Winter is upon us again and it can mean different things to many people. To some it symbolises Christmas, family occasions and memories, to others it brings the images of snow and ice, and to many it means the usual winter coughs, colds and generally feeling more tired.
Embracing winter as part of the natural rhythm of our lives gives us an opportunity to change our habits a little, to become in tune with our bodies, and to support our immune system.
Feed your immune system
· Increase warming soups and stews. These are a great way to get lots of nutrients into our diet, boosting your body’s immunity and warming you from the inside.
· Be sure to include lots of sweet potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables in your diet. They are full of antioxidants and contain carotenoids that have immune-boosting effects. They also often contain polysaccharides that have an immune-stimulating effect on the gut.
· Eat your greens! Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage are high in vitamin C and other nutrients that boost your immunity. They also contain cancer-preventing isothiocyanates.
· Mushrooms such as shitake and reishi have many immune-boosting properties. They are a great addition to stir-fries and curries and also make a great immune-boosting broth.
· Eat good quality wholegrain carbohydrates to give you energy throughout the day so your body doesn’t have to run on empty and get run down.
· Avoid junk food and lots of processed sugars that do little for your nutrition levels and can also put pressure on your immune system.
· Don’t mind the smelly breath, garlic is too tasty and too good for you to avoid. Garlic is a decongestant and contains allicin – a compound proven to have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.
· Make sure you get lots of immune-boosting vitamin C that is found in citrus fruits, berries, red peppers and leafy green vegetables. Don’t forget zinc also, which is found in nuts, seeds, seaweeds, wheatgerm and seafood.
Boost your immune system with Herbs
· Echinacea (Echinacea spp.): Echinacea has received lots of press over the last few years and rightly so. It is effective against bacteria and viruses. It is considered to be immunostimulating; stimulating the body’s infection-fighting immune cells and increasing the production of other immune-fighting compounds such as interferon. Its action is at its highest during the first two hours after taking it. So it is best used at low doses in two-hour intervals at the first sign of infection and throughout an infection.
· Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): The beautiful native Irish elder tree is a medicine chest in itself. In herbal medicine, the leaves, berries and flowers are used for many conditions. The berries and flowers have traditionally been used to treat the common cold. They help decongest, aid in reducing a fever and have an antimicrobial action. Recent studies have also shown elderberries to have an inhibiting effect on the swine flu.
· Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): With such a lovely flavour, thyme is great in roasts, soups and stews, and it also has many amazing medicinal qualities. Thyme is high in antioxidants and has expectorant, antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial actions. Use it regularly in your cooking and it can be taken as a tea for an acute infection.
· Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus): Used for more than 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine to increase vitality and resistance to disease, recent studies have shown that astragalus helps strengthen the immune system in many ways. It has also shown activity as an adaptogen; helping to increase resistance to stress, trauma and fatigue.
· If you do get a cold, have a relaxing bath and add a couple of drops of thyme, eucalyptus, tea tree and lemon essential oils to help decongest, bring down your temperature and ease body aches and pains.
Don’t forget your Mind & Body
Exercise regularly. Science has proven that regular exercise – at least 30 minutes most days of the week – increases immune function. It also helps release stress.
If you do start to feel unwell, listen to your body and give it some essential immune-enhancing rest. Get an early night or relax and finish that book that you have been trying to read for ages.
The mind plays a powerful part in our health. Stress and anxiety have many effects on our bodies including our hormones and immunity. Finding ways to help deal with your stress and anxiety such as stress release and relaxation techniques, yoga, meditation, conscious breathing or talking to someone, play a vital part in staying well. Studies have also shown that happiness, laughter, and optimism are qualities that people who live longer, healthier lives tend to have.
Áine works for the College of Naturopathic Medicine and also has private practices in Dublin 2 and Dublin 14. Contact her for a consultation on 086 378 8857 or firstname.lastname@example.org