Boost Your Winter Immunity, Naturally
As the temperature drops, so too does your immune response to fighting the common cold virus, according to recent research from Yale University . The study indicates that rhinovirus (a common cause of the ‘cold’) thrives in cool winter nostrils, supporting the old winter round up call of “put something warm on, or you’ll end up sick.” The good news is, there are a number of ways to help boost your immunity, naturally.
Soak up the sun’s winter rays
Vitamin D3 is produced when your skin is exposed to UVB radiation from sunlight. In turn, Vitamin D produces hundreds of antimicrobial peptides in your body. These little warriors kill bacteria, viruses and fungi .
The best way to increase the production of Vitamin D3 is soaking up the sun’s rays directly, through your skin. According to the Cancer Council Australia, during Victorian winter months most of us need two to three hours a week where our face, arms, hands or an equivalent area of our skin is exposed to sunlight. There are many factors, including the colour of your skin and the time of the day, that affect how much sun exposure you need for optimal Vitamin D production.
On cold winter days when the sun does find its way through, find a north facing window to sit in front of. Get comfortably warm enough to remove long sleeves, so you can get maximum sun to skin exposure. Make it a regular part of your winter daily routine. Or head out for a stroll and make the most of a sunny winters day. But remember, your skin needs to be exposed, so you’ll need to leave warm headwear and gloves, at home.
Naturally, exercise caution in the amount of time you expose your skin to the sun, if UV radiation levels feel stronger than a usual winter’s day. Visit Cancer Council Australia’s website to find out more about safe sun exposure.
Regular exercise also helps improve the production of Vitamin D. Regular exercise that includes both cardiovascular and strength elements will help improve blood flow, along with more efficient delivery of oxygen around your body. By promoting good circulation, the cells and substances of the immune system can move through the body freely and do their job efficiently (Harvard Health Publications, How to boost your immune system ). Take your exercise outside if you can, on sunny days.
Include winter warrior foods
Vitamin D is available through a very limited array of foods. Fatty fish, milk (including soy drinks with fortified Vitamin D), margarines and dairy blend spreads. Red meat and eggs contain a smidgeon of Vitamin D. This is why safe levels of exposure to sunlight is critical, as food alone won’t provide sufficient levels of Vitamin D.
Here are some affordable, accessible, seasonal winter foods  to add to your list of weekly ingredients that have been shown to help boost immunity and fight infection:
- Cabbage – a source of immune strengthening glutamine and anti-oxidants.
- Almonds – Vitamin E is also known to help boost your immune system. Almonds are rich in Vitamin E.
- Low fat yoghurt with ‘live and active cultures’ and other probiotics – see our Evolve magazine article and blog ‘Probiotics can’t be ignored: they’re good for you.’
- Garlic – keeps more than witches away! Adding loads of flavour, garlic is full of immune boosting anti-oxidants, and infection fighters.
- Tea – a cup of tea by that sunny, north facing window will give you more than relaxation! Green and black tea are known for their disease-fighting anti-oxidants - polyphenols and flavonoids.
- Sweet potatoes and carrots – the anti-oxidant beta-carotene along with Vitamin A make roasted sweet potato more than just a delicious winter favourite.
Finding stress reduction strategies that work best for you is critical all year around. However, with colder, darker months being directly associated with high prevalence of emotional ill health, such as depression, it is time to step up and minimise stress and anxiety.
While the research on associating stress with reduced immunity suppression has not been conclusive, common sense prevails. If you’re experiencing stress, you’re less likely to recognise that it is a pleasant sunny winter’s day, and a good opportunity to go for a walk.
Stress reduction strategy options are numerous. The key is finding a strategy that works for you. If the level of stress or anxiety you are experiencing is affecting your daily living, and those around you, please consider seeking professional help. Organisations like beyondblue can help. Call beyondblue on 1300 22 46 36.
Wash your hands
The best preventative to prevent infection of the cold virus is to wash your hands thoroughly, particularly after coming into direct contact with shared amenities such as shopping centre railings, or public restrooms.
So, keep your nose warm, set up a sunny winter’s nook in your home and look after yourself this winter!
 Yale University, January 5 205 - http://news.yale.edu/2015/01/05/cold-virus-replicates-better-cooler-temperatures
 Dr Joseph Mercola, December 2009 - http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/12/03/how-to-prevent-the-flu-easy-as-1-2-3.aspx
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