The cold weather has arrived in Australia with a weather event, ominously named a "Polar Blast”, predicted to sweep across the country and herald the start of winter. Brrrr!!
As we all seek shelter indoors to escape the cold, it once again brings us into close proximity with one another. In these warm environments, viruses spread quickly from person to person.
After 2 years of social distancing, meticulous hygiene practices and limited face to face interaction, our immune systems are out of practice, leaving us vulnerable to viral infection.
Already this year we have seen an increased spread of the influenza virus, and it is expected that there will be a large resurgence of other respiratory viruses this winter.
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent catching a cold or flu there are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of getting sick, or else to reduce the time and severity of an illness if you do catch a virus.
Here are my top 10 tips to help support your immune system this winter.
1. First line of defence
The best way to prevent getting sick from a virus is to avoid catching the virus in the first place.
Over the past 2 years we have become well-versed in taking steps to reduce the risk of viral infection. Practices such as regular handwashing and social distancing help to prevent the spread of not only SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus, but all respiratory viruses. Consider also wearing a mask while in busy indoor spaces. While this is no longer a rule in most places, it is an effective way of reducing the transmission of contagious viruses. And it keeps your face warm!!
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) is an essential micronutrient for the human immune system. It stimulates the production of white blood cells which help to fight off viruses and bacteria and helps the body to produce antibodies which recognise and neutralize invading pathogens before they can harm you.
Vitamin C also promotes the formation of collagen, the main structural protein in skin and connective tissue, and thus plays a vital role in forming the physical barrier that protects us from harmful elements.
Vitamin C- rich foods include: red/yellow capsicum, kiwi fruit, black currants, berries, citrus fruits, apples, papaya, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, green leafy vegetables, parsley, ginger and garlic.
Zinc is essential for the growth and function of cells that facilitate our immune defence. In addition to regulating the immune system, zinc functions as an anti-oxidant to reduce oxidative stress and supports healing and recovery.
Zinc is most abundant in animal products (beef, lamb, turkey and chicken) and shellfish (oysters, scallops, lobster) but is also found in plant based foods such as cashew nuts, almonds, beans, lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and quinoa.
4. Vitamin D:
The primary source of vitamin D is by absorption through the skin during exposure to the sun. Vitamin D plays a regulatory role in the immune system by triggering a strong, anti-microbial response, which helps to fight off invading pathogens before they become an infection.
Include a daily dose of vitamin D-rich foods on those days when the sunshine is elusive or it is just too cold be outdoors.
Vitamin D-rich foods include: cod liver oil, salmon (canned or fresh), sardines, mackerel, brewer's yeast, eggs.
Quercetin is a phytochemical - a natural compound that is found in plant foods that has biological activity in the body.
Quercetin plays many roles in regulating the immune system, owing to its many immune supportive properties including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory anti-histamine, anti-allergic and antibacterial properties to name a few.
In addition, studies have found that quercetin has antiviral properties which may prevent cells becoming infected with influenza virus, and may also be effective in reducing the severity of viral infection.
Quercetin-rich foods include: onions, apples, grapes, berries, broccoli, citrus fruits, cherries, green tea, coffee, red wine, and capers.
The majority of your immune system is found in your intestines. The good bacteria that line the walls of the gastrointestinal tract protect you from harmful bacteria by competing for space and food, altering the chemical environment to be less hospitable to invading pathogens and by regulating the inflammatory immune response.
Probiotic bacteria are found in fermented foods. Including a daily serve of probiotic foods will give your immune system an extra boost.
Probiotic foods include: miso paste, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha.
*Note: Good bacteria need feeding too. Prebiotic foods contain insoluble fibre which feeds and supports the growth of the probiotic bacteria. Prebiotic foods include: leeks, artichokes, garlic, onion, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel, barley, oats, chickpeas and lentils. Include a serve of prebiotic foods daily
Mushrooms are one of the most nutrient-packed, health-promoting foods on the planet. The delicious and versatile micro-fungi have been used medicinally for thousands of years, and mushroom extracts are still used in immune-boosting herbal preparations and nutritional supplements today.
Mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamins C, D, B- group vitamins and minerals including potassium, magnesium, calcium and selenium.
Mushrooms are anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antioxidant. Eating a variety of mushroom species will support your immune system to help to protect you from cold and flu.
For thousands of years honey has been embraced and celebrated for its culinary, nutritional and medicinal properties. Honey has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that support healthy immune function to help the body fight infection and prevent disease. A teaspoon of honey also reduces coughing and provides effective relief from sore throats in an upper respiratory tract infection.
9. Stay Hydrated:
Drinking enough water is as important in winter as it is in summer.
Your body requires adequate water to help transport immune-supportive nutrients around the body and to help eliminate toxins and waste products.
Dry skin and moodiness, which we often attribute to central heating and too many grey, wet days spent indoors, may actually be a sign that your body is dehydrated.
Of course a tall glass of icy cold water is far less appealing in winter, so why not make your up 8 glasses of water per day with warming mugs of herbal teas, spiced black teas, miso or broth soups? But avoid having too many dehydrating drinks like coffee and alcohol.
**Adding antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant or anti-inflammatory spices such as ginger, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon to hot beverages makes them not only taste delicious but can also help fight infection.
Sleep is a critical factor for both our physical and mental health.
Good quality sleep is essential to maintain good health and strengthen the immune system. While we sleep our bodies produce and organise the immune cells and proteins that initiate the immune response, fight infection and facilitate healing.
Inadequate sleep causes an imbalance in the immune function which leaves us vulnerable to infection by harmful pathogens.
Stay healthy this winter. Eat well, be sure to get enough rest, exercise in the fresh air when you can, manage your stress and practice good health hygiene, for you and for those around you.
If you feel like your energy, immune system or sleep could do with a little bit more support this winter, book in for a free, 10 minute Discovery Call with me to find out how I can help.