With the winter well and truly here and we shiver in temperatures of below zero it is important to provide our immune system with support so we can make it through to spring avoiding the coughs and colds. Here are some of the most important nutrients you need to pack your nourishing meals with or include via supplementation.
Vitamin D – The British Medical Journal published a large study in 2017 which found vitamin D to be effective for preventing colds and flu1. Vitamin D is critical for immune health; unlike most essential nutrients however, you can’t rely on food to replenish your stores. The main source of vitamin D is not food, but sunshine; your bare skin produces vitamin D when it comes into contact with the sun’s UV rays. With us well and truly into winter now it’s easy to understand why levels often plummet during cooler months. The best way to keep vitamin D levels up is to take a daily supplement, in fact Public Health England now recommends that everyone should supplement vitamin D from October to March. Vitamin D is best supplemented as D3 (cholecalciferol) since this is the form produced naturally by the body in response to sunlight. Growing evidence suggests that vitamin D works in synergy with vitamin K and it is often recommended that they are supplemented together.
Beta Glucans – Less well known, yet incredibly effective immune saviours at this time of year are naturally-occurring polysaccharides known as beta glucans. They are found in bacteria and fungi and are used to make cell walls and store energy. What’s particularly interesting about beta glucans is their incredible, natural ability to modulate immune function. Good food sources for beta glucans are mushrooms and especially Shittake and Maitake, Oats, so a lovely bowl of steaming porridge and seaweed.
Zinc – A severe deficiency of zinc is known to suppress immune function, and even mild to moderate deficiency can have a negative impact on the immune system’s ability to deal with infection. It’s certainly a nutrient you want to keep at optimal range during the winter months. The body doesn’t store zinc very well so it’s crucial that your daily diet supplies plenty of this immune boosting mineral. You’ll find high levels of zinc in meat, chickpeas & lentils, pumpkin and sesame seeds. You can also take extra zinc in supplement form to keep your levels topped up and gently support your immune function. If you regularly take zinc in supplement form however (such as in a daily multi) it is important to balance this with copper, as excess zinc can cause copper deficiency and vice versa.
Vitamin A – Several immune system functions rely on vitamin A and it also regulates some genes involved in immune function. Vitamin A is found in the diet in two forms: beta-carotene (found in red, yellow and orange plant foods) and retinol, or ‘active vitamin A’ (found in high fat animal foods such as eggs, butter, liver and full fat dairy products). Beta-carotene must first be converted in the body before it can be used, hence why retinol is often referred to as ‘active vitamin A’. When looking for immune support via supplementation, it is best to have a mix of both retinol and beta-carotene. For ongoing support in a daily multi, it is best to stick to beta-carotene as your preferred source and include good sources of retinol in your diet.
Rest and Relaxation – It’s no secret that chronic stress can have debilitating and widespread effects on your health. Unfortunately, the immune system doesn’t escape from the damaging effects of stress either. Stress raises cortisol which over time can increase inflammation. Stress also decreases white blood cells leaving you more vulnerable to infections such as the common cold and flu viruses. I therefore always prescribe ‘Rest and Relaxation’ to everyone who wants to support their immune system this winter. A good night’s sleep, a relaxing hour on the sofa, in a weekly yoga or pilates class, a regular walk in nature, a barefoot stroll on the beach, time spent offline or in a daily 10-minute mindfulness practise. However you choose to get your ‘R&R’ scheduled into your week, your immune system will be eternally grateful.
Echinacea – Now I swear by this for me and my family. Studies show that echinacea can reduce inflammation, relieve pain, boost the immune system, and prevent the cold and influenza virus from replicating itself in your body. Echinacea also has known anti-viral, antibacterial, and blood cleansing properties. This should be taken at the first signs of a cold and a double dose for a couple of days and then take single dose for a further 2-4 days. It shouldn’t taken on a regular basis only when there are signs of a cold.
A Vogel (Bio Force) would be my go to for Echinacea and you can get this in tablet form both chewable or to swallow as well as drops.
All supplements recommended can be bought via The Natural Dispensary which is an online supplement company. Set up an account and put Eatwell2livewell as your practitioner and use discount code DJS05 to get a 5% discount off the RRP.