Stay Well This Winter
by Belle McCaleb
The next few months bring a welcome change from the heat of summer but unfortunately an increased incidence of colds and flu. Luckily we can definitely improve our immunity and resilience to these viral infections with lifestyle, nutrition and herbal medicine. And the sooner we act proactively the better protected we will be!
Spend time outdoors
One lifestyle measure that is affected by winter weather is the amount of time we spend outdoors. We spend much more time in enclosed indoor spaces and are less likely to be outside in the sunshine and fresh air. The drying influence of indoor heating is problematic as it can dry our mucous membranes and reduce one of our natural boundaries to inhaled viruses and bacteria. Consider running a vaporiser especially at night if the room is heated. A drop or two of essential oil can be considered such as tea tree if anyone is sick in the house or lavender to help with sleep.
The issue of lack of sunshine directly affects our immune function – we require sun exposure in order to begin the production of Vitamin D in our bodies. Vitamin D is essential for a strong immune system. I recommend getting tested at least once during the winter months and if under 100 to consider supplementation. It is true that the “normal range” in many labs starts at 50 but research has suggested a level of at least 100 is more optimal. It’s of course best to take professional advice regarding supplementation based on your actual Vitamin D level.
Include high antioxidant
The winter months also have a tendency to affect the diet – most folks naturally veer away from raw foods and head towards warming cooked foods. This is fine as long as we are conscious of including high antioxidant containing foods such as the bright red and orange vegetables – pumpkin, carrot, beetroot etc.
Including regular citrus for Vitamin C can help boost our virus fighting capacity. Warm water and lemon daily upon waking is a good idea – its also very alkalinising and helps with digestion. Interestingly many vegetables are higher in Vitamin C than oranges such as peppers (chili, green & red Capsicum), brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower to name a few.
Zinc is another nutritional virus-fighting/immune boosting nutrient. Zinc is found in high quantity most meats, chicken, turkey and shellfish. Good plant sources include spinach, pumpkin seeds, nuts, beans and mushrooms. Of course you can supplement both Vitamin C and zinc and it’s probably not a bad idea during the winter in particular. I’m fond of a zinc-C lozenge which puts the virus-fighting ingredients in the throat and helps keep them from getting into the chest.
Herbs - Excellent immune boosters and virus-fighters
Most people have heard of the more common ones such as Echinacea, Astragalus and Elder Flower/Berry. Less well-known medicinal herbs and my some of my “go to” favourites are Andrographis, Pelargonium & Cat’s Claw plus the medicinal mushrooms including Coriolus and Reishi. All of these herbs (and numerous others), are commonly prescribed by herbalists as a prevention and/or treatment for colds and flu. In addition we have a virtual armamentarium of medicinal herbs to treat specific infections from sinusitis to bronchitis so if you are unwell or prone to repetitive viral infection its best to see a herbalist for an individualised approach. Still some home remedies are definitely worth a try – Elderberry tea, Ginger tea with honey and Licorice tea can help symptoms of colds and flu. A great recipe for a tea tonic high in Vitamin C is 4 parts rose hips; 3 parts hibiscus; 2 parts lemongrass and 1 part cinnamon chips.
Look after your gut
Finally its is very, very helpful to make sure you are looking after your gut properly. The immune system is regulated at the gut and liver level so a healthy gastrointestinal tract contributes greatly to our ability to remain virus free or recover quickly if we do fall victim to a cold or flu virus. I recommend professional naturopathic/herbalist advice if you suffer from gastrointestinal issues but pretty much everyone can benefit from taking a good quality probiotic. These days in addition to the more common multi-strain probiotics there are specific formulations for immune boosting available. In the diet the inclusion of cultured foods such as kefir, coconut yogurt or Kombuchu can also be helpful – and these are all quite easy to make at home!
Belle McCaleb ND, RN, MSS-C, BSN, RYT, AYT is an Accredited Naturopath, Herbalist, Yoga Instructor & Yoga Therapist as well as a Registered Clinical Counsellor & Registered Nurse. She has specialised in women’s health since 1986 and holds advanced nursing qualifications in obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Belle is also passionate about holistic cancer support and keeping cancer patients well during medical treatment and beyond. She has worked extensively with cancer patients since 2003 and is the founder of the Cancer Support Alliance (www.cancersupportalliance.com.au). Belle is a certified therapist in Yoga of Heart (for cancer & cardiovascular disease) and Critical Alignment Yoga Therapy (for musculoskeletal issues). Belle’s counselling practice “Innersight Counselling & Psychotherapy” is informed by Integral Yoga Psychology & other mindfulness based approaches and blends clinical counselling skills with age-old techniques of yoga including breath-work, deep relaxation & meditation. This therapeutic approach provides you with practical tools for health, happiness and well-being. Belle’s specific counselling interests include chronic health issues, infertility, pregnancy loss, coping with cancer, loss, grief, bereavement, anxiety & depression. Her practice is located in St. Georges (Burnside). For more info see www.mccalebhealth.com.au or ring (08) 8379 0220.