As the weather starts to cool down letting us know that winter is around the corner, and our favourite woollen jumpers are dug out of the cupboard, you may have it in the back of your mind that the dreaded cold and flu season is almost upon us. The thought of your whole family getting ill can certainly be daunting. However, there may be no need to book in your sick leave just yet, preventative measures can be put into place now to build your families immunity – reducing the prospect of recurring colds, flus and infections this winter. In fact, building your immunity early in the flu season can also help reduce the severity and length of illness.
This refers to maintaining the integrity of the immune defence system, therefore strengthening the body’s natural immunity. There are several components of the immune system that contribute to our defence against viral and bacterial infections, specifically Natural Killer Cells (NK Cells) and Immunoglobulin A (IgA). Lifestyle factors such as stress, a diet high in inflammatory foods and environmental toxic exposure can suppress these components of the immune system, reducing the efficacy of your immune barrier. A sudden drop in temperature and humidity, such as in the autumn and winter months, has also been shown to directly impact immune defences by altering airway function and increasing our susceptibility to viral and bacterial agents. However, there are certain nutritional and herbal substances that have been proven to strengthen these immune components, improving our defence systems.
That being said, there is no need to race out and stock up on all the vitamins just yet, building your families immunity can be much simpler and more cost effective than that – you may even have most of what is needed right now in your cupboard.
Swap the raw salads for slow cooked, heart warming meals
In Ayurvedic medicine, foods have ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ properties, each of which should be consumed at different times of the year (and to heal different health conditions). As stated previously, during winter the drop in temperature and humidity can increase susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections. Therefore eating ‘cold’ foods when the temperature has dropped can also increase the risk of infections. Foods such as strawberries, bananas, milk, tomato and lettuce are considered ‘cold’ and onions, ginger, garlic, potatoes and apples are considered ‘hot’. This plays into the science behind eating seasonally to your region, making sure that your diet changes accordingly to what is naturally growing at that time of year. Yes, it’s finally time to whip out your favourite slow-cooker recipes!
Organic Loose-Leaf Herbal Tea
Herbal teas can be a great way to introduce the healing benefits of herbal medicine into you and your family’s daily regime. Now you have no better excuse to swap the juices for a warming cup of tea than to reduce your likelihood of illness. Tea can be an easy option to administer to children too, you can steep a pot of tea, add some honey or 100% maple syrup, and let it cool until room temperature. They can then sip on the tea throughout the day. You can find loose-leaf organic herbal tea at most bulk food and health food stores. Tea’s to look out for to build immunity are:
Echinacea: Improves immune defences and has been shown to reduce the severity and length of the common cold.
Thyme: Strong antimicrobial herb and improves immune barrier function.
Marshmallow Root: Marshmallow root is a mucilage, meaning it protects and soothes irritated tissues in the body. It is great for sore throats, coughs and protecting the respiratory system against infection.
Elderberry: Is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, they have also been shown to reduce the likelihood, duration and severity of influenza.
Rooibos: Modulates immune function, decreases inflammation and is an effective antioxidant.
If you find these teas, an easy tip of mine is to purchase a small amount of each, keep them separately in the cupboard and mix up different combinations depending on which tastes you prefer and what your immune system is needing at the time.
The health of your gut and microbiome play an integral role in maintaining immune health and reducing your susceptibility to infection. The gut is considered the ‘intestinal immune system’, so without a good functioning digestive system, your immunity may be at risk. There are copious amounts of research on the benefits of probiotics, fermented foods and nutritional medicine in improving the health of your gut. An easy, effective and convenient way to start supporting you gut health is to make your own Bone Broth, or invest in a good quality Bone Broth from your local health food store. When making your own Bone Broth, the gelatin is extracted from the bones during cooking. This gelatin contains amino acids such as glutamine, glycine and collagen – a flawless combination for strengthening your intestinal immune system. Glutamine in particular improves immune function and is anti-inflammatory for the digestive system. When making Bone Broth, make sure to use organic grass-fed bones and organic vegetables so that residual chemicals from pesticides don’t leach into your broth. After you’ve made the broth, freeze in ice cube trays and warm the cubes up as a daily drink or use in cooking as a stock, added liquid in curries or in slow-cooker meals.
Head to your pantry and check what you currently have, start preparing some warming foods to cook over the next few weeks and get your family up to speed with your immune boosting strategy. I’m sure they won’t be deterred by the thought of tea, hearty, warm meals and a new set of woollen clothes!