When the temperature drops, the chance of you coming down with a cold or the flu increases significantly.
It’s widely accepted you’ll get sick more often in the winter.
That’s because you’re likely to be inside more and the common cold thrives better in dry air than where there’s humidity. And, when you spend more time indoors, you’re exposed to more germs.
Here’s something interesting about the common cold: when your core internal temperature falls after exposure to cold, the immune system’s ability to battle the rhinovirus (the virus that causes it) is also reduced. The immune system literally slows down. The flu virus is also transmitted much faster when it’s cold out because the lipid (fatty) coating of the virus becomes more resilient the colder it gets.
Your immune system is the most powerful weapon you have against disease. Strong immunity means that the body is better able to fight off viruses and germs. Fewer colds and sick days this winter would be good, right?
There are many diet and lifestyle tweaks you can make to reduce your risk of catching a cold and flu this season. Here are my top tips to keep you feeling fit this month – and beyond!
1. Eat real food. Your body needs real, unprocessed food to stay healthy. Focus on eating natural, unprocessed food as often as possible. Follow the 80/20 rule: this means eating nourishing, unprocessed food at least 80% of the time.
Free-range, organic meat and wild fish, organic fruit and vegetables and wholegrains all contribute to a stronger immune system and offset the occasional indulgence.
2. Get to know probiotic foods. Did you know that up to 80% of our immunity to germs and disease is in our gut? The mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) in the gut is part of the first line of immune defense, so getting the right balance between beneficial, or ‘good’ gut bacteria, and the ‘bad’, or potentially pathogenic bacteria, is key.
The gut environment takes a beating year after year, due to poor diets, too much sugar, stress, antibiotics and other factors. Even if you have no obvious tummy troubles, digestive health is vital, so it’s worth the extra effort to take care of it.
Add probiotic and prebiotic foods to your diet, as these repopulate the gut with good bacteria and feed them well enough to crowd out bad bacteria.
Here are some gut-friendly choices to get you started:
- Organic, probiotic, natural full-fat Greek yoghurt, such as Yeo Valley or Rachel’s
- Miso soup or miso paste
- Onions, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes
- Fermented soy
- Milk or water kefir
3. Have a bowl of chicken soup. Have you ever heard that chicken soup is great when you’re unwell? No, it’s not just an old wives’ tale! Research suggests that a bowl of chicken and vegetable soup can slow the speed at which neutrophils move around your body. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system, protecting your body from infection. When the neutrophils move slowly, there’s a greater chance of them becoming more concentrated in the areas of your body that need to be healed the most. Studies have shown chicken soup can be particularly helpful in reducing symptoms in upper respiratory system infections like the common cold.
4. Add herbs and spices to your cooking. Adding flavour to food is a smart way to include delicious immune boosters on your plate (and make your food taste better!). Garlic is a potent and flavourful herb. It is antimicrobial, thanks to the active ingredient allicin, which helps fight viruses, and has been used for thousands of years to boost the immune system and prevent sickness.
Most culinary herbs contain anti-inflammatory properties due to their phytonutrients, and in particular, oregano and thyme are rich in immune boosting properties. Spice up your cooking with turmeric and ginger, too, as these are well-documented immune boosters.
5. Cut down on sugar. Even if you don’t consider yourself a sugar addict, it’s worth taking a look at how much you do consume. Sugar fans the flames of inflammation and affects the ability of white blood cells to fend off viruses and bacteria. In fact, the immune system stays depressed for hours after consuming sugar, according to recent studies.
6. Drink more water. Water is a miracle worker. It flushes germs from your system, helps your blood to carry plenty of oxygen to your body’s cells and allows those cells to absorb important nutrients.
Invest in a water filter to avoid taking in high levels of chlorine and fluorine along with your tap water and a stainless steel water bottle to avoid buying plastic bottles when you’re out and about.
7. Get outside! As difficult as this is to achieve in winter, spending sufficient time in sunlight is a vital immune booster. Vitamin D is made by your skin absorbing sunlight and a minimum of 10 minutes a day will help, although it’s worth nothing that darker skin has higher vitamin D requirements.
Supplement your vitamin D levels by eating more oily fish (salmon, mackerel and fresh tuna), free-range, organic beef, mushrooms, cheese, egg yolks and dairy.
8. Get back to basics. An age-old way to boost immunity is by following childhood rules – wash hands, go to bed early and be active. These simple measures may seem boring (and more difficult to achieve than popping a pill), but science proves that they work. And your immune system will thank you for it.
Are you the kind of person that gets sick more often than others? Your immune system could likely use some support. Maybe there is an underlying issue, especially if you also have asthma, eczema or allergies. Is this you? I invite you to book in for a free introductory session with me to talk through your health and wellbeing.