Do you always get a cold or flu as soon as the autumnal weather sets in? Do you feel like you pick up a cough or cold every time someone sneezes in the office, or when the kids come home with a snuffly nose? Perhaps you’re only just getting over one bug and the next is already on its way?
I see so many people in my clinic who just don’t seem to be able to shake a cold or stay in good health, especially over the winter period. Now is the perfect time to do some work on balancing your immune system and giving it all the tools it needs to keep you in good health.
Do you know where your immune system is?
Now that’s an interesting question, and one many people just don’t have the answer to! The fact is, our immune system is all over our bodies, with immune cells being able to permeate to pretty much everywhere they are needed. A vast proportion of the work the immune system does also depends on your gut microbiome balance. If you have good gut health, your immune system is much more likely to be in a better place!
The immune system response is a perfectly natural response to any foreign invaders… whether that’s colds and flu, tummy bugs or a foreign body that has entered a cut on your hand. Your immune system is also responsible for helping you to heal after an injury such as a sprain, cut or bruise.
So why is it that some people seem able to walk into a room full of colds and never come down with anything. Whereas others only have to be within metres of someone sneezing and they just seem to come down almost immediately with a cold?
Why Do I Keep Getting Colds?
There are many reasons why we may have a weakened immune system, and some factors are of course out of our control. Nonetheless, there are a lot of things you can do give your immune system a helping hand.
How to get rid of your cold
Here are 5 of the things you can work on to help balance and support your immune system and prevent colds.
- Are you getting in your Vitamin D3?
Did you know that over 80% of the UK population are low or deficient in Vitamin D3, especially over the winter? That’s because this nutrient is very low in our diets, and most of our supply comes from the sun. If we don’t build up our supplies sufficiently during the spring and summer, we’re likely to become deficient in the winter.
Vitamin D is vital for our immunity, as well as many other areas of our health from cardiovascular disease to inflammation, brain health and depression. In fact, it is thought that Vitamin D may be implicated in SAD, which tends to start when the darker nights draw in for many sufferers.
Vitamin D requirements are so individual, and in my experience the only true way to know if you’re getting enough is to test before the winter (around October time) and after the winter (around May). That way you know if you’ve got enough stores to last you through to the summer.
Young children, those over 65, people with darker skin pigments, pregnant and breastfeeding women and those who eat a plant based diet are at a greater risk of Vitamin D deficiency, but I advise most people to top up with Vitamin D over the winter (especially if you’re not jetting away for winter sun).
There are many companies who offer simple finger prick tests for Vitamin D levels if your GP is unable to provide this. Ideally, research is pointing to optimal levels of Vitamin D between 75 and 125 nmol/L, and I see people with levels much lower in my clinic all the time.
Some people need only a small amount to get their vitamin D levels back to normal, whereas others may need a higher dose. For maintenance during the winter, around 1000iu (25mcg) of Vitamin D3 is ideal for most adults. Do make sure it’s in the Vitamin D3 form which is better absorbed (not D2).
- Foods rich in Vitamin C:
Vitamin C is well known to be supportive for our immune system, having a role to play in both our innate and adaptive immune responses. In the colder months we tend to eat less raw food, which can mean less Vitamin C in our diets due to the fact that this nutrient is reduced by cooking. So do try to get in 2 or 3 portions of Vitamin C rich food per day.
What Foods Contain Vitamin C?
- oranges (the whole fruit not just the juice)
- raw kale or spinach
- red peppers
- berries (frozen is fine).
- Are you getting in your Vitamin D3?
I like to make a green smoothie most days to make sure I’m getting plenty of nutrients in my diet – cucumber, organic kale, a few pieces of mango or pineapple, ginger and some pumpkin seeds make a perfect immune supporting smoothie! I might also add some Baobab powder, a superfood that’s packed with Vitamin C.
- Manage your stress levels:
If we’re continually overwhelmed and don’t do anything to balance our stress levels, our immune system simply cannot function optimally.Higher levels of stress hormones can imbalance the immune system, as well as affecting our gut health (more on that below).
If I ask you, “what do you do every day for relaxation?” and it takes you more than a few moments to answer, or you say you’re too busy, then you’re probably not doing enough to balance your stress levels.
If you’re continually busy and don’t give yourself much time to rest, perhaps this is an area you need to focus on. Here are some ideas….
- Get to bed by 10pm 2 to 3 nights per week
- Try to do 5 to 10 minutes of deep breathing or meditation each day (perhaps as part of your lunch break or when you get home in the evening?). I love calm.com – a great meditation app.
- Go for a walk while the sun is setting
- Read a book
- Do a gratitude journal – write something every day that you’re grateful for
- Join a new yoga class… or do some yoga online (eg Yoga with Adriene)
- What’s going on in your gut?
Last month I wrote a lot about gut health on my Instagram, Facebook and blog. The gut microbiome is hugely important for your immune system, and if you don’t have a good balance of gut bacteria, your immune system may struggle.
Your gut microbiome is hugely affected by too much sugar, which can lead to increased populations of non-beneficial bacteria. Stress also has profound changes on the gut microbiome, which is why when we’re stressed we can be more susceptible to colds.
To support a healthy gut microbiome, try to include some fermented foods each day from kefir (highly fermented yoghurt), sauerkraut, kimchi or plain natural yoghurt. Look for slow releasing foods such as wholegrain brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato and wholemeal pasta instead of white. And watch your sugar intake. If you need a sweet fix, go for some 70% dark chocolate or a medjool date to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Boost up the zinc…
This essential mineral impacts over 500 enzymatic reactions in the body, including many immune processes. Without enough zinc, you may be more prone to infection and you may not be able to produce of the immune cells that help to keep your body healthy.
Signs of zinc deficiency include poor sense of taste or smell, poor wound healing, poor memory and brain fog, lots of white spots on your nails and hair loss.
Some of my favourite food sources of zinc include pecan nuts and pumpkin seeds – if you’re making cakes or flapjacks substitute 50g of flour or oats for blitzed pecans or pumpkin seeds. Other great sources of zinc include good quality red meat, mushrooms (choose different varieties – not just button mushrooms), chickpeas, lentils, oysters and other seafood, beans and wholegrains like quinoa and brown rice.
You can also support zinc absorption by remembering to eat in a relaxed environment and chewing your food thoroughly. If you need to take a zinc supplement, look for more absorbable forms such as zinc picolinate or citrate, as opposed to zinc oxide or sulfate which are poorly absorbed.
If you would like my help to address poor immunity or immune imbalances, including concerns about autoimmunity, please do get in touch.