Winter is coming and we don't want to fall ill, do we? Here we have some expert tips to ensure you're not struck down.
Your immune system is your defence mechanism against disease and infection. By providing good nutrition, you can enhance your immune health, helping you prepare for the winter ahead.
1. Start at the base
Getting the foundations of good nutrition right is vital for immunity and it pays to give your gut health some extra thought too. Your tummy is your immune system’s army headquarters, as Professor Glenn Gibson from the University of Reading explains. "About 70% of the human immune response arises from the gut. This is principally because of the trillions of bacteria which reside there and taking a probiotic daily such as Nu-TRI-Foundation daily especially during winter will help combat winter infections. Studies have shown that recovery from the flu or a cold can be markedly sped up during probiotics intake.”
2. Eat a rainbow
“Variety is bedrock to a healthy diet,” says Robert Hobson, Head of Nutrition for Healthspan. “Eating a broad range of coloured foods will ensure you get all the nutrients that play a key role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Research suggests that the antioxidant properties of carotenoids and beta carotene found in bright orange, yellow, red and green foods may help to protect immune cells from damaging free radicals. As well as including foods such as sweet potato, peppers, tomatoes and broccoli in your diet, try snacking on nuts and seeds for an additional boost of iron, selenium and zinc all of which support immunity and will help fight off those winter chills!”
3. Nourish your mind
Sadly, here in the UK seasonal affective disorder (appropriately named SAD) is experienced by 1 in 50 of us, and as many as 1 in 8 of us experience the milder ‘the winter blues’. A lack of serotonin in the brain has been attributed as a factor in the development of SAD but certain foods can help to boost levels. “5-HTP is a natural substance made in the body as a precursor to the production of serotonin,” explains medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. “It can be found in foods such as turkey and cheese but is also used in supplements as an extract from the seeds of the Griffonia plant.”
4. Seek out sunshine
Are you getting enough vitamin D? A new study published this month in the British Journal of Nutrition found that 35 percent of the world are vitamin D deficient and it could be impacting our immunity. A new direct vitamin d testing service has made it even easier to check your levels. Visit www.myvitdtest.com for more details. “Vitamin D levels rise and fall throughout the year,” explains Dr Adam Carey. “Most of us will reach a peak levels towards the end of summer, which tails off towards the end of winter. It is a good idea to get your vitamin D levels assessed to identify any fluctuation in levels thought the year, so that if you do need a supplement, you take it at the appropriate level.”
5. Be mindful
Although short-term stress may actually boost the immune system, chronic stress has the opposite effect, exposing your body to a steady cascade of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which suppress the immune system. “In today’s 24-7 society, our brains are super-stimulated all day, every day, so stress levels are higher than they have ever been,’ says Psychotherapist Sally Brown (www.bedfordcounselling.co.uk). ‘We all need to find a personal anti-stress strategy that works for us. Mindfulness is one of the most effective and you can do it anywhere in a few minutes – it’s a way of giving your brain a break when it’s overloaded with thoughts and images. Start by simply taking a few minutes to sit quietly, focussing on your breathing. Try to feel the breath as it enters your nose and fills your lungs. When thoughts come into your head, imagine them floating by like leaves in a river or clouds in the sky.”
6. To C or not to C
Vitamin C has firmly placed itself at the centre of natural immune support, and rightly so as it contributes to the normal function of the immune system and protects our cells from damage also helps them to repair. We can't store vitamin C so a regular intake is required and also certain lifestyle factors, such as drinking alcohol and exposure to environmental pollutants, can deplete our levels. So build into your rainbow diet with vitamin C-rich foods such as broccoli, lemons, berries and papaya. Bioflavanoids found in these foods also have immune benefits of their own.
7. Stay smiling
“The old expression a laugh a day keeps the doctor away could ring true here' says celebrity cosmetic dentist Dr Uchenna Okoye fromwww.londonsmiling.com. “Researchers have uncovered the most conclusive evidence yet of a link between laughter and the ability to fight disease. In a major new study, they found roaring with laughter can boost the immune system by up to 40 per cent but also keeping our oral health in good shape is vital to boosting your immune system. Your mouth is the window into what's going on with the rest of your body so treat your mouth like you treat your skin, three tips, floss, brush and keep your gums healthy daily." See our feature with tips from Jo Whiley here.
8. Keep exercising
Regular exercise increases the level of leukocytes, an immune system cell that fights infection. Keeping active is also linked with increased levels of endorphins, natural feel-good hormones that pump up your sense of well-being and improve sleep quality, both of which have positive effects on your immune system.
Getting your heart rate up for just 20 minutes, three times a week will help boost immune function. A brisk autumn walk is perfect.
9. Get enough sleep
A good night’s sleep is important to allow your body to fight viral infections and repair any cell damage from the day before. Blood tests reveal that insomniacs have fewer infection-fighting cells and are more likely to get colds and flu than their more rested peers. “People who sleep for less than seven hours a night are three times more likely to develop cold symptoms than those who regularly sleep for eight hours or more,” says Dr Brewer.
10. Stay hydrated
Drinking lots of fluid each day not only stops you from getting dehydrated, it also help the body to flush out toxins, which is vital for a healthy immune system. Try to drink at least one and a half litres of fluids every day. If you don’t like plain water, zip it up with a slice of lemon or lime. Posh teas are in demand it seems from reports this week and and there are some great naturally caffeine free teas out there such as the Dragonfly Teas http://www.dragonfly-teas.com or Rooibos Tick Tock range.