How to support a healthy immune system this winter
As winter approaches and the days become colder, we’re more at risk from colds and flu. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to support your immune system and stay healthy. The immune system is our body’s built in defence system to protect against harmful bacteria and viruses. If you have a weak immune system, you’re less able to fight off infections. Research indicates you’re also more likely to experience severe COVID-19 symptoms.
By taking simple steps you can develop a healthy routine and support your immune system during the dark winter days.
The best way to support your immune system is to eat a healthy and balanced diet. It's easy to fall into bad habits with food in winter, as the cold days and dark nights prompt us to seek comforting foods. While it’s tempting to indulge in cakes, chocolate and alcohol over the Christmas season, it’s important to balance these treats with nutritious meals. Getting into a bad routine in December can make it harder to start the new year with a healthy and productive mindset.
Plan your meals to include a good variety of fruit and vegetables. This will provide you with vital nutrients and vitamins that we need to fuel the immune system. It’s also very important to drink lots of water, making sure you stay hydrated and remove toxins from the body.
However, we can’t get all the vitamins we need from our diet. A busy lifestyle makes it hard to find the time to cook a healthy meal everyday and we can’t get enough of some essential vitamins from food. But which vitamins are most critical for supporting a healthy immune system?
Vitamin D is essential for supporting our immune system. Our main source of the vitamin is sunlight, which we don’t get much of in the winter! Therefore, our levels of vitamin D are low between October and early March, making us more vulnerable to infection. Public Health England recommends taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day to make up for our lack of exposure to sunlight and support a healthy immune system.
Vitamin C increases the production of white blood cells, which are essential for the immune system to fight off infections successfully. Good sources of the vitamin include oranges, strawberries and brussels sprouts, and we need 40mg a day. Our bodies don’t store vitamin C, as it’s water-soluble so it’s important to ensure you’re getting your daily dose.
It’s common to feel tired and sluggish at this time of year, as the lack of sunlight disrupts our sleep cycles. Not getting enough sleep can increase stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which puts pressure on your immune system. A good night’s sleep supports the immune system and can improve our mental health.
Long periods of stress can affect the ability of the immune system to fight off infection, so it’s important to prioritise your wellbeing. Stress decreases the body’s lymphocyte levels - a type of white blood cell which defends the body against infections. This means that you’re more likely to get a cold if you feel stressed for prolonged periods of time.
While coping with lockdown and the pandemic is difficult, there are lots of little things you can do to reduce stress. A daily walk, a social media detox or calling a friend can help you stay positive and support your immune system at the same time.
A balanced diet, making sure you get your daily dose of vitamins, sleeping well and reducing stress are the best ways to support your immune system and stay healthy this winter. Developing a routine will make this easier. Try drinking our vitamin D infused tea in the morning, eating a healthy lunch and taking the time to wind down and destress before an early night!