The Instagram logo

Defence against the bugs!

Boost your family's immunity during the winter months

Winter definitely puts more stress on our bodies," says Sian Eustace of health store Healing Harvest, Kinvara. "There is less natural daylight and, therefore, less vitamin D to be had. It is colder so our bodies have to work harder to keep up our core temperature. We are often stuck inside without fresh air and with heating systems running.

"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 are able to spread more rapidly."

"There is now a sound body of evidence that low vitamin D levels leave a person more prone to catching any virus," says Jill Bell of health store Well and Good in Midleton, Co Cork.

"In health stores we've seen too an exponential increase in the number of customers taking vitamin D as a spray, drops, capsules or tablets."

Your immunity diet

"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. Consider foods which are naturally antibacterial such as garlic, local honey, lemon, ginger and turmeric. Also support your gut bacteria by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, natural live yogurt or kefir. Lemon balm tea is naturally antiviral and delicious."

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.

The role of vitamin C

"Good food sources of vitamin C include kale, broccoli, peppers, citrus fruits, strawberries and blackcurrants," says Jill Bell. "In health stores there are a number of options for increasing vitamin C levels, some food-derived, such as camu camu, and an effective complex of acerola, Indian amla and rosehips, and others in more conventional capsule, powder, effervescent or tablet form. Children can choose drops or a chewable tablet."

Herbal help

"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. Other useful vitamins, minerals and herbs for supporting immunity are probiotics, garlic, olive leaf, oregano oil, elderberry, astragalus, ginger, plus ivy and thyme to support the chest."

"For lots of people herbs are the way to go, and top of the list is echinacea," says Jill Bell. "Other herbs that help to guard us against ills and chills include garlic, anti-viral elderberries, Indian astragalus and reishi mushrooms for the immune-stimulating properties of their beta glucan content."

Lifestyle advice

"We need to help ourselves by managing our lifestyle," says Jill Bell. "Avoid smoking , excess alcohol and eat healthily. We should remember that exercise stimulates white blood cells to fight disease. Exercise also improves sleep quality and our ability to manage stress and anxiety, which in turn helps to support immune function."

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.

Coping with stress

"Stress can be harmful to the immune response," says Sian Eustace. "Try to do something every day which makes you happy. This could include taking a walk in nature; doing a guided meditation; soaking in a bath with Epsom salts or essential oils; having an early night; doing some yoga or t'ai chi; painting, drawing or other art activities; crochet, knitting or other crafts; taking an online dance class or just dancing around the kitchen to the radio. If you're struggling, don't be afraid to seek help."

Immune boosting A-Z

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.

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.

Vitamin C – studies have shown that viruses cannot survive in a vitamin C-rich environment.

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.

Vitamin D – deficiency has long been associated with an increased risk of flu virus.

Echinacea – works to support your immune system.

Elderberry tincture or syrup – inhibits the adhesion of the (flu) virus to the cell receptors.

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.

Zinc – can help fight infection and shorten the duration of a cold.

Articles from our latest issue...