Our top 10 tips on keeping your immune system in check!
No one can deny liking that cosy feeling of winter, whether it’s sitting by the fire wrapped in your favourite blanket or the festive feeling you get as the nights start drawing in. But with winter comes the dreaded Christmas colds, which are a nightmare at one of the most sociable times of the year.
We asked our experts to give us their top tips on keeping the seasonal nasties at bay.
- Laughter’s good for the soul (and body!)
Research has found happy people who have positive emotions are less likely to develop the common cold. Further to this, laughter has been shown to boost your immune system as it triggers the release of dopamine. This hormone reduces stress, which is one of the main causes of a weak immune system. “There is truth to the saying that laughter is the best medicine. Laughter reduces the body’s levels of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, and can boost immunity by increasing the number and activity of natural killer T-cells,” says the UK’s leading nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville (www.marilynglenville.com) and author of The Natural Health Bible for Women. Whether it’s a sneezing panda, or a terrible cheese pun that makes you chuckle, make sure you’re getting your laughs in to stay healthy this winter!
2. The sun’s rays keep the colds at bay
When the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, miserable winter flu and colds seem inevitable, which has most of us longing to get away for some winter sun. “If you seem to be coming down with one bug after another, or struggle to get over a cold, it can be worth asking your doctor to test your vitamin D level”, says Shona Wilkinson, Nutritionist at Superfood UK (www.superfooduk.com). Vitamin D is just as vital for the normal function of your immune system as the better known Vitamin C, and your levels can start to drop very low by mid-winter. With the UK not exactly being known for it’s year round sunshine, we have to look elsewhere to get our daily dose of Vitamin D. The best source by far is oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. There is also a small amount of vitamin D in egg yolks and other animal fats. If you need an extra boost, then take a vitamin D supplement, such as ‘Quest Once A Day Sunshine D’ a good vitamin D supplement for daily use.
3. Happy gut = happy winter
For this reason it’s so important to keep your tummy filled with healthy bacteria, especially during the winter colds season. “This good bacteria has been shown to influence the immune system’s sensitivity to antigens, potentially helping to prevent autoimmune diseases. These clever bacteria also train the immune system to better distinguish between disease-causing pathogens and harmless antigens, which may help prevent you from developing allergies. Taking probiotics on a daily basis can help to maintain the ratio of good to bad bacteria by providing additional friendly bacteria to ‘crowd-out’ the bad. Maintaining this balance can then help to balance digestion and support immunity, energy and overall health”, says Adrienne Benjamin, Leading Nutritionist at Pro-Ven (provenprobiotics.co.uk).
4. Sleep deprivation mirrors the effect of physical stress on your immune system
There’s nothing worse than waking up after a poor night’s sleep, especially when you’re feeling under the weather. Feeling tired might not be the only problem you’re faced with as the effects of a sleepless night have now been found to mirror the effects of physical stress on the immune system. A study on sleep deprivation by the National Sleep Foundation found participant’s white blood cells “reacted immediately to the physical stress of sleep loss, and directly mirrored the body’s stress response”, says Katrin Ackermann, a postdoctoral researcher at the Eramus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Try taking a magnesium supplement such as Nature’s Plus KalmAssure Magnesium Capsules (£11.75 for 90 capsules) which can help you drift off easily and wake up feeling refreshed.
5. Eating garlic strengthens your immune system.
Garlic has been used throughout many different cultures for centuries, for it’s powerful immune boosting properties that stimulate the multiplication of infection-fighting white cells, boost natural killer-cell activity and increase the efficiency of antibody production. For most of us, eating garlic will come easily, and is best used raw to get the immune boost you need over the winter months. The UK’s leading nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville (www.marilynglenville.com) says “crushing it into stews, using it in salad dressings or mashed with avocado and lemon juice to make an immune system friendly guacamole.”
6. Eat and drink your greens.
We all know the health benefits of eating our greens, but why not drink them too? When you’re under the weather, preparing and cooking lots of veg probably isn’t your top priority, so eliminate the hassle by fixing yourself a tasty smoothie with an added green boost. “Natures Plus Ultra Juice Green Powder contains naturally occurring sources of vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, zinc and copper, all of which play a direct role in supporting the immune system. Naturally occurring vitamins and minerals can be easier for the body to absorb and utilise compared to synthetic vitamins and minerals contained in many supplements. Studies have also suggested that micro-algae such as spirulina and chlorella can have direct immune-supporting activity, including increasing the production of antibodies and helping to balance or reduce inflammation in the body. (Natures Plus Ultra Juice Green Powder (www.naturesplus.co.uk, £29.25).
7. Snack on seeds.
The winter seasons are notorious for making us want to eat more and with all the holiday season temptations it’s hard to keep to our healthy diets, making us more susceptible to colds and flu. Keep both your cravings and the nasty bugs away with a handful of seeds when you feel hunger strike. Not only will they fill you up with good fats, but also provide powerful immune boosting properties. “Try a selection of chia, flax (ground), pumpkin, sunflower, hemp and sesame seeds”, as recommended by Lily Soutter, Nutritionist and weight loss expert at www.lilysoutternutrition.com. “These are little nutritional power houses! Full of immune boosting zinc, calming magnesium and anti ageing vitamin E”, says Lily.
8. Explore nature!
Going for a long stroll in the park might be just what you need to fight off the colds and keep your immune system in check. People who spend time in parks and forests exhibit an increased function of the immune system. There are certain chemicals that plants omit into the air called phytoncides designed to protect plants from insects and from rotting, it also has a positive effect on human immune systems.
9. Get your Omega 3 goodness.
Omega 3 is often touted as the go to solution for bright eyes and shiny hair, but its ability to combat colds and infections is just another reason to get your daily dose. Great news for fish lovers, as fish is packed full of Omega 3, making it an ideal choice for a warming winter dinner. “Oily fish (sardines, anchovies, herring, salmon, mackerel) are rich in Omega 3. Omega 3 helps reduce inflammation which may help to increase airflow and protect the lungs from colds and respiration infections”, says Cassandra Burns. If fish isn’t your thing, opt for an Omega 3 supplement, such as Smartfish Recharge Omega 3 drinks for those who are looking for maintenance or ‘everyday’ support www.smartfishnutrition.co.uk, from £1.30 per drink.
10. Have a cuddle!
There’s nothing better than cosying up in the winter with your loved one, and now it’s been found to be good for your health, there’s no reason not to grab that blanket and have a cuddle. “A rub, a hug and a passing touch all decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol in your body. Cortisol decreases your immune response, so snuggle up to a loved one and enjoy the immune boosting properties of an embrace!”