As I sit down to write this there’s a distinct chill in the air, the leaves are starting to turn and flutter to the ground and I’ve already had one seasonal cold! Autumn, is that you?
It’s about this time of year that I usually start thinking a lot about immunity. Last winter was a bit different as we were in lockdown just worrying about COVID, and because we weren’t really mixing we didn’t get the opportunity to come into contact with the normal seasonal colds and flu. Despite the fact that COVID is a new virus it’s worth remembering that anything we can do to support our own innate defence systems will help in our fight against, and experience of COVID, as well as any other seasonal sickness.
So let’s get to it then, here are my top tips for winter immunity
Check your Vitamin D levels
Vitamin D is an immune modulating nutrient, that means that adequate levels positively influence the ability of our immune system to do its job, whilst low levels or insufficient levels have the reverse effect. Deficiency of vitamin D has been linked to increased levels of autoimmune conditions as well as increased susceptibility to infection. We haven't had the best summer here in the UK and many of us simply won’t have been able to synthesise enough Vitamin D via the skin to store over the winter months. I think it’s really wise and sensible to test your levels using a service like Thriva, and then if you need to, supplement with Vitamin D3 throughout winter. If your levels are only just normal, i.e. only just over 75nmol/L, bearing in mind that this will get used up over the next few months and we won't be making any more, you could consider retesting in a couple of months time.
Without a healthy and happy gut microbiome it’s virtually impossible to have a good immune response. We have immune cells all over our bodies, but a large portion of the immune system resides in the gut. Your gut bacteria needs feeding - it’s a living thing - and the way to do that is with a variety of different plant fibres, both soluble and insoluble. Ideally you want to try and get a minimum of 30 different plant based foods in per week to feed your gut microbes. A great way of ringing the changes and not just buying the same vegetables and fruit every week is to subscribe to an organic veggie box delivery or to do your weekly shop at the farmers market. It’s time we stopped letting supermarkets dictate what we buy! When you head to the farmers market, buy what’s in season and then go home and create meals and recipes from that, rather than going there armed with a shopping list. This way, you won't miss out on those weird and wonderful seasonal vegetables.
Top tip: Kentish cob nuts are in season now and make a delicious keto snacking option! Your gut bugs will love them too.
Keep sugar to a low, go keto!
Sugar is absolutely killer to good gut health. When eaten excessively (simple carbohydrates as well as straight table sugar), it creates just the right environment for opportunistic strains of gut bacteria to rise up and colonise and start causing problems. Not only that, but a diet that's high in added sugars can lead to weight gain, which in turn makes you more vulnerable to infection and increases your risk of getting sick.
Decreasing your sugar intake can also lower inflammation levels in the body which actually strengthens the immune system as a whole. Swapping to a low sugar, keto lifestyle can really help here as a good keto diet (I’m not just talking about eating meat all day), that contains lots of fibre, vegetables, nuts and seeds plus oily fish and good quality protein can help balance blood sugar, reduce inflammation and increase well-being exponentially.
Give any of the 8foods keto products a whirl - they’re all designed with this lifestyle in mind.
Take steps to actively reduce your stress
It’s one thing to say it, but another to do it...stress is one of the hardest habits to crack but equally one of the most damaging for our immune health. You might be thinking that stress is unavoidable and uncontrollable, that it’s other, external factors that make us stressed so what can we really do about it ourselves? Actually, we can train our nervous system to cope better with stress through practices like vagal stimulation (gargling, singing,humming, chanting such as in yoga), cold therapy and breathwork, so that when stress arises in our everyday lives, we have that learned and adaptive response ready to go. There are also some great stress-tech devices on the market now that really do work. My favourite is the Sensate, a direct vagal stimulation device that gets your body into a deep state of relaxation in as little as 10 minutes.
Whilst I will always believe in food first, I’m not adverse to giving our bodies a bit of a helping hand - especially as our lives these days include so much more toxin exposure and our food is less nutritionally dense due to being grown in soil that’s less fertile. It’s so important with supplements to not just buy the cheapest thing off the shelves - supplement quality really does matter. Lots these days are filled with bulking agents or use a poorly absorbed form of the vitamin or mineral. I really like Wild Nutrition, as they make food-grown supplements in formulations that are designed to suit a purpose. Their Immune support complex combines all the vitamins and minerals known to support a good immune response, and combines this with NAC (N-Acetyl-Cycteine) which supports detoxification and antioxidant status in the body.
Zinc is also an all-round hero for immune defence, and its uptake in the body is increased by polyphenols that come in via our diet in veggies and fruits - one of these polu[henols is quercetin, which you can either take as a supplement of just make sure you’re getting lots of onions and garlic in your diet!
Sleep like you mean it
And finally, sleep. Sleep and immunity are very closely linked, and in fact in a study of 164 adults, those that slept more than 6 hours a night were far less likely to catch a cold than those who slept fewer than 6 hours.
With the festive season around the corner, and with life going back to normal, don’t forget to still get your 8 hours in order to help protect your body and ward off colds and viruses!