Unfortunately, we are 80% more likely to get a cold in winter so if you want to keep those nasty bugs at bay it’s now time to take care of your health.
We asked our experts to tell us how to winter-proof our bodies and boost our immune system before it’s too late!
Exercise to boost your immunity
Exercise reduces the impact of the stress hormones, which make us more vulnerable to colds and flu. “Normally, when these hormones are released we are in ‘flight or flight’ mode and we are going to spring into action. So when we are active this actually helps dissipate the stress hormones instead of them building up and causing havoc on the immune function.” Says Dr Marilyn Glenville; the UK’s leading nutritionist, and author of The Nutritional Health Handbook for Women.
“It is thought that the strong breathing with exercise may stop bacteria settling in the lungs. In addition, exercise improves circulation, which can help to move the immune fighting white blood cells though the body quicker, so they can detect and prevent infections straight away,” adds Dr Glenville.
Get some sleep
As a society we are sleeping less: the time we sleep each night has reduced from 9 hours to 7.5 hours since the 1900s. “Sleep is important for your health as it gives your body time to recharge its batteries and repair cells. When you don’t get enough or good quality sleep you can feel irritable, with poor concentration, tired and more vulnerable to infections as your body does not have the strength to fight its own battles,” explains Dr Glenville.
Inadequate sleep lowers our immune response. “A recent study showed that missing even a few hours a night on a regular basis could decrease the number of ‘natural killer cells’, which are responsible for fighting off invaders such as bacteria and viruses. This will come as no surprise to those of us who succumb to colds and other illnesses when they are run down – normally after periods of inadequate sleep,” says Dr Glenville.
Stress can make you ill. “Cortisol, the stress hormone that is released alongside adrenaline, suppresses the immune system. It then makes you more susceptible to thrush, cystitis, mouth ulcers and recurrent colds and flu,” explains Dr Glenville.
Eat yourself well
“If you keep your immune system well nourished with a healthy, balanced diet, you can literally ‘eat yourself well’.
“Nutrients are needed for every part of your immune system, including renewal, repair and defence against infection and illness, so its strength will depend on the quality of your diet. No single food can provide all the essential nutrients that your body needs, and any kind of nutritional deficiency may lead to more frequent and prolonged illnesses. It is therefore important to maintain a healthy, balanced diet that provides an adequate intake of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. But what is a healthy, balanced diet? Studies have shown that the so-called ‘Mediterranean diet’ can offer protection against obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer and diabetes and is the template for a healthy immune boosting diet. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil and whole grains, and contains adequate amounts of oily fish, nuts, seeds and legumes. Saturated fat, salt and sugar intake are limited, and processed, refined foods should be avoided completely,” says Dr Glenville.
Golden Six Supplements to help fight flu this winter:
“Garlic contains the active ingredient called allicin, which fights infection and bacteria. A member of the onion family, garlic has been used for centuries and in many different cultures and is known for its protective properties. Acting as a powerful immune supporter, garlic boosts natural killer-cell activity and increases the efficiency of antibody production. If you don’t like its taste you can also try taking a supplement. Go for Kyolic Garlic by Quest Vitamins (www.nutricentre.com, £8.99),” says Shona Wilkinson, Head Nutritionist at Nutricentre.com.
“Try to eat oily fish three times a week: sardines, anchovies, herring, salmon, and mackerel. They are rich in Omega 3, which not only help reduce inflammation but also increase airflow and protect the lungs from colds and respiration infections. You can also go for a high quality supplement to make sure you get enough of Omega 3, such as NHP’s Omega 3 Plus, made from pure wild deep sea fish oil (www.naturalhealthpractice.com, £27.77),” recommends Dr Glenville.
Mushrooms can have ‘magical’ powers when it comes to immunity. “They contain powerful compounds called beta glucans, which have been long known for their immune enhancing properties. The beta glucans in medicinal mushrooms, especially: Reishi, Shiitake and Maitake, are notable for their ability to stimulate white blood cells.” Says co-Founder of Hifas da Terra and Mycologist, Catalina Fernández de Ana Portela. Good news: now you can get the most of mushrooms even if you don’t like the taste. Hifas da Terra Mico-Rei (available from Harrods, and online at www.hifasdaterra.co.uk for £55.50.) is a pure extract of reishi mushroom – Ganoderma lucidum. “Reishi mushroom has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. Its Chinese name – lingzhi – is most often translated as ‘Mushroom of Immortality’ and it is said to promote longevity. Also like other mushrooms, Reishi is well known for its immune-supporting (balancing) potential,” adds Catalina.
“Zinc can curb cold symptoms fast as it regulates the proper function of T cells, also known as ‘natural killers’. This powerful mineral has been shown to reduce the severity of a cold and possibly shorten its duration by a few days. Known for its role in wound healing, Zinc is essential in the production of enzymes and infection-fighting blood cells. One study found that people who took zinc lozenges as soon as cold symptoms appeared recovered more quickly than those who did not. Zinc is found naturally in many foods, including oysters, scallops, prawns, milk, cheese, wholemeal bread, wheat germ, cashew nuts and mushrooms. You can also try Zinc by Nature’s Plus (www.nutricentre.com, £8.59),” says Michela Vagnini, Nutritionist at www.naturesplus.co.uk.
We all need probiotics in our bodies to stay healthy as 70% of your immune system is in our gut. “These beneficial bacteria, that can reduce inflammation and severity of a cold, can be found in live yogurt and fermented foods. However, I would suggest taking a supplement over the winter, especially if you have taken a number of courses of antibiotics in the past. Try 25 Billion by ProVen Probiotics (available from www.provenprobiotics.co.uk, £11.63),” recommends Adrienne Benjamin, Nutritionist at ProVen Probiotics.
Vitamin C may have several roles in the function of the immune system. “It increases the activity of immune cells, the production of antibodies – particles that help the immune system identify foreign bodies such as bacteria, and production of chemicals that help to stop viruses replicating inside our cells. Vitamin C is also known to protect our cells from ‘oxidative stress’ – damage from free radicals,” explains Wilkinson. You can also nip inflammation in the bud by taking anti-inflammatory supplements, such as Nature’s Plus AgeLoss Immune Support (www.nutricentre.com, £27.45). Packed with anti oxidants, vitamins and minerals it can help you to stay healthy and strong during this difficult season.
For further information about Dr Marilyn Glenville please visit: www.marilynglenville.com