A cough or cold can hit us at any time, but autumn and winter can be party season for viruses and bugs, and a really rough time for us and our kids. Along with the usual cold and flu bugs, COVID-19 has become a new fixture in the colder months.
So how can we keep ourselves healthy and make sure our immune system is ready to fight off any unwanted microbes? The doctors at Caidr will always encourage a healthy balanced diet over and above taking supplements, and the more colourful and varied your meals, the more nutrients you are getting to nourish you.
But there are times that supplements may be helpful or even vital. There is less choice of fresh foods over winter, and less sunshine to naturally make vitamin D, plus fighting off colds and flu means our immunity needs to be in tip-top condition.
Vitamins and micronutrients usually work as a team to build up our defence against infection, so you need all of them in the right amount, rather than just one in particular. It's easy to reach for the vitamins once a cold or flu sets in, but they are more powerful when taken to build up your immunity before meeting an infection. So you need to find a way to work them into your daily winter routine.
Let's talk you through which vitamins are vital, and how to keep yourself healthy and happy in both mind and body.
Vitamin C is the celebrity of the immune-boosting micronutrients, and for good reason: it’s essential for a healthy immune system. It works as an anti-oxidant to mop up free radicals, helping to build strong internal barriers to protect from infection. As an added bonus it stimulates collagen to help build firm, elastic skin, healthy hair and strong bones. It’s found in abundance in the summer, with fresh fruit and vegetables like berries, citrus fruits, bell peppers, potatoes and leafy green vegetables all readily available. But we can’t store it, so many need to supplement this in the winter to maintain levels. We can’t store it either, so we need to keep up a regular intake.
Vitamin D is vital in our fight against particularly respiratory infections, as it regulates proteins in the lung lining that fight infection. It has many other roles, and is particularly depleted in the winter months, as we get little sunshine, which makes our body produce its own vitamin D. So it’s recommended that everyone takes a daily supplement through the winter, to benefit bones, teeth, muscles and mood, and those spending lots of time indoors or of darker skin colour should take one all year round.
Zinc is needed to boost the cells that surround and kill invading bacteria and viruses, helping to build up good immunity. It has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, helping fight off colds and other infections. It’s found naturally in red meat, cheese, shellfish and bread, and is known as a trace element as you only need a tiny amount.
Vitamin B family: Vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid are three key components in building up microbe-killing cells in the blood system. They also keep the gut lining barrier healthy and strong to resist any bugs that enter the digestive system from food. In addition, vitamin B6 boosts the feel-good hormone serotonin, which can become depleted in winter, causing depression. Vitamin B12 possibly helps to boost the brain’s cognitive function, which can also help when we feel sluggish in winter. You can’t store the B vitamins, so you need to keep healthy with regular top-ups. Most people get this from a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, meat, offal, lentils, pulses, eggs, dairy and fortified bread and cereals. Those following a vegan or vegetarian diet may be at particular risk of vitamin B deficiencies, especially with less fresh fruit and vegetables available over winter, so a supplement may be worthwhile.
Vitamins A and E: vitamin A acts to dampen down inflammation that can be harmful and cause us to feel unwell. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, helping to mop up free radicals that threaten the skin barrier. Both also support certain white blood cells in recognising microbe invaders and killing them.
Iron can help build up immune-busting cells, and usual dietary sources such as leafy green vegetables can be in short supply in the winter months – which cuts off a vital source for vegans and vegetarians. For meat-eaters, red meat is a good source of iron. In addition, vitamin C gives a helping hand to absorbing iron, and natural sources of this are in short supply in winter. So it may be worth topping up iron levels with a supplement, especially if you know you are vulnerable, such as excluding certain food groups or women who are pregnant or have heavy menstruation.
Magnesium is another trace element that has a role in protecting our cells from free radical damage that threatens the DNA in our cells, and also helping cells to repair after an assault. It helps immune-busting cells fight off invaders. In addition, there’s evidence that it may help improve your mood, which is important if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in winter.
A balanced diet can generally provide the majority of vitamins our bodies require. There are some situations where topping up with supplements to your diet can help to provide some extra coverage.
Some reasons may include: being on certain dietary preferences that may limit the intake of some key nutrients, malabsorption syndromes, hectic lifestyles, or higher individual requirements due to lack of access to certain nutrients such as genetics or lifestyles and outdoor activity, or modern farming techniques.
This health kit aims to provide a selection of multivitamin supplements to help boost your immune systems not only over the winter but year-round and help to benefit:
ImmuProtect® is a unique formulation with an exceptionally high strength Vitamin C combined with Quercetin, Rutin (Vitamin P), Astragalus, Propolis, Maitake Mushroom and Zinc, which contributes to the normal function of the immune system, nervous system, protection of cells from oxidative stress, normal cognitive function and normal DNA synthesis.
ImmuProtect® is exceptionally high in Vitamin C which is very important because according to the research Vitamin C is beneficial in fighting infections only when used in doses higher than 500mg per day.
Vitamin D deficiency is very common in the northern hemisphere, especially during the winter months, where short days with less sunlight mean we do not obtain enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for many areas of health. It not only contributes to the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth but also supports immune system function, normal cell division and muscle function
WAYK Vitamin D 10 mcg (400 IU) is formulated by experts to provide the exact amount recommended by UK Department of Health and the NHS when taken at 1 tablet per day for general year-round daily safe intake
Maintaining optimal hydration and fluid balance is important all year round and not just related to summer heat. There are many winter-related conditions such as flu and other viral infections affecting the upper respiratory as well as the gastric system are affected. Winter bugs can account for a significant risk of dehydration due to fever, perspiration, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
O.R.S Immune combines an electrolyte hydration salt drink formula with a blend of vitamins and minerals specifically designed to help support your immune system, in addition to maintain fluid balance in the body during times of illness.
Each tablet contains Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc and Iron, providing everything your body needs to maintain its essential defences if winter viral infections take hold.
Note: Always read the information leaflets and specific product information before purchasing, as some products may not be suitable for all patients. This is especially so if you take other medicines or suffer from other medical conditions. Please speak to your local pharmacist, doctor, or another qualified health practitioner if you are unsure about anything.
Mental health: Our urge to hunker down and stay warm and dry inside coincides with great TV scheduling and new releases, and maybe carb-heavy comfort food to boot. But it’s important to find the motivation to put into nurturing your mental health, too. You may know what works for you, but many people find daily meditation, mindfulness, yoga or a walk in the park noticing the season’s changes, gives them a boost of energy and a feeling of balance and wellness in the gloom of winter.
A lightbox: If you’re missing the sunshine and think you might suffer from SAD, a light box can make all the difference. This aims to mimic the effect of sunlight, delivering an ambient, warm light. It’s recommended to spend 30 to 60 minutes of exposure a day is all that’s needed to boost your serotonin levels and counter the effects of melatonin, helping to make you feel more balanced.
Sleep patterns: While winter brings many reasons to sleep in for longer, try to resist this temptation and maintain a constant sleep-wake routine. This makes it easier to transition between seasons and help maintain good energy levels, balanced mood and consistent appetite.
Melatonin supplements: If insomnia creeps in, there are many ways to address this through good sleep hygiene and a regular daytime routine of exercise and mealtimes. Many wonder if melatonin supplements are the answer to help a restful sleep, but these aren’t routinely prescribed in the UK, except in exceptional circumstances such as children with behavioural disorders.
Outdoor exercise: Regular exercise is a good way to get keep energy levels pumped through winter, with added benefits to mood, eating and sleeping routines. A healthy fit body can also help keep you and your airways in prime condition to fight off coughs and colds. If you can manage your workout outside, you’re also getting a nourishing dose of fresh air and sunshine that your body craves.
If you have a fever and are coughing up thick green sputum, especially if you are at risk of pneumonia from asthma, COPD, smoking or other long-term medical conditions, or you are over 65, this is reason to seek urgent help from your doctor, or the Emergency Department if out of hours, as this could be a bacterial pneumonia that requires antibiotics.
If you have young school or nursery-aged children, it can feel like they permanently have infections through the winter, and this can feel very draining on you or them. It's rare for anything to be seriously wrong with their immune system, and instead they are fighting off viruses back-to-back, and their immunity is building year after year.
If you have reason to believe you may be low in certain vitamins or minerals, look out for these signs:
If the answer is yes to any of these, you should visit your doctor to discuss this. They will ask about symptoms and can send you for blood tests to check for anaemia, a reduced white blood cell count (related to your immunity), raised inflammation levels, vitamin D deficiency or low levels of vitamin B, a reduced iron level or a problem with your thyroid function – not related to immunity but it may relate to fatigue, mood or appetite.
Wintertime can take its toll on your mental health, either from social isolation or from SAD. If you're feeling depressed and this is affecting your work life, studies or personal relationships, and it hasn’t shifted with simple lifestyle measures over several weeks, this may be cause to book an appointment with your doctor. They will listen to your symptoms and discuss options going forward.
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