Yesterday I was privileged to attend a workshop on supporting immunity with nutrition. "Quite timely", I thought as three people were coughing and spluttering in my carriage on the way to the event.
On average, an adult gets 2-5 common colds each year and children get between 6 and 12! The average cold lasts for 10 days.
If you are one of those people who seem to be getting non-stop colds and viruses, then it may be time to look at your lifestyle and nutrition to see if a couple of small changes might help to reduce the frequency of occurrence, or length of onset of the cold.
Some factors which may affect immune function include:
nutrient deficiency, stress, poor sleep, medications, dehydration, smoking, obesity, high sugar diet, excess alcohol, state of mind, poor or too much hygiene, lack or too much exercise.
I thought it was interesting that both too little and too much exercise are factors affecting immunity, but there does seem to be an optimal amount of exercise that supports good health, whereas very intense exercise regimes may increase the number of infections caught.
It was also interesting to note that too much hygiene might not be a good thing. The new modern obsession with anti-bacterial sprays and gels might not be giving us the desired effect, not allowing us to build up natural immunity. Of course, there are occasions when hygiene is very important, such as after handling bodily waste, but might not be so necessary after stroking your pet or being in the garden.
Here are my top tips for supporting your immune system this winter:
1. Eat foods containing vitamin C (such as peppers, broccoli, citrus, kiwi fruit and berries)
2. Keep up intakes of zinc (found in seeds, nuts, ginger, split peas, brazil nuts, whole grains, poultry)
3. Ensure optimal intake of vitamin D - in the summer, this means getting plenty of skin exposed to the sun, and in the winter this means eating oily fish, eggs, dairy and mushrooms, or consider a vitamin D supplement)
4. Relax - Chronic stress can suppress immunity, so it is important to build some "me time" into your daily schedule
5. Get enough sleep - Sleep deprivation can reduce the number of natural killer cells (an important element in our innate immune system) by 37% - it can take several days for the numbers of these cells to re-establish so if you are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, these levels may never get high enough to deal with pathogens.
For specific and personalised advice, please do contact a registered nutritional therapist.