Last week, I had a little bit of a cold, and then the heating broke down over the weekend, so trying to fight it off was a little more tricky than usual!
Seasonal sniffles are inevitable, especially if you have kids, but how can we prepare ourselves for the worst of the bugs this winter?
You know the drill by now - load up on lemons, ginger and vitamin C, stock up on tissues, and wrap up warm. Oh, and my Mom's favourite, 'don't go out with wet hair, or you'll catch your death!'
Last year, we avoided most of the bugs by avoiding each other. I don't know about you, but I want to spend this fabulous time with family and friends, and not hideaway. So how can we best support our immune system so that we can do just that?
Firstly, let's clear something up. Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence or scientific proof that our susceptibility to catching a cold has anything to do with how well wrapped up we are. "Because of our climate in the UK, we tend to be exposed to more germs in the winter", says Doctor and immunologist Jenna Macciochi. "That's because the viruses that cause the common cold and flu prefer the cooler climate so they can circulate more easily".
And, thank you Mom, but you cannot get sick from simply going outside with wet hair. "Hair being wet is not the cause for catching a cold," Dr Goldman says. "A microorganism, such as a virus, has to be involved to cause a cold".
Much more than a fight
When we think about our immune systems, we tend to think about fighting infections, but it's about so much more than this. Our immune systems are under attack from various microorganisms; along with viruses, they also have to deal with (pathogens) bacterial infections, fungi, and parasites. And each type of invader will require a different response from the immune system.
According to Dr Macciochi, "Running deep into our mental and physical health, your immune system is really your wellness system with vital roles far beyond just fighting germs," she says. "Parts of your immune system can be found everywhere in your body. Immune cells tend to be clustered at the barriers to your body - for example, the digestive tract and lungs - where there is the greatest exposure to our environment. But there is also a large number of immune cells in our bloodstream (called white blood cells)."
And because of its incredible complexity, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to supporting our hard-working immune system. Immune fitness can vary due to health and wellness factors, which places quality of life as central for maintaining good immunological fitness.
While no single food, supplement or tactic will protect you from getting sick, there are plenty of ways you can help safeguard yourself and your family.
And when it comes to supporting our health, I like to explore a more natural route: in fact, complementary and alternative medicine is gaining momentum. It is predicted to grow significantly over the next few years, according to Grand View Research.
Here are six science- and expert-backed ways to keep your immune system humming along:
1. Stay Hydrated
Most of us know it's important to stay hydrated. You feel better—physically and mentally—when you're hydrated. But hydration is also important for trapping viruses and bacteria that try to enter through your nose. If your nasal passages are dried out, they can't trap and get rid of the things that might make you sick.
2. Take your vitamins
Although several vitamins and minerals support our immune system, these three are the ones I take daily to support my health and wellbeing.
Stay on Top of Zinc: Falling short on the mineral zinc can make you more susceptible to pathogens—aka illness-causing bacteria. Getting adequate amounts is key to keeping your immune system on point. Zinc helps to maintain our immune system and is believed to alter our resistance to infection. And also, without it, kids don't grow normally, wounds don't heal, and our sense of taste and smell are affected.
But many people don't know where to get it. The leading sources of zinc are animal proteins like beef, crab, lobster, pork and dark poultry meat. You can also find it in legumes and dairy products like yoghurt and milk. If you regularly include these foods in your diet, you shouldn't have a problem hitting the daily recommended amount. However, it's also a very common nutrient gap worldwide, which is why a supplement can be helpful. My go-to is MyProteins Zinc and Magnesium supplement.
Add Vitamin D to your routine: Vitamin D is important because it plays a key role in supporting your immune system. It also protects against—and reduces the severity of—respiratory infections.
Although you can get a small amount of vitamin D through some foods (or a good amount from regular sunlight), our modern lifestyle and winter weather doesn't always allow for a lot of time outdoors. And so many adults don't get the levels of vitamin D required to modulate the immune system.
We can get vitamin D from eggs, fatty fish (like wild Alaskan salmon) and fortified foods. Because there aren't as many food sources of vitamin D, certain foods are fortified with the vitamin, meaning it's added in to help the general public hit the daily recommended amount.
These fortified products include dairy products and dairy alternatives (like soy, almond and oat milk), orange juice, and some cereals. Spending time outdoors in the sun for at least 20 minutes a day is another way for your body to make vitamin D. Getting outside also lowers cortisol levels (a stress hormone), which can help you feel better and improve immunity.
Get your Vitamin C: Vitamin C is really a powerhouse vitamin and antioxidant for daily immunity. It's also a crucial free-radical scavenger that significantly protects our immune cells as they work hard to defend us. In addition to incorporating lots of fruits and vegetables into your daily nutrition habits, a vitamin C supplement can provide additional immune insurance where gaps may exist. Try Neal's Yard Vitamin C capsules with wild rosehip. They don't contain any nanotechnology, GMO's, synthetic binders, or fillers. They have an advanced blend for a slow-release non-acidic form of vitamin C and wild rosehip.
Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, green veggies, broccoli and kale, and berries and bell peppers. Remember, your body doesn't make or store vitamin C, so it's a vitamin you need daily.
Overall, research on vitamin C strongly supports that it helps shorten the duration of your cold, not preventing you from getting one.
3. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep!
Sleep is elusive for many, especially during stressful times, but it's a must! According to the research, falling short on sleep inhibits your immune system, lowers your immunity to certain illnesses like the flu, and can boost inflammatory compounds that may cause chronic conditions.
For the best night's sleep:
Turn off tech at least an hour before bed.
Avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
Use lavender to relax before bed.
I also find the Goodnight pillow mist effective. And I'm not the only one. In the consumer trial, 74% found Goodnight Pillow Mist aids a peaceful night's sleep, and 71% would recommend Goodnight Pillow Mist to someone with sleep issues.
4. Be Social
Socialise with those you like, of course. But here's why: laughing stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, increases your intake of oxygen and boosts endorphins released by your brain. Laughing also stimulates circulation, aids muscle relaxation and—long term—improves the immune system by increasing neuropeptides that help fight stress.
5. Manage your stress.
And while we are talking about stress, chronic stress actually suppresses our immune response by releasing the hormone cortisol. Cortisol itself interferes with the ability of specific white blood cells called T-cells to increase and get signals from the body. In addition, cortisol also lowers an important antibody called secretory IgA, which lines the respiratory tract and gut and is our first line of defence against invading pathogens.
Studies show that even a short course of meditation can increase levels of IgA and improve immune function. I also highly recommend journaling and gratitude practices—to help manage stress and promote overall wellbeing.
6. Immune boosting blend
Niaouli, lavender and rosemary essential oils help support a compromised immune system and are strongly antimicrobial, helping the body fight off infection.
Try this immune-boosting blend:
Plain lotion or balm - 30 ml
Lavender essential oil - 6 drops
Niaouli essential oil - 6 drops
Rosemary essential oil - 6 drops
Blend together and keep in an airtight glass or aluminium jar. It will keep for up to 3 months.
Massage into the hands or feet twice a day, which will also massage essential reflexology points!
Remember that your immune system is precisely that—an entire system with multiple factors contributing to its function. It needs balance and not an excess of one or two things.
Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face - Victor Hugo.