That’s oranges, lemons and limes, grapefruit and at this time of the year, clementines and tangerines. Less obvious food sources of vitamin C include peppers, watercress, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries and tomatoes.
Vitamin C supplements can also be effective. One of our favourites is Livon Altrient Liposomal Vitamin C . More powerful than other oral forms of vitamin C, its liposomal delivery method ensures vitamin C is transported directly to the body’s cells for optimal uptake. Available in gel sachets, simply squeeze contents into 30-60ml of water and drink on an empty stomach at least 15 minutes before eating. Each sachet provides 1000mg of vitamin C.
Vitamin D is also important for immune health, not least because of the role it plays in activating T cells , a type of immune cell that hunts down and eliminates germs and other pathogens. Try our Jan de Vries Vitamin D3 1000iu tablets , which are suitable for vegetarians – many vitamin D supplements aren’t – and perfect as a top-up to dietary vitamin D (think egg yolks, soy milk and cereals).
Zinc and immune health
Zinc too helps to keep the immune system strong. When there is enough zinc in the body, it assists the main immune cells in doing their job. It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, which affects how our bodies recover from, and respond to illness. Pumpkin seeds, cashews and chickpeas are great for getting your food fix of zinc, alternatively a zinc supplement like Lamberts Zinc, available as zinc citrate, which is easier for your body to absorb, can help to keep levels of zinc topped up.
Herbal remedies for immune support
Echinacea is one of the most widely used herbal remedies in the world. There are several varieties of Echinacea plant, but Echinacea purpurea, also called purple cone flower, is the most researched and in our opinion, the most effective variety of Echinacea. It is best known for its beneficial effects on the immune system, and works by improving the way the immune system responds to bugs, especially the common cold.
Why exercise is so important during winter
Keeping active is important all year round but especially so during the winter months, and for a few reasons. First of all, exercise boosts circulation, helping to send immune cells all around the body to search out pathogens. It also helps to release feel-good hormones called endorphins at a time when many people might be feeling low due to the shorter days and longer nights, and it’ll help you to stay physically strong.
Walking outside a few times a week is a great way to get some fresh air, whilst a half hour yoga practise each evening can help to stretch the legs and get the blood moving after a day at work.