Winter can be a time of sparkling, ethereal beauty; a frosty morning, a shining cobweb, the silhouette of a tree against the horizon. It’s a time when the natural world slows down or sleeps. However, for human beings the longer hours of darkness and colder weather mean we spend more time inside in heated environments where bugs can thrive. This is why, for some people, winter becomes the season of coughs, colds, flu and the winter blues. And don’t forget, we still have the threat of Covid looming over us, on top of all the usual bugs. November is a good time to prepare the body for the winter months ahead.
It’s All About Your Immune System
The reason that some people succumb to every bug that’s going round while others breeze through untouched is down to the individual’s immune system. A strong immune system will fend off bugs before they’ve had a chance to take hold.
The symptoms we get once we’ve caught an infection are caused by the immune system doing it’s work; mucous is produced to flush out the bugs from the nasal passages; a high temperature is produced to make it too hot for bugs to survive; coughs are caused by the lungs trying to dislodge irritants. It’s best not to suppress these symptoms once they start.
Here are some tips to help protect you from the downsides of winter so you can enjoy the good things about the season.
Up Your Nutrients
The role nutrition plays in supporting the immune system is well-established. A wealth of data show that vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and folate; trace elements, including zinc, iron, selenium, magnesium, and copper; and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA play important and complementary roles in supporting the immune system. Inadequate intake and status of these nutrients are widespread, leading to a decrease in resistance to infections (1,2).
It’s hard to take all of these nutrients individually. One of the best ways of ensuring a base line of nutrition is to take a Multi-Vitamin and Mineral. Tom Oliver’s range includes specialist multi-vitamins for men and women.
Specific Nutrients for the Immune System
When we are ill the requirements for many nutrients increases. Higher doses are also needed for prevention. Taking supplements, alongside eating a healthy diet, is a good insurance policy against infection and illness.
- B Vitamins – the B vitamins act as catalysts for multiple biochemical reactions in the immune system including cellular immunity and modulation of T cell responses (3). Being water soluble the B vitamins are not stored in the body so need to be replenished every day. The requirement for B vitamins increases during times of stress or illness. Taking Tom Oliver’s B complex may be helpful at these times.
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections. Supplementation with vitamin C appears to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections. For prevention 200-1000 mg/day is recommended. Treatment of established infections requires higher doses as metabolic demands increase (4,5). Please note that high doses of vitamin C may cause loose bowels. If this happens reduce the dose.
- Vitamin D – Although vitamin D can be made in the body through the action of sunlight on the skin most people living in temperate zones are deficient. This is especially true in the winter when there are not sufficient rays from the sun for vitamin D to be produced in the body. Vitamin D regulates the immune system in a number of ways; it stimulates antimicrobial proteins; reduces inflammation; and enhances autophagy which helps to combat pathogens including viral infections (6,7). It is now widely recommended to supplement with vitamin D from September to March. Vitamin D3 is the most active form of vitamin D. Taking vitamin D3 alongside vitamin K2 enhances the beneficial effects. Tom Oliver's Vitamin D3 includes K2.
- Curcumin – curcumin has long been used to enhance the immune system with its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (8,9). The benefits of curcumin are enhanced when it is combined with piperine from black pepper. Tom Oliver's Curcumin formula includes both curcumin and piperine for maximum benefits.
- Probiotics – a significant proportion of our immune system is in the gastrointestinal tract. Maintaining a healthy digestive tract with a diverse range of beneficial micro-organisms is crucial for immune health and prevention of infections during winter. Probiotics modulate the activity of various immune cells in the gut. Some probiotics also have antibiotic properties acting against pathogens (10)
- Selenium - has shown special effects on cellular immunity and resistance to viral infections (3).
- Zinc – zinc plays an important role in the immune system and in specific immune responses to bacteria, parasites, and viruses (11).
Dietary and Lifestyle Tips for Staying Well
Supplementation can only do so much. It’s also important to eat well and live well.
Eat well – Winter is a time to nourish ourselves with warming, hearty foods. Eat lots of vegetables, and include protein and fibre with each meal. Avoid sugary snacks and soft drinks. Tom Oliver’s protein powders can be used to increase your protein intake.
Eat Polyphenols - polyphenols protect the body in multiple ways, including supporting the immune system (12). They are found in many plant foods including apples, grapes, pomegranates, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, squash, beetroot, broccoli, kale, garlic and red onions.
Spice it Up - herbs and spices are powerhouses of nutrients and phytochemicals. Many have immune supportive and infection fighting properties. Include ginger, pepper, cinnamon, cayenne, turmeric, paprika, coriander, cumin, thyme, oregano, chives, and nutmeg in your meals for extra flavour and for their medicinal effects.
Hydrate – being sufficiently hydrated is important for many aspects of health. Drink warm water, herbal teas, ginger tea or lemon water throughout the day.
Exercise – but not too much! Regular, moderate exercise is beneficial for the immune system and improves mood. However, excessive exercise can suppress the immune response and leave you more susceptible to illness and with a reduced ability to heal from injuries.
Learn to Manage Stress – stress has a negative impact on many aspects of health including the immune system. We can’t always control what happens to us but we have a choice about how we react to it. Learning to rethink our perception of what is happening can be helpful, as can relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi and meditation.
Sleep – getting sufficient good quality sleep is vital for immune health. Much healing and repair of the body takes place during sleep. A tired body will be more susceptible to bugs and less able to fight them once they’ve invaded.
- Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System is an important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections. Calder P et al. Medicine. Nutrients. 2020
- Br J Nutr. 2020 Aug 20;1-7. Nutritional status of micronutrients as a possible and modifiable risk factor for COVID-19: a UK perspective. Richardson DP
- Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2019;19(8):1100-1115. The Role of the Status of Selected Micronutrients in Shaping the Immune Function. Elmadfa I, Meyer A.
- 2017 Nov 3;9(11).Vitamin C and Immune Function. Carr AC, Maggini S.
- J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Dec;14(10):1291-8. Vitamin C: is supplementation necessary for optimal health? Deruelle F, Baron B.
- JBMR Plus. 2020 Aug 22. Vitamin D and immune regulation: antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory. Bishop E et al.
- Drug Des Devel Ther. 2020 Aug 21;14:3429-3434. A Single Large Dose of Vitamin D Could be Used as a Means of Coronavirus Disease 2019 Prevention and Treatment. Liu G et al.
- Adv Exp Med Biol. 2021;1291:15-39. Turmeric and Curcumin: From Traditional to Modern Medicine. Akaberi M et al.
- J Clin Immunol. 2007 Jan;27(1):19-35. Epub 2007 Jan 9. "Spicing up" of the immune system by curcumin. Jagetia GC et al.
- Probiotics Antimicrob Proteins. 2018 Mar;10(1):11-21. Probiotics and the Gut Immune System: Indirect Regulation. La Fata G et al.
- Annu Rev Nutr. 2021 Oct 11;41:133-175. Dietary and Physiological Effects of Zinc on the Immune System. Wessels I et al.
- J Immunol Res. a2018 Apr 12;2018:1264074. Regulation of Immune Function by Polyphenols. Ding S et al.