Winter Immunity - what's bugging you?

Why is it that some of us seem to get more ill than others? And is it inevitable or can we take steps to avoid it?

Especially during the winter months, we become aware of all the infections going round and might become concerned about how well our immune system is working. We all want to avoid the dreadful discomfort that comes with an infection, not to mention the disruption it causes in our day-to-day lives.

We are exposed to millions of different microbes (bacteria and viruses) and other foreign bodies every day. Their priority is to survive and they use us as accommodation, either by latching onto our cells or by living inside our tissues, creating havoc and, in severe cases, even overwhelming us. Fortunately, we have a complex and intelligent system - the immune system which acts as the body’s own defence force. Its job is to identify what is not part of us, examine it and decide whether it is a threat, in which case it will try to kill or neutralise it. It is a very sophisticated system and can change to adapt to its environment and circumstances.

So how can we help support our immune system?

The best place to start for the prevention of infections is actually to boost our levels of good bugs! When researchers gave young children probiotics with a little vitamin C every day, they found that the children got fewer coughs and colds. If they did get an infection the symptoms weren’t as bad and they didn’t need as much medication. They also needed less time off school. [1] Further research shows that the bacterial strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG was effective in reducing the number, severity and duration of respiratory tract infections in children. [2,3] So probiotics, including L. rhamnosus GG, may be the best thing to take all winter to prevent coughs and colds.

Other nutrients that play an important role in the prevention of infections include the following:

Vitamin D enhances the immune system’s ability to recognise pathogens and initiate a response against them especially influenza (which causes the flu), tuberculosis and respiratory tract infections. [4] The main natural source of vitamin D is sunlight, and as our sun exposure becomes very limited during winter, it is essential to supplement vitamin D to prevent deficiencies and boost immunity.

Vitamin A is crucial for strengthening the gut lining which acts as a barrier against pathogens. It can also boost the activity of immune cells.

Zinc is important for enhancing the activity of immune cells.

Antioxidants are molecules that prevent damage to the cells and tissues and reduce inflammation. These include different plant chemicals (flavonoids) found in rosehip, bilberry and other berries, as well as rutin and hesperidin that are naturally found in citrus fruit.

Although the above can be used as a preventative protocol against infections, they can also be very beneficial during an infection alongside the following nutrients for further immune support:

Vitamin C improves the function of immune cells and can decrease the duration of infection.

Elderberry contains plant chemicals that ‘blunt’ the spikes on viruses and stop them from entering the cells. It also increases immune system activity against flu.

Sage inhibits bacterial growth[11] including the bacteria causing tuberculosis, skin infections and food poisoning.

Lysine inhibits reproduction of certain viruses like herpes [13] and boosts immunity. [14]

Beta Glucans are natural sugars found in certain types of mushrooms. They can activate the immune cells [15] and reduce the symptoms and duration of respiratory tract infections in elderly [16] and children. [17]

What’s best to eat when we are ill?

When you are ill, you start to feel really tired, achy and feverish. This is a sign that your body is trying to fight the infection and it’s trying to make you rest. Rather than fighting the symptoms and reaching for pills, it is better to support your body naturally by resting and having plenty of fluids and nutrients. You can include the following foods:

Natural anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory foods – garlic, ginger, turmeric, sage, coconut oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice with warm water and honey (locally sourced and raw if possible).

Bone broths – use organic chicken carcass or beef bones, add a mixture of vegetables such as carrots, leeks, onions and herbs. Cover with water and gently simmer for a few hours. Strain and drink the broth daily.

Vegetable juices – if you have a low appetite, fresh vegetable juices can be a great source of nutrients and antioxidants.

Probiotic foods – sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, natural yoghurt, kefir and kombucha.

Essential fats – oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and wild salmon, seeds such as flax, chia, and hemp seeds.

Coconut water – for hydration and replenishing electrolyte stores.

This article has been provided by BioCare®.