The days are noticeably cooler and shorter and as we begin to pull out the winter woollies many of us brace ourselves for not only the cold change but the ill-health that winter often brings. If this is you, take action now as winter doesn’t need to be a source of sickness, with some simple tips you too can avoid the flu season naturally and slide into spring full of energy and vitality!
So, what actually weakens our immune systems?
- Poor nutrition – Yes, it always starts here.
- Lack of sunlight, water and fresh air – time outdoors is great for us.
- Lack of exercise– Movement is essential for all aspects of our health and also remember ‘Summer bodies are made in winter’.
- Stress – one of our physiological responses to stress is the suppression of immune cells, the more chronic state of stress, the more weakened our immune cells become.
- Not enough sleep – sleep and circadian rhythm play a huge role in developing our immunological processes as certain immune cells peak when we are awake, just as other immune cells are more prolific during our sleeping hours. Read more here!
- Dysbiosis or imbalance of good versus bad bacteria in the gut – the majority of immune cells reside in the gastrointestinal tract. Gut microbiota helps support and mature immune cells, therefore any bacteria imbalance in the gut may be compromising immunity.
- Food intolerances or allergies – consuming foods that you may be reactive to, places pressure on your immune system and may leave you vulnerable to infection.
- Build-up of toxins in the body (Did you see our post on reducing environmental toxins in your life? Click here to read more.)
- Stealth viral infections – viruses can hide out inside our cells waiting for your body and immune system to be run down.
- Antibiotics – these also kill many of our good bacteria that have immune-boosting actions – as mentioned before.
Nutrition tips to keep you well this winter!
To really prep for winter, we need to optimise our nutrient intake, ideally through consuming nutrient-dense whole foods. We recommend hearty stews and soups, loaded with vegetables, herbs and spices (our favourite medicinal foods – turmeric, ginger, garlic, onion, thyme, mushrooms). A big bowl of homemade soup can be comforting on those chilly days and can be packed with healing and nourishing nutrients. Of course, if you feel your body needs a little extra support supplementation might be a good option. Key nutrients include Vitamin D (yes, sunlight really is that important!), old favourites Vitamin C and Zinc, and often overlooked but incredibly important Vitamin A, Iron and Vitamin B12. Herbal medicine can also be beneficial to those who suffer from low immunity. Low immunity is suggested if you get sick more than once a year or you have a low white blood cell count. Our favourite immune stimulating herbs include Echinacea (May Herb of the Month!), Astragalus, Andrographis and of course medicinal mushrooms.
Final tips for boosting immunity:
- Eat a diet rich in a wide variety of phytonutrients (e.g. a rainbow diet), as we know that different phytonutrients give plant foods their different colours and also exert their beneficial properties on our own cells as well as on our gut bacteria. Aim for 40+ different plant foods a week. If you are nowhere near this level, just start including one new vegetable/fruit/legume/nut/seed or whole grain per week. Think about switching it up and get purple carrots/cabbage instead of orange or have tricolour quinoa instead of rice. It all counts!
- Ensure you are getting adequate sleep – Important immune cell maturation occurs in the early hours of sleep, so dim the lights an hour before bed and avoid any stimulants (both food and visual, ie: screens!) to promote quality, restful sleep.
- Build stress resilience – avoid stress where possible and ensure you have coping strategies in place such as meditation, yoga, exercise and/or socialising to allow you to decompress and recalibrate.
- Avoid food triggers – if you are aware of food allergens or suspect you may have one, avoid them! Consuming foods that cause any type of reaction or systemic inflammation may be placing stress on your immune system.
- If you are suffering from low immunity or feel your immune system may be compromised considered an appointment at Wellness Vision for additional support and guidance!