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Beat the winter bugs

Top ways to optimise your family’s winter immunity

Nutrition, poor health choices and stress can adversely affect our immunity,” says Sian Eustace of health store Healing Harvest in Kinvara, Co Galway. “Cold air, whilst it can’t give us viruses, is thought to be responsible for lowering our immune system in a few ways. The cells lining the nose perform differently at colder temperatures, meaning we are less able to fight infection. Viruses themselves, including rhinoviruses such as the flu, are able to spread more rapidly.”

“Our immune system works to protect us every day,” says Lucy Kerr from health store The Good Earth in Kilkenny. “But when it’s compromised we can face illness. In autumn/winter there are more illnesses and viruses around and with more people indoors, central heating and harsher colder air we become more likely to become sick. Keeping our immune system strong is vital to maintaining a healthy body.”

Steps to better immunity

“Smoking, excessive alcohol intake and a sedentary lifestyle can have a detrimental effect on your immune system,” says Lucy Kerr. “Trying to quit smoking, reduce alcohol intake and exercise more will have a great effect on boosting your immune system. A 10 minute brisk walk every day is a great place to start. Sleep has a significant effect on maintaining a healthy immune system, so make sure you get enough. Try to reduce stress where possible as it has been shown to have a negative effect on the immune system. Including things like meditation, yoga and breathing techniques in your life can make a difference.”

“There are a number of things we can do to help ourselves to stay healthy in the colder months,” says Sian Eustace. “Making sure to eat healthily is extremely important as it means your body will have all the vitamins, minerals, macronutrients and antioxidants it needs to stay well. If you feel you are not able to eat a balanced diet, you could consider adding a food supplement to ensure that your nutritional needs are met.”

Eat for better immunity

“Fresh fruit and vegetables are very important for keeping your immune system strong,” says Sian Eustace. “Try to eat seasonally to make sure your food is as fresh as possible. You may not feel like eating salads during the winter, but think about stews and soups. These also have the benefit that the cooking water remains in the recipe, meaning that the vitamins are retained in the meal.”

“Our diet has a huge impact on our health and immune system,” says Lucy Kerr. “By consuming nourishing foods full of vitamins and minerals we can give our body the best chance of having a strong immune system. Brightly coloured vegetables rich in beta carotene are very important to help boost immune system function - sources include oranges, lemons, grapefruits, red and yellow peppers. Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are all high in vitamin C which helps keep your immune system healthy. Local raw honey has antiviral and antibacterial properties that help keep your immune system healthy. Garlic is a natural antibiotic and a good immune system booster.”

Other good immune boosting foods include:

  • Bone broth - packed with anti-inflammatory properties, amino acids and great for gut health which is vital for a healthy immune system.
  • Ginger – a warming spice that increases circulation and reduces inflammation.
  • Matcha green tea – packed with antioxidants and has antimicrobial properties.
  • Cordyceps such as reishi, shiitake – have immune-boosting properties and are antiviral and antimicrobial.

Supplementing your immunity

“It is important to take a vitamin D supplement between the months of November and March due to a lack of sunshine exposure in the winter months,” says Lucy Kerr. “Zinc is an important immune system booster – it helps increase your white cell blood count which is important for healing or fighting infections. Vitamin C helps boost our immune system and can help reduce the duration of colds and flus. Elderberry has antiviral, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties. Our gut and immune systems are closely connected by having an optimal balance of healthy flora, so take a probiotic for a stronger immune system.”

“In the winter months, it can be useful to think about a multivitamin if you feel you are not eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables,” says Sian Eustace. “It can also be useful to look at immune-supporting products such as vitamin C, zinc and echinacea. If stress is an issue, try supporting the body with B vitamins or herbs such as lemon balm, oat straw.”

Winter help tips

Sian Eustace’s lifestyle tips

  • Wash hands properly before eating – you will be less likely to be transferring germs inside your body.
  • Make good lifestyle choices – find time to move your body, reduce alcohol and avoid smoking or drugs.
  • Find hobbies that bring you joy and make time for them in your life.
  • When working or socialising in an enclosed space, try to ensure ventilation or an air purifier/filter.
  • Stay hydrated – herbal teas are a useful way of increasing liquid whilst staying cosy and warm.

Natural immunity helpers

  • Aloe vera – has immune-boosting and anti-viral properties, is a good all-round tonic and as a booster during any infection.
  • Beta-glucans – derived from mushrooms, can boost a weakened immune system.
  • Camu camu – this South American fruit has amazingly high levels of vitamin C.
  • Chromium – stimulates the immune response – it can be sourced from wholegrains, oranges, onions, tomatoes and greens.
  • Curcumin – the active compound in turmeric, has been shown to enhance antibody responses and modulate immune function.
  • Garlic – an immune-enhancing herb. Cook and eat with it or take Kyolic garlic tablets.
  • Herbal teas – ginger, peppermint, eucalyptus, elderberry and echinacea can be soothing on a sore throat or for respiratory infections.
  • Manuka honey – look for the UMF logo to guarantee anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Olive leaf extract – an antioxidant-rich immune supporter.
  • Omega-3s, DHA and EPA – these fatty acids enhance the function of immune cells.
  • Selenium – the antioxidants in selenium can help the body fight a cold.
  • Turmeric – helps to reduce swelling of tissue in an infection.
  • Vitamin A – has antiviral and immune-enhancing properties involved in the production of white blood cells which help clear bacteria and pathogens from the blood system.
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