Winter Health Tips
I think at this time of year its safe to say people generally fall into two camps: those who are desperate to get into their winter clothes and snuggle down with blankets and candles of an evening and those for whom the autumn into winter transition brings dread and its not just because the nights are drawing in and the temperature falls but because they recall the previous years of misery of suffering colds/flu/sore throat/chest infections. Perhaps the winter months for you are one long sniffle & persistently wretched time but before you stock up on Kleenex and Lemsip or book your flu vaccination, keep reading because there are many ways we can help ourselves naturally.
A stronger immune system provides us with the ability to mount a more robust defence when we come into contact with pathogens (bacterium, virus, microorganisms that can cause disease). By supporting the immune system it also means that if we are unfortunate and get a cold the symptoms can be less severe and the duration can be shortened.
Here are my TOP 3 TIPS for a healthier winter –
1. SEASONAL FOOD
Trust in nature and eat seasonably! Plants are very clever and at this time of year all those beautiful bright red, orange, dark green and purple fruit and vegetables are rich in the properties our immune system craves to keep us healthy and the bugs at bay. It is apparent from the latest research that diversity in fruit and vegetables is most health protective in encouraging a healthy ecosystem in our gut which is vitally important considering the greatest density of immune cells in the entire body are found in the small intestine. In fact, it is believed we have around 2.5kg of microbes in our gut so we need a good selection of real food to feed them and keep them happy! Soups, stews and roasted vegetables are all really easy ways of packing lots of different colours into one nutrient-dense meal. Fruit crumbles and stewing fruit is a nice way of using plums, apples and dark berries which are all in season over the coming months. Use plenty of spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, paprika and turmeric which are all warming and good for circulation. For more ideas on increasing diversity in your diet and practical tips have a read of my earlier blog, ‘Eat The Rainbow’
I really like the website Eat Seasonably to keep a check on what’s in season now in the UK & they very helpfully have a colourful chart you can print out & stick on the fridge, or the inside of a cupboard door, as some of my clients do as a reminder.
One product I always start to use in September is Pukka Elderberry Syrup. Deep purple elderberries are exceptionally high in Vitamin C and powerful antioxidants that work to maintain a strong immune system. This delicious syrup is packed with natural ingredients that offer protection from strains of the flu virus and is soothing to the respiratory system. I like to use this as a preventative measure but if you do get a virus taking it at the onset can shorten the duration of the illness.
How many of you would think of mushrooms as being a true ‘superfood’ when it comes to immune health? Not many I’m sure, but there are virus-destroying properties to be found in shiitake mushrooms and again, regularly eating a diversity of types, from portobello to the very common white button mushrooms can enhance immune health and shorten the duration of illness if it occurs. Mushrooms work directly on the immune system and have an effect on the whole body from supporting the health of blood cells to protecting the liver. Look out for some of the more exotic types like oyster, shimeji and maitake which are becoming more widely available in the supermarkets nowadays. I always advise buying organic where possible because mushrooms are sponge-like and will therefore soak up chemicals and pesticides. I found this interesting article which has lots more information about mushrooms and their many health properties and also some great ideas for cooking both fresh and dried mushrooms. You can very easily incorporate mushrooms into breakfasts, lunches and dinners and they take no time at all to cook. I posted this recipe recently which is a perfect example of a delicious and really quick and easy meal even if your cooking skills aren’t up to much!
3. VITAMIN D
Now is the time of year to start thinking about getting your Vitamin D levels tested in the UK as between the months of November-February it is not possible to produce Vitamin D due to the latitude of country in relation to the sun. You can get this done for free at your Medical Centre or contact a registered Nutritional Therapist who can arrange a private lab test for you (fees may vary) and then advise on a quality, bioavailable supplement and safe dosage. It is vitally important you get tested before supplementing as Vitamin D toxicity, although rare can cause serious adverse health effects.
Vitamin D receptors are found in cells of most organs in the body and they need a certain level of Vitamin D to function effectively and enhance the natural immune response. Optimal levels have an anti-inflammatory and immune-regulatory effect, offering greater protection over the winter months against flu, upper respiratory tract infections and low mood. Individuals with low immunity, autoimmune conditions, allergies, digestive impairment, VDR SNPs, obesity, the elderly, pregnant women, people with darker skin and people taking certain medications are all at greater risk of deficiency.
So, those are a few very simple measures you can take to establish a stronger immune system, to protect yourself over the next months but importantly to reduce the severity of your symptoms should you unfortunately fall ill.
You can protect yourself further by considering the following -
WHAT TO AVOID
· Diets high in refined sugar and carbohydrates
· Diets high in processed foods
· Excessive mucous-forming foods such as dairy, especially if you have a cold, asthma, allergies
· Chronic stress
· Poor sleep
· Excessive exercise
· Negative attitude*
All of the above deplete the body of vital supportive immune health nutrients (zinc, magnesium, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and many others), depressing immunity and leading to us becoming more susceptible to viruses and bacteria.
*Psychoneuroimmunology (or PNI) is a fascinating field and is the study of the effect of the mind on health and disease resistance. It has been found that how a person thinks or feels can affect immunity and studies have shown people in a poor state of mind are more likely to suffer illness and suffer more prolonged illnesses. If you are prone to low mood at this time of year, as mentioned above, you would benefit from getting your Vitamin D levels checked however if you’re experiencing extremely low mood or suicidal thoughts then you must seek the advice of your Healthcare Practitioner.
On a final note, if you do get ill, support your body rather than suppressing the symptoms. So if you’re feeling rotten, are tired and have a temperature try and sleep it off which supports the body’s natural ability to heal and then have plenty of herbal teas to stay hydrated and nourishing soups and stews to restore your strength as you begin to feel better again. Whenever you can, get outside during daylight hours, walk in the park and kick up colourful leaves but most importantly enjoy the health tonic we cannot bottle - plenty of fun and laughter!
PLEASE NOTE this post is not written to offer or over-ride any medical advice but rather to remind you that before vaccinations and symptom suppression medications were so readily available we relied on our very own in-built immune system to keep us healthy and I hope to provide you with ideas on how we can naturally support and strengthen our immune defences for a happier, healthier winter!