Beat Winter Colds
Winter is often referred to as ‘cold and flu season’ due to the higher incidence of respiratory illnesses during the cooler months. An interesting finding by scientific research identified the higher prevalence of flu infections during winter is due to the influenza virus thriving when humidity and temperatures are lower, increasing the opportunity for exposure (at higher temperatures and humidity the virus can only survive for an hour or so). Infection by the influenza virus can lead to respiratory congestion, cough, sore throat, fever, cold sweats, malaise, aches, and even gastrointestinal symptoms if you get a really bad case. The flu is highly contagious, most commonly spreading via contact with an infected persons respiratory aerosols (coughing and sneezing).
If you have a well functioning and healthy immune system exposure to the influenza virus may not result in you getting sick – in fact your immune system typically neutralises both viral and bacterial infections before they can cause symptoms. If your immune system is not functioning at it’s best, it can quickly become overwhelmed as the virus replicates throughout your body resulting in you suffering from symptoms until your immune system can contain the infection.
Therefore the best way to beat the flu this winter is to ensure your immune system is strong and ready to ward off any nasties that come your way. Here are our top tips for supporting your immune function:
1. Eat Foods Rich in Zinc and Vitamin C
Research has found that vitamin C and zinc play an essential role in immune system function by improving the antimicrobial action of natural killer cells, increasing lymphocyte proliferation, and maintaining the integrity of immune cells. Both nutrients have shown to increase resistance to infectious agents and reduce the risk, severity and duration of infectious diseases. The recommended daily intake of zinc for adults is 6.5mg/day for women and 12mg/day for men, while the recommended daily intake of vitamin C for adults is 30mg – 40mg/day for men and women. Foods that are rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, sweet potato, broccoli, capsicum, papaya, guava, and dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, mustard greens, watercress). Foods rich in zinc include sunflower seeds, pepitas, oysters, chickpeas, cashews, mushrooms, organic meats (chicken, grass-fed beef, lamb).
2. Use Sugar Sparingly or Avoid Completely
We don’t want to get into the great sugar debate, but there is scientific evidence to support that simple carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) depresses your immune system function for up to 5 hours after being consumed. Having high amounts of sugar in your blood temporarily impairs the function of your white blood cells (immune cells), therefore reducing your sugar intake or avoiding sugary food completely can help to keep your immune defenses strong.
3. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise is not just great for your overall health, it also supports immune function. Scientists have postulated that regular exercise promotes immunity by improving circulation and lymphatic drainage, thereby allowing immune cells to move through the body more freely and attack any invaders. In contrast studies have also found that intense physical exertion undertaken by elite athletes may actually weaken the immune system. Generally 30 mins of moderate exercise daily is recommended for optimal health and wellness.
4. Avoid Environmental Assaults
Environmental assaults refer to the factors in our environment which can be harmful to our overall health and wellbeing, including immune function. Primary assailants include tobacco smoking which irritates the respiratory system increasing the risk of bacterial and / or viral infection. Other factors that can impair immunity include overindulging in alcohol, poor sleep habits, and a poor diet which can lead to deficiencies in nutrients required by your immune system.
5. Take Time to De-stress
Early studies have shown a correlation between stress and decreased immune activity, particularly in cases of chronic stress associated with financial, work, and relationship issues. Therefore taking time out is important for strengthening your immune system. Try soothing activities such as meditation, yoga, walking, taking a bath, or being around nature.