Most of us only really think about our immune system in winter when we start to get run down and become unwell with the common cold, flu or respiratory infection, however it is important to look after our immune system all year round in order to keep us well and protect us from infectious diseases and other health conditions.
During the winter months, we become even more susceptible to illness and there is an even greater need to support our immune system as there are over 200 viruses that cause the common cold and these viruses are highly contagious as they can survive on a surface from anywhere between a few hours, to several days.
There are many factors that may cause our immune system to become compromised and these may include things such as stress, prescription medications, toxins from our beauty products, cleaning product, pesticides on our food, poor sleep, poor gut health, and a diet that is deficient in nutrients.
So how can you stay strong and balanced this winter, here are some top tips to help you stay healthy this winter:
1. Eat a balanced diet full of nutrient rich foods
Nutrients such as vitamins A, C, D and E, as well as minerals such as zinc, and Omega 3s can all support your immune system. Ensure you focus on eating whole foods such as nuts and seeds, fresh fruit such as berries, kiwi fruit, lemons, and leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, and brussel sprouts and also focus on a good quality animal protein. Avoid processed foods, fried foods, refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, and soft drinks as these are damaging to your gut health and your immune system.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is great for strengthening our immune system, however it is difficult to get enough sunshine during the winter months, therefore supplementation may be necessary.
3. Vitamin C and Zinc
Taking a zinc and vitamin C supplement has been shown to shorten the severity and duration of the common cold, flu and other respiratory tract infections as well as act as a preventative for all sorts of other infections.
4. NAC (N-acetyl cysteine)
N-acetyl cysteine is an amino acid that is a natural anti-inflammatory and anti-viral that can be used to treat upper respiratory infections and provide relief from the common cold. It is also beneficial for treating and preventing the symptoms associated with asthma and chronic bronchitis eliminating mucus and opening the airways.
5. Herbal Remedies
Herbs such as Echinacea, Elderberry, and Astragalus Root have been known to help the body fight off infection boosting immune function and shortening the duration of your cold and flu.
80% of our immune system is located in our digestive system. So, having a healthy gut is important for a strong immune system. Probiotics are good bacteria that can be found in fermented foods, such as raw sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and kimchi, or in the form of supplements. If you are looking for a good quality probiotic, it’s best to choose a brand that offers different sources of bacteria and one that is refrigerated.
7. Drink plenty of water
Water is the best way to cleanse our body of toxins and ensure our system stays healthy and hydrated as well as help strengthen our immune system, aim for at least 2 litres of water per day.
8. Go Caffeine Free
A coffee in the morning may help to wake you up and get you going, however it raises our stress hormones cortisol and supresses the immune system. Try switching to a green or herbal tea instead.
9. Reduce Stress
Much like caffeine, stress also raises our cortisol levels, so by reducing our stress levels, we reduce cortisol and strengthen the immune system. By implementing techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, light exercise, or a relaxing massage, this can help to reduce our stress levels and strengthen our immune systems.
10. Avoid medications if possible
As much as possible try to avoid medications such as anti-biotics and over the counter cold and flu medications. Whilst over the counter medications may help to relieve your symptoms temporarily, they actually prolong your illness and make it harder for your immune system to do its job and fight off infection.
Try to avoid taking anti-biotics if possible, as they destroy the friendly bacteria in the digestive system and suppress immune functions. Always try to find an alternative first.
11. Get plenty of sleep
Ensuring you are getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep per night can help to reduce the risk of illness as the body rejuvenates, repairs and strengthens when we sleep.
12. Stay away from the toxins
We are surrounded by toxins every day, they are in our cleaning products, our personal care products, and even on our food, many of which are dangerous to our immune system. Try using toxin free products and chose organic food in order to minimise your toxin exposure.
13. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is known to suppress the immune system which makes it harder for the body to fight any cold or flu virus going around. Try drinking smoothies, juices and herbals tea instead.