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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Varriale

Bulletproof your immunity this Winter

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

Are you the person who gets everything that's doing the rounds during cold and flu season, or do you get the occasional sniffle for a couple of days but generally brush it off and gets on with life?

Read on to find out how to look after your immune system, so it can look after you.

First of all, a bit of science, but only a bit I promise!

Immunity and the Immune System:

The definition of immunity is being non-susceptible or resistant to infection, and our immune system is in charge of managing our response to infection. There are two key parts:

  • The innate or general immune system - this is general protection we’re born with, the first line of defence that acts quickly and non-selectively. Imagine lots of little immune soldiers on the front line who are deployed to fight any invading pathogens such as viruses and bacteria that wish you harm.

  • The adaptive or specialised immune system – this develops throughout our lives. Its response is slower than the innate immune system, but it’s more targeted. When we are first exposed to infections, our bodies create antibodies. When that infection pops up again, the immune system “remembers” it, so the second infection should be milder, or may not be noticed at all.

What does nutrition have to do with our immunity?

Well around 70% of our immune system is located in our gut, so it makes perfect sense that what we eat will fuel our immune system (or not). Not only do our friendly gut bacteria produce anti-inflammatory short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which help regulate our immune system, they also send instructions to our immune system to create antiviral proteins.

How to feed your friendly bacteria:

Well it’s all about PLANTS, PLANTS & MORE PLANTS! That includes vegetables & fruit, nuts & seeds, herbs & spices, grains, beans, lentils & legumes (if tolerated). And it’s about variety rather than volume; research shows that people who eat 30 different plants a week have better health and a greater variety of friendly gut bacteria.

  • Think about what you can add - can you add nuts and seeds, cinnamon and/or ground ginger to your porridge? What about frozen mixed berries instead of just blueberries? What other veg can you add to a tray of roast veg?

  • Think about what you can vary - can you have red onions as well as white? What about green, yellow and orange peppers instead of your usual red?

Got digestive issues?

If you have significant and/or long term digestive issues, then it's possible your immune system may be impacted. Comprehensive stool testing can reveal what's making up your gut microbiome as well as how you immune system is functioning. Read more about this here.

My top 3 immune supportive foods:

  • Hot water with lemon juice and ginger slices - vitamin C and ginger are both antiviral, and this combo also kickstarts your digestion and supports your liver, win win! You can also add these to your herbal teas.

  • Chicken soup - lots of goodies here, vegetables, herbs, helps reduce mucus, carnosine in the chicken is anti-inflammatory and the bone broth/chicken stock stock contains glutamine which helps nourish your gut barrier. Truly a superfood.

  • Garlic, leeks and onions - all these are prebiotic, meaning they feed your friendly gut bacteria. Use them as a base for soup, spag bol, chilli con carne, wherever you fancy! (Note - these are high FODMAP so will not be your friend if you have SIBO).

My top 3 immune nutrients:

  1. Vitamin C - studies show Vitamin C supplementation can shorten the severity and duration of a cold if taken at the first sign of a cold

  2. Zinc - as per Vitamin C above

  3. Vitamin D - we all need to be supplementing during the winter months. 4000iu per day is my usual recommendation. More about Vitamin D here.

How does lifestyle affect immunity?

Stress negatively affects your immunity - high cortisol suppresses immune function, causes inflammation and decreases white blood cells which fight infection. Yikes!

  • What to do - maintain your self care as much as you can. Yoga, breathing and meditation, even walking in nature have all been clinically proven to lower cortisol levels.

Sleep - poor quality sleep decreases production of those immune-fighting chemcials and antibodies I mentioned earlier.

  • What to do - you know how you get really tired when you're ill? Well that's your body telling you to rest, listen to it! "All the things" will have to wait, rest and sleep as much as you can for a speedier recovery.

My Favourite Immune-supportive Supplements:

These nutrient blends can be a great way to gently support your immunity:

PLEASE NOTE - if you are taking prescription medication

What to do when you get ill?

In addition to the above guidance, when illness strikes, I usually recommend:

  1. Vitamin C - 1000mg, 3 to 5 times a day. We don't make or store vitamin C, so it's best to spread throughout the day

  2. Zinc - up to 30mg per day, any more than that and you risk upsetting your copper balance

  3. Vitamin D - 8,000 to 10,000iu per day

PLEASE NOTE - if you are taking prescription medication, please speak to your GP or pharmacist before starting any new supplements.

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The content on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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