By Aimee Benbow
Technical Services Manager, Viridian Nutrition
Colds and flu become more common through the winter months and this can be made worse by physical and emotional stress, that are known to reduce your immunity and increase risk of infection.
The Common Cold
The common cold is the most commonly occurring illness in the entire world. Adults average 2-4 colds per year and children 6-10, depending on age and exposure. Although generally benign, cold viruses result in significant costs to the economy in lost workdays and school attendance. Cold symptoms include nasal congestion and discharge, sneezing, cough, sore throat and fever.
Influenza virus infection, one of the most common infectious diseases, is a highly contagious airborne disease. Influenza viruses cause 5% to 15% of acute respiratory infections, resulting in fever, headache, muscle pain, and fatigue.
Nutrients that support the immune system:
Vitamin D deficiency becomes very common throughout winter due to lack of sunlight, which we need to make vitamin D. Although diet can provide small amounts of vitamin D this is not enough to ensure adequate vitamin D levels and that is why vitamin D supplements are very important.
Vitamin D from cod liver oil was unknowingly used to treat infections long before the arrival of antibiotics and it is now known that your immune system’s ability to fight infection is completely dependent on adequate vitamin D. A recent review of 11 studies including 5500 people concluded that vitamin D has a protective effect against respiratory tract infections.
Current recommendations for vitamin D intake from supplements are a minimum of 400 IU daily for children and at least 600 IU daily for adults.
If you are pregnant, older age, have darker skin, are overweight or work indoors your risk of vitamin D deficiency is particularly high. Vitamin D is extremely safe and no cases of harm have ever been reported at commonly recommended doses.
Vitamin C is known to be a potent immune stimulating nutrient. It has been shown to inhibit viral replication and can reduce the severity of the common cold.
In a study of one hundred and sixty-eight volunteers the participants were randomized to either receive a placebo or a vitamin C supplement over a 60-day period. The results showed that vitamin C supplementation may prevent the common cold and shorten the duration of symptoms. Volunteers were generally impressed by the protection offered to them during the winter months. Clinical assessment has demonstrated that 2000mg of vitamin C per day for two weeks reduced blood histamine concentrations by 30-40% in adult subjects.
Zinc is a trace element essential for cells of the immune system, and zinc deficiency affects the ability of immune cells to function as they should. It is a cofactor in more than 300 enzymes influencing various organ functions impacting on the immune system and it also directly influences the production, maturation and function of the immune cells.
Natural remedies for your home this winter
The black berries of the elder tree have been used as medicine for centuries and have direct anti-viral effects. Two clinical studies have found extract of elderberry to reduce the symptoms of flu when taken in the first few days of infection then continued for at least 5 days.
The well-known herb Echinacea (purpurea and angustifola) has been shown to reduce cold symptoms by 58% and duration by 1.4 days across a number of studies. Echinacea may also improve overall health wellbeing if you get sick.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help support healthy immunity. About 10 studies have looked at whether taking a daily probiotic might help reduce your risk of the common cold and generally they have found a modest beneficial effect. So taking a probiotic for digestive health may also help ward of colds too.
A natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, honey has been shown to help with night time coughs. It is thought the sweet taste stimulates saliva in your respiratory system and helps calm down irritation. Honey may also have a direct calming effect on the nerves that cause coughing.
Horseradish and garlic
Both were used as natural remedies for infections centuries before it was discovered that they are a rich in compounds with immune boosting, antibacterial and antiviral activity.
Historically, horseradish was used during medieval times for coughs and colds. And during the 19th century the famous microbiologist Louis Pasteur recognized the antibiotic properties of garlic and used it to treat infections.
A number of studies have found that natural products containing garlic and horseradish can help with infections like the common cold by relieving symptoms and reducing the time you are sick. Horseradish may also have a decongestant effect, making it ideal for the nasal congestion and discharge, sneezing, cough, sore throat that often accompany a cold.
Although there are many types of beta glucans naturally found in foods, like a bowl of porridge, it is the 1,3/1,6 beta glucan from mushrooms and baker’s yeast that has proven benefits for your immune system.
Some remarkable scientific studies have shown that 1,3/1,6 beta glucan strengthens your immune system by improving the ability of white blood cells to fight infection when you come in contact with a bacteria or virus. And clinical studies have consistently shown that taking just 250 mg daily significantly reduces infections, especially in people under stress
Self-care and lifestyle changes
Traditionally people have prepared for the dark winter months by changing their diet and lifestyle to be in harmony with the season. The cold and darkness of winter urges us to slow down. This is the time of year to reflect on our health, replenish and conserve energy by eating the right foods.
Traditional winter foods:
• Soups and stews, especially with rich stocks and broths.
• Root vegetables, squashes, winter greens, mushrooms
• Cooked apples, pears, citrus fruit.
• Beans, legumes, whole grains.
• Miso and seaweed.
• Garlic, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon.
• Roasted nuts especially walnuts and chestnuts.
There are also a number of preventative measures and lifestyle changes you should consider if you do fall ill.
• Drink fluids to maintain hydration
• Regularly wash your hands to prevent infecting others
• Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke
• Take time out to relax, rest and recover
• Maintain healthy eating
To stay well and keep you immune system healthy make sure you maintain regular exercise though the winter (at least 30 minutes daily), avoid excessive alcohol consumption and consider some stress management practices such as yoga, meditation or just spending more quality time with family and friends.
Find more information on nutrients and natural remedies to support the immune system in your local specialist health store.
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