The clocks have changed, the nights are drawing in and the days are certainly chilly. Which means cough and cold season is upon us! Research from Sweden and Scotland has shown that each year when the UK has its first low-humidity, below-freezing week outbreaks of respiratory infections spike – so it’s time to prepare yourself.
Our lifestyle in the winter makes it easier for those germs to spread too. “We tend to spend more time in doors in the winter, in our central heated homes, without windows open to give us lots of fresh air,” explains nutritionist Sarah Flower. “This creates the prefect environment for bugs to thrive.” The situation is not helped by the way our immune system naturally behaves and reacts in colder months.
“Research has shown that immune cells are less likely to ‘sacrifice’ themselves to prevent the spread of viruses in colder temperatures, whereas under warmer conditions, cells sacrifice themselves to protect the body, which prevents the spread of illness in hotter months,” says naturopathic nutritionist Amy Morris. “There is also evidence now that viruses spread more easily through dry air. It is not necessarily the cold weather that causes illnesses, it just makes it easier to spread the virus.”
Your immune system is your body’s frontline defense against illnesses, germs and other harmful micro-organisms, so it is incredibly important that we support it and help it provide us with the protection we need, especially in the winter months.
The biggest change our bodies notice in the winter is the change not just in weather but also light levels. Even when it’s sunny, the angle of the Earth to the Sun means it’s not possible for us in the UK to absorb the required amount of Vitamin D from sunshine. And Vitamin D is an immunity hero. “It’s an immune-regulatory vitamin and if you don’t get enough you are more susceptible to illness,” explains nutritionist Karen Alexander. “I would recommend 1000u a day starting from September at least through to April.”
As well as upping our Vitamin D levels we also need to ensure we are getting enough Vitamin C. Sarah adds, “Vitamin C is extremely helpful when fighting infection, so at the first sign of a cold be sure to increase your intake by eating plenty of berries, citrus fruits, papayas, broccoli and red peppers which will help keep you protected.” A good supplement will also ensure you are getting enough. Vitamin C is also important as it helps the body access ‘unlock’ other nutrients from our foods too.
In recent years, the link between our gut health and our overall health has been firmly established. “Around 80 per cent of our immune system is in the gut, so if you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria your immune system will take a knock and you will be more susceptible to viruses,” says Karen. So making sure you include a probiotic, in tablet or powder form, and foods which encourage the good bacteria we need is sensible in the winter months. Fermented foods like Sauerkraut and kombucha also help good bacteria thrive.
It can seem strange but if you want to boost your immunity then it’s worth including a fish oil supplement in your diet. “Omega-3 supplements are particularly useful for supporting our immune system, as they contain the strongest immune-enhancing properties and enhance the functioning of immune cells,” confirms Amy.
This is because Omega-3 reduces inflammation in your body. “Your fatty acids are very important for your immune system and for your cellular communication,” says Karen. “It’s very important to manage inflammation in our bodies, we need some inflammation but we need to keep it in check and most people don’t get enough Omega-3.” Plant-based sources include chia and flax seeds, some nuts and soya beans.
As well as supplementing our diets, we can help boost our immunity with the lifestyle choices we make. Stress damages the immune system and makes us more prone to infections. “Chronic stress really impacts immune system as it causes a reduction in absorption of nutrients – because it affects digestion – and impacts thyroid function and will cause the body to prioritise production of stress hormones over other hormones which will impact immunity,” explains Karen. Ideally address the sources of stress in your life and take measures to minimise their effects and make sure you do all you can to support your immunity.
Also make sure you stay hydrated, this is easier in the summer when we feel warm but in the winter we can easily forget to drink enough. “Drinking plenty of water helps keep the cells flushed and prevents toxins building up in the system,” says Sarah. “Grab some herbal teas as they can really help, especially sage, liquorice, turmeric, or green tea. You can also try immune-boosting broths. I am a huge fan of bone broth, packed with collagen, immune boosting properties, vitamins and minerals.”
When we sleep we also fight bugs before they can take hold so make sure you are not burning the candle at both ends. It can be tempting to snuggle in for the winter and abandon exercise too but that’s not going to help your immunity. “Exercise increases blood flow which promotes the process of expelling toxic waste out of your body,” says Amy. “The improved blood circulation also promotes circulation of antibodies and white blood cells that are important for fighting off infections. As little as 20 minutes of walking five days a week can help your immune system perform at its best.”
A healthy immune system is essential as our body’s first line of defence; this complex network reacts to protect us on a daily basis. Lumity helps to maintain this vital service with Vitamins A, C and D plus Selenium and Zinc, which all contribute to normal immune system function.