Baby, it's cold outside! Or if you're in England like me, maybe just wet and dreary. But either way, winter is the time of year when we just don't seem able to fight off the drudgery of colds and flu.
I used to think that the once- or twice-yearly "turning of the seasons" style cold was perfectly normal. Everyone seems to come down with something, so it must just be a fact of life that we have a week or so a couple of times a year when we have to endure coughs, congestion, sore throats, sleepless nights (and maybe even worse) while drugging ourselves up on cold medicines to get through. But then it passes, and it's all OK.
Several years ago when I started sorting out my nutrition, however, it gradually dawned on me that I was no longer catching the bugs that everyone else was getting. And I realised that, although it might be "average" to come down with a cold twice a year, there's nothing "normal" about it.
Our immune system is actually constantly at work within us, killing off microbes, dealing with toxic or foreign elements, destroying our own cells that no longer function correctly.. Normally, we don't experience any symptoms of this ongoing process because our incredible defensive mechanisms are able to keep pace with things. We (normally) only get ill and start to feel the effects of this when our immune system's natural strength and balance is weakened by other factors like diet and lifestyle.
But the brilliant thing is that it's actually pretty easy to develop your own bulletproof winter immunity and to avoid falling prey to colds and flu!
1. Take care of your gut. 70% of your immune system is in your gut, is actually based on the bacteria in your gut. No surprise, then, that if your gut bacteria are out of whack, you won't be up to the job of dealing with infections. Interestingly, your genes play a role in determining how well you maintain your gut bacteria on our own, which is something I look at with clients. But the best things you can do to maintain your gut health are:
2. Support the key immune nutrients: vitamin D, zinc, and antioxidants. Vitamin D plays an essential role in supporting the immune system, and without sun exposure, most people's levels are insufficient to maintain optimal health. Zinc, another micronutrient critical to the immune system, is depleted by stress, which means dietary intake may not be sufficient. Vitamin C, probably the most famous antioxidant, has long been associated with immune health, but all antioxidants are crucial for counter-acting free radicals and taking a load off of your immune system.
3. Keep your stress in check. Not only does stress suppress the immune system, preventing it from activating, but it also ravages your good gut bacteria and depletes the nutrients (like zinc and antioxidants) it needs to function correctly.
Of course, a well-balanced whole foods diet with the right amount of protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and water is important, but even when these things aren't quite right, you can help you immune system stay strong by maintaining your gut health, keeping your vitamin D, zinc, and antioxidant levels optimal, and managing your stress levels. You can also check out loads of my favourite immune-supporting recipes!
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