As the weather gets colder, it seems like everyone we know picks up a cold or the flu.
But, is it possible you avoid getting sick over the wintertime or reduce the severity of it?
We've put together some natural ways you can support your immune system and reduce your risk of getting sick.
Why do we get sick more over winter?
Although we can fall sick at any time of year, we are more likely to do so during the wintertime. There are a few reasons why we’re more vulnerable to illness during the colder months.
Reduced exposure to the sun – during winter, most of will get significantly less exposure to sunlight. When combined with the weaker sun over the colder months, this can lead to too little vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in immune health.
Reduced lymph flow – one of the lesser known branches of the immune system is the lymphatic system. Lymph carries waste away from the cells, but also contains white blood cells that help to fight bacteria and viruses.
Unlike blood vessels, lymph vessels don’t have a pump to push the lymph through. Our bodies rely on exercise as a way to boost the movement of lymph through the system.
As we tend to be less active over the winter, lymph flow can become stagnant. This means the white blood cells can’t do their job properly.
An environment that supports the growth of germs – the reason for getting sick over winter isn’t just that we are more vulnerable to germs. It is also that germs are better able to grow and spread in the colder weather.
Research shows that people are more at risk of a rhinovirus infection, or the common cold when temperature and humidity decrease.
The same goes for the influenza virus, which has been shown to spread most effectively at a temperature of 5 degrees Celcius.
How to reduce your risk of getting sick
Eat plenty of wholefoods
There are numerous important nutrients that support your immune system, including zinc, vitamin C, and antioxidants. But there’s an easy way to boost your intake of all of these nutrients – by focusing on whole foods.
Wholefoods refer to minimally processed foods. They include meat, poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables. If you eat a variety of these foods and make them 80% of your diet, you’ll get good doses of immune-supporting nutrients.
Look after your gut health
You might not realise that the gut is one of the most important players in immune health. In fact, 70-80% of your immune system is found in your gut! So taking care of your gut health is key for reducing your risk of falling sick.
To look after your gut health, start by: Eating plenty of fibre-rich foods
Reduce your intake of processed foods and foods that contain added sugars
Include fermented foods such as saeurkraut and kimchi, or fermented drinks such as kombucha and kefir.
Get a good night’s sleep
If you haven’t been prioritising sleep, you’re putting yourself at risk of falling ill. Both short sleep duration (less than 7 hours) and poor quality sleep have been found to increase your risk of catching a cold.
On the other hand, a good night’s sleep has been found to enhance the efficiency of the immune system when it comes to fighting off infections. This is part of the reason why your doctor will tell you to go home and rest up when you do catch a cold or flu.
Relax and unwind.
Reduce your stress levels
We all experience stress from time to time. But psychological stress can increase your susceptibility to infection, especially if it is chronic stress. So finding a way to unwind is not just good for your mental health – it’s also good for your immune system.
The best way for you to relieve stress depends on what makes you feel good. It’s best not to use sugary foods or alcohol to relieve stress, as they aren’t great for the immune system. But you might like to try something like:
Calling a friend to chat
Cuddling with a loved one
Playing with children or pets
Reading a book or journaling
Listening to your favourite music
Exercise such as yoga, dancing or walking
Even Taking up a hobby such as knitting, crafts, baking or writing.
Spend some time in nature – gardening (weather permitting), hiking or just visiting a local park can make a big difference in the way we feel.
Consider whether a supplement is right for you
A balanced diet is always the first step when it comes to health. But in some cases, a supplement might be beneficial.
One supplement that might help to protect you against infections is vitamin D.
When we think of vitamin D, we usually think of bone health first as it is helps us absorb calcium. But when it comes to a healthy immune system, vitamin D is one of the most essential nutrients. One systematic review even found that vitamin D supplementation protects against acute respiratory tract infections.
The NHS recommends a vitamin D supplement for adults living in the UK, as many people don’t get sufficient amounts from sunlight, especially during the winter months. However, when picking a vitamin D supplement its important to look at the ingredients. Large doses of vitamin D without the right support ingredients can lead to excess calcium circulating in your blood which can be a cause of calcification of the arteries and can increase your risk of heart disease over a number of years.
When choosing a supplement its important to look for a combination of Vitamin D3 with Vitamin K2. Studies have shown that Vitamin D3 helps your body absorb calcium while K2 ensures it is transported into your bones and away from your arteries and joints.
If you would like to learn more about our Vitamin D3 with K2 supplement you can do so by clicking here.