With winter fast approaching, infections threaten to wreak havoc on the start of our festivities, ranging from coughs, colds, and flu to the dreaded ‘winter vomiting bug’ called Norovirus which causes severe vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. Schools, public transport, shopping centres, and gyms can all be rife with these ‘bad bugs’, rendering us unavoidably exposed. Which raises the question, how can we protect ourselves?
- Pack your diet full of immune-supportive nutrients and herbs, especially those with anti-viral properties such as elderberry, sage, beta-glucans, zinc, and vitamins A, C and D. Key foods include mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, organic meat and offal, oily fish, citrus, berries, and raw leafy greens (e.g. broccoli, kale). Elderberry, for instance, has a unique property of being able to ‘blunt’ the spikes on the outside of viruses which stops them from entering the cells where they would otherwise reproduce. This means that elderberry can be a powerful tool in the prevention of viral infections. Arming ourselves up with these nutrients and herbs through diet, as well as supplementation, can provide us with optimal baseline nutrition throughout winter and the best chance of protecting ourselves from winter bugs.
- Get a vitamin D test, either through the GP or privately (they aren’t expensive!). We are all prone to sub-optimal vitamin D levels at this time of the year as we become more indoor-bound and less exposed to sunlight, and some of us can be particularly vulnerable to this, such as the elderly and pregnant and lactating women. The last thing we need is something as basic as this increasing our susceptibility to infection! So, get your vitamin D levels tested and contact a Registered Nutritional Therapist in your area to enable them to recommend a supplemental dosage of vitamin D tailored to your unique needs. Alternatively, you can start by taking a safe, moderate dose of 1000 IU vitamin D3 from a supplement.
- Prioritise good quality sleep and relaxation! Sleep is our golden opportunity for our body, especially our immune system, to ‘rest and repair’. This means that good sleep is just as important as good nutrition when trying to strengthen our immune system, which is something many people don’t realise! Aim for 7-8 hours uninterrupted sleep per night with the help of an eye mask, ear plugs, an aromatherapy bath before bed, and increasing your intake of calming nutrients in the evening such as magnesium. Equally, a chronic stress response drains our immune system, so it is also important to incorporate a form of relaxation into your daily life, whether it be a walk outside on your lunchbreak or an evening meditation or yoga session.
- Watch your sugar and alcohol intake! As we approach the build up to Christmas, we can become deluged with opportunities for indulgence, which of course can be lovely in moderation but we need to be aware of the negative impact of sugar and alcohol on our health, not least on our immunity! Where possible, try to choose healthier alternatives, such as dark chocolate, nuts, and dates and encourage your office mates or family to do the same. If you know you have a Christmas gathering or party coming up in the week, try to avoid alcohol in the build up to it and pack your diet with the immune supportive nutrients mentioned above, to help you adapt to it better and prevent it from significantly draining your immune system.
- Enjoy prebiotic (the fibre!) and probiotic (the good bacteria!) rich foods to strengthen the colonies of beneficial bacteria residing in our gut which also play a major role in our immunity. Enjoy foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichoke, raw sauerkraut and kimchi, and kefir on a daily basis. They taste great and are doing you a world of good at the same time! To help you reach a therapeutic dosage with the potential to improve your resilience to infection, consider supplementing with well-researched human strains of beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium bifidum, from a reputable company.
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