When your mood matches the sky it’s tempting to dive under the doona and tune out from the world. Winter is naturally a time to close down and go within so we need to be mindful of honouring our needs during this time. We need to sleep more, eat nourishing foods and tone down the active life we enjoyed over summer, for our inner health. We also need to support our immune system because it can take a beating during the winter months. It’s important to know how to keep your immune system strong and balanced if you want to avoid winter infections and stay healthy. These natural remedies for winter health provide a simple foundation for wellness.
The chill of Winter brings with it a swag of seasonal diseases which range from chilblains and cold sores through many respiratory illnesses. The common cold is the most prevalent contagious disease in Australia and the most common reason for people to stay home from work or school. Coughs, colds and sometimes flu are a common part of most household’s winter experience. Colds are very easily spread from person to person affecting over half of the population in winter
Natural Immune Support
Your immune system protects your body and is your greatest health asset. But with greater demands and stress placed on it over winter it can suffer. In order to get through winter without any sickness it pays to build your immunity naturally. Vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc are three of the best nutrients for this. When you add probiotics you have a powerful combination.
Zinc and vitamin C are essential for the healthy function of white blood cells which fight infection. Vitamin D contributes to a multitude of body functions including fighting infection. Probiotics support the immune function of the gut.
As we huddle indoors over Winter and spend less time in the sun, our vitamin D levels can easily fall below our needs. Vitamin D is essential for immune health. When these levels don’t meet the increased demands of our immune system we’re left open to coughs, colds and flu.
Low vitamin D can also lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder or ‘SAD’ which causes seasonal depression and low mood.
Vitamin D is difficult to source from food. While you’ll find some in sardines, salmon, mackerel, cod, and eggs most is produced by your body from exposure to sunlight.
Is your diet lacking in zinc? Zinc is essential for a number of life-sustaining functions, including strong immunity to help prevent coughs, colds and flu. This important mineral triggers approximately 160 different reactions within the body including immunity. Unfortunatly about 83% of Australian women are deficient in zinc.
You need zinc every day in just the right amount. Too much or too little causes problems. But your body has no way to store zinc, so it depends on a daily supply through diet. Although you only need small amounts to build a healthy immune system, almost every Aussie is deficient!
Some natural sources are oysters, crab and lobster; eggs; cashews, almond; peas, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds; oats; spinach. But even if you eat lots of these foods you may still need to supplement. This is because Australian soils are low in many healthy minerals, including zinc. So food grown in this soil is also low. Your natural health practitioner can quickly test your levels of zinc.
Most people know of the value of vitamin C for winter illness. But many don’t get enough for real protection.
Eating lots of fresh foods rich in vitamin C is a good start. Fruits and vegetables high in this valuable vitamin include
- broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts
- red and green capsicum
- spinach and other leafy greens
- potatoes – both white and swee
- kiwi fruit, black currants, orange, strawberries
While eating vitamin C rich foods supports your immune system, when you do feel a cold you’ll also need a supplement to help fight it off. Take as much vitamin C as you need to stay just below where it affects your bowels. For some people, such as smokers, this can be a lot. Powdered vitamin C dissolved in juice or water soothes the inflamed mucous membranes, such as your throat, as it passes over them.
About 80% of your immune system is in your gut. Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that help build a strong healthy gut. They help you digest the nutrients that support your immune system. It makes no difference how healthy your diet is if you can’t absorb the nutrients properly. Probiotics help you absorb them and reap the immune benefit they provide.
Probiotics are found in whole and fermented foods. Some are:
- microalgae like spirulina
If you can’t meet your needs with these foods take a probiotic supplement. Select supplements that contain a range of different bacteria and are preferably refrigerated.
Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD)
Depression is usually worse in the winter months. SAD is a form of depression that occurs in both the northern and southern hemispheres. However it’s more common in areas further away from the equator where there is less sun. It’s extremely rare in those living within 30 degrees of the equator where daylight hours are long, constant and extremely bright.
It’s possible to be suffering from SAD without realising it.
Some people are strongly affected by long dark evenings and the relative lack of sunshine. Symptoms can include lethargy, insomnia, overeating (especially carbohydrates and sweet foods) with consequent weight gain, anxiety and loss of libido. Others experience a drop in mood in the darker months of the year.
If you feel blue over winter consult your natural health practitioner. It’s difficult to see yourself objectively when you’re feeling low, so self prescribing, even with natural remedies like homeopathy or herbs isn’t recommended. SAD responds well to homoeopathic treatment. Don’t be shy about seeking help for this common problem
Low vitamin D levels may contribute to the development of SAD, so if you suspect this problem have your vitamin D levels tested with a simple blood test. While the best source of this essential nutrient is the UV rays of the sun it’s worth taking a supplement through winter and spring if your levels are low.
10 Top Tips for Winter Wellness
- Onions, garlic and leeks all help eliminate mucus from the lungs
- To boost immunity stop consuming refined sugar
- Avoid mucus-forming dairy foods, heavy starches and saturated fats from animal meats to reduce congestion
- Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (especially yellow and orange ones). These contain lots of vitamin A to strengthen lung tissue
- Vitamin C promotes healing and improves resistance to infections
- Zinc raises your immunity. Most Australians are zinc deficient
- Drink more water. The moisture helps make mucous membranes more resistant to bacteria
- Avoid sugar and extra alcohol because they lower immunity
- Eat more garlic, especially if it’s raw, it’s natures antibiotic. Use organic if possible as it stresses your immune system less
- Get plenty of sleep and don’t let yourself get run down. Sleep deprivation decreases immunity
- Listen to your body. If you get early warning signs that you’re coming down with something begin your immune-boosting strategies straight away, including rest.
Natural Flu Brew Relief
If you do succumb and are laid low in spite of your precautions, this Flu Brew should help your immune system quickly recover and soothe those cold and flu symptoms.
To a cup of hot water add:
1 teaspoon manuka honey*
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/2 – 1 clove crushed garlic
pinch cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Allow it to steep for a few minutes.
* Whilst all honey has traditionally been used for healing purposes, Manuka honey also stimulates immune cells, according to 2007 research published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. Manuka honey is usually graded with a Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) rating on the package which means it has been tested for antibacterial activity. The higher the UMF the greater the antibacterial effects.
There are many wonderful homeopathic and herbal remedies to support your immune system and help prevent coughs, cold and flu to weather Winter. Plus many remedies reduce the symptoms of these common winter ailments.
When we’re gripped by mid-winter cold it can be difficult to remember that the days are getting a little longer each day and we are in fact, heading towards Spring. If you care for yourself and support your immune system you should weather winter in good health.
All information and opinions presented here are for information purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation with your health care provider. Do not use this article to diagnose a health condition. Speak to your doctor if you think your condition may be serious or before discontinuing any prescribed medication. Please consult with your health care provider before following any of the treatment suggested on this site, particularly if you have an ongoing health issue.