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It’s that time of year again!  With winter setting in and chilly days ahead it is time to guard yourself against those dreaded winter bugs!

Your immune system is your invisible defence against bacteria and viruses, so with a little support, from diet and lifestyle, it can work better for you. Here’s more on how to make the best of your immune system this winter:

What is your immune system? And why is diet and lifestyle so important?

Your immune system is your internal protection against invaders. It functions relentlessly to prevent bacteria and viruses from getting into your body, and if they breach those defences, it will hunt them down and destroy them.

White blood cells are immune system cells.  They are like your own personal police force, ready to identify any threats and waiting to attack if required.  They do this continually, usually without you being aware of their work. When fighting an infection, your body produces more white blood cells.

How your immune system is functioning will affect whether you suffer from colds and flu in the first place and how long and severe your symptoms are.

It might surprise you to learn that 70% of your immune system is found in your gut and your gut microbes play an important role in alerting your immune cells what is worth reacting to and what is safe.  This ensures that these white blood cell patrollers react appropriately to harmful substances and don’t attack harmless substances.

For your gut to function to its best ability and give us a good immune system we need: a diverse plant-rich diet, exercise, sleep and, very importantly, a lifestyle free of as much stress as possible.

Tips for Boosting your Immune System

1.    Manage your stress:  If you’re stressed, your immune system is likely to pay the price.  Take time for yourself (especially if you are under pressure), self-care is a necessity and not a luxury. Doing something you enjoy is well worth the time invested as it could save you days spent sick in bed down the line.  Take a walk in nature, relax in an Epsom salts bath, practise breathing exercises, play games with your friends or family, do a crossword or some gardening – all these kind of activities will help.

2.    Get some sleep:  Sleep is crucial for a healthy immune system – research has shown that those who have less than 7 hours sleep on average per night were x3 more likely to develop a cold over the following days compared to those who sleep 8 hours or more.  Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible, avoid blue light emitted by screens directly before sleep, avoid alcohol as much as possible and avoid caffeine after midday.  On waking, expose yourself to sunlight to set your circadian rhythm and get some exercise daily.

3.    Eat well:  Get enough fibre from a range of unprocessed, plant-based foods.  This gives us the fuel for our gut bacteria to carry out their beneficial work.  Fermented foods are also excellent – kombucha, kefir, natural yoghurt, miso and sauerkraut – which contain trillions of healthy bacterial, helping your gut microbiome thrive.  The nutrients in plants will also help our immune cells thrive so go for as much variety as possible.  Kiwis, citrus and red peppers are high in Vitamin C which will help with the demand your immune cells require at this time of year.  Garlic is anti-viral and could lessen the duration of cold symptoms.

4.    Exercise:  Daily exercise will not only help you sleep but it also boosts levels of infection-fighting white blood cells.  Try to exercise outside if you can, because sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D, in short supply over the winter.

Should you take Vitamin D?  Foods rich in Vitamin D are eggs, fish, mushrooms & dairy but it is difficult to get enough through diet alone and it is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world.  For us in the UK, it is recommended that you take a daily vitamin D supplement, in addition to adding some sources of it to your diet, during the winter months of October to March.


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