Despite the occasional warm day, winter is still well and truly here. It’s still dark when many of us leave the house in the morning on our way to work, uni, or starting the morning school drop. Likewise, by the time many of us are wrapping up at the office, or picking up the kids from their after-school activities, the sun has already gone to bed. With the change of seasons, a new round of colds and ‘flu are making themselves known. Each day when I get on the bus there is a new type of sniffle, or a different cough or splutter amongst the commuters. So just short of wearing a bio-hazard suit on public transport, or not leaving the house all winter, what can we do to support our immune systems?
It is estimated that children can get on average 5-10 colds a year, whilst most adults will only catch between 2 and 4. (1) Now that’s a lot of tissues!
KNOW YOUR SYMPTOMS
We all know what it’s like to have a cold, many of us experience colds differently. For some of us, it goes straight for the nose, days of a running, dripping nose, which often leads to post-nasal drip with a cough, or even sinusitis. For others, colds start with a tickle in the throat, and lead us to feeling as though we have swallowed razor blades. Then there are those of us who, the second they get a cod, it drops straight down into the chest and results in weeks of coughing and spluttering. Regardless as to how you experience the cold, there are some tips and tricks to help boost your immune system and try to limit the likelihood of you getting sick in the first place.
FIGHT BACK – BUILD YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Here are a few of my A-Zinc tips to support your immune system this winter.
A – ANDROGRAPHIS
Quite commonly found in immune supporting tablets and capsules, this bitter herb really packs a punch. Said to stimulate both antigen-specific and non-anti-gen specific immune responses (2), Andrographis works well as a generalised immune-stimulant, in supporting and preventing colds and ‘flu. Due to its powerful stimulating effect on the immune system, there are some cautions for individuals taking immune-suppressants, hypoglycaemic agents, and anticoagulants/anti platelets.
C – VITAMIN C
Most of us are quick to think of Vitamin C the minute we are feeling a bit under the weather. Vitamin C is essential for immune support as it helps to increase our very own army against infections. Vitamin C helps to increase the activity of our T-cells, natural-killer (NK) cells, and phagocytes (3). Our T-cells help to round up our defence system, whilst other T-cells help to destroy our infected cells; likewise, with a name like Natural Killer cells, our NK cells will attach themselves to a targeted cell and damage and destroy it. The greater our defence system, the more robust our immune system is, the quicker it can act to prevent, and reduce the impact of pathogens such as colds and ‘flu.
D – VITAMIN D
The sunshine vitamin; so important for boosting our immune system. There have been multiple cross-sectional studies associating lower levels of vitamin D with increased infection. Vitamin D plays an important part in the innate antimicrobial response Unfortunately for us in Australia during winter, given cloud, climate, and distance from the equator, it can be hard for us to get the optimal amount of Vitamin D required. Wearing long sleeves, trousers, or being indoors all winter doesn’t help either.
The Australian Ministry for Health recommends that adults under the age of 50 require 5.0mmol per day, and this increases as we age (4). Food sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel, and eggs (4). Before you buy a Vitamin D supplement though, I often advise that people get their levels checked. There’s no point taking something if your levels are already at optimal, so it’s good to know what your base line is. Chris Kresser has a great article all about Vitamin D, including the effects of toxicity here.
R – REST
I am a major advocate for resting when unwell. Taking a sick day, or lightening your load for a day or two has two benefits. Not only will staying home prevent help prevent the spread of your cold or ‘flu to your fellow commuters, colleagues, or classmates, but resting also gives your body the chance to divert all its energy and attention to fighting your lurgee. The more running around you do, the less energy your body can devote to its immune system army.
Z – ZINC
One of my favourite minerals for immune support. Zinc is essential for the growth, development, differentiation, and death of cells (5). This includes those that are part of the immune system defence army, our NK cells, neutrophils, and T-lymphocytes (2). One of my favourite sources of zinc is oysters, but you find zinc in lean red meats, pulses, chicken, nuts and seeds, and the winter warmer, ginger!
So hopefully you have a better understand as to why some many people suggest that you “have some orange juice” when you’re coming down with a cold. Don’t forget, if you’re feeling like your immune system needs a bit of a boost, it’s best in implement a support plan BEFORE you get sick. They say prevention is better than a cure, and it is often easier to lay a great immune support foundation, than try to deal with a lurgee after it has set in.
- Health Direct.(2017) Colds and ‘fu (influenza). Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/colds-and-flu
- Braun, L. Cohen, M. (2005) Herbs and natural supplements. Elsevier. Marrickville, NSW.
- .Paxton, F. (2015) Foundations of naturopathic nutrition. Allen & Unwin. Crows Nest, NSW.
- Australian Ministry for Health. (2017) Nutrient Reference Value: Vitamin D Retrieved from: https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/vitamin-d).
- Hechtman, L. (2012) Clinical naturopathic medicine. Elsevier. Chatswood, NSW.
- Jenna Verhoeven
- advice, diet, health, immune, nutrition