Seven Strategies for a Vital Winter

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, Masters Candidate (USYD).

It is already that time of year again; the dreaded cold and flu season. And I have a strange confession to make: I sometimes look forward to it! I say with some sarcasm that I look for which new ‘super virus’ will be identified by the media, with facts regarding its severity skewed. It’s often difficult for those in health care viewing medical matters in the general media. A calm and considered approach to health and infection outbreaks is what happens in our profession, not mass hysteria!

Humor aside, the reason I look forward to flu season is the food and lifestyle changes. Winter woes provide the perfect excuse to look after ourselves after months of over-indulgence and pushing ourselves.

As scientists, we learn that certain microorganisms are definitely stronger than others. In medical speak, we call this ‘virulence’. It is a fact that certain infectious microbes are more virulent than others. This is why even the healthiest individuals can still contract a severe case of influenza. Additionally, most signs and symptoms of winter infections simply represent your immune response; pain, swelling and erythema (redness) of affected tissues all signify an attempt by those cells and tissues to remove the problem.

What scientists really don’t communicate well is that our body and the condition of our cells play a major part in who will get sick,  who will not and who will recover quickly and more completely. We have plenty of time to build our immunity before the flu season hits, but for those of us in Australia, we are already here. Some of you may not be ready, or may have already been quite unwell.

Here are seven of the strongest anti-infection practices that will have you feeling energised and strong while others sneeze and cough their way to the pharmacy.

  1. Eat protein every day. Excellent sources are eggs, lean red and white meats, seafood, dairy and tree nuts. Vegetarians and vegans must be vigilant with protein combining, rather than simply scraping animal based foods off their plates. Protein is essential for haematopoiesis in bone marrow, which builds both red and white blood cells (all are involved in immunity) . Protein is required to build lean body tissue. Those of us with good lean body tissue composition are more resilient against infections. Structurally, antibodies are proteins; we must eat protein to build protein.
  1. Eat fats every day. Fats receive much attention that is based on poor science, and not at all on their biochemistry. Natural fats are composed of nutrients called fatty acids. Some fatty acids are saturated fatty acids (SFA’s)  which have strong, natural antibiotic chemical properties. Coconut oil is one of the best, as it is high in SFA’s. Olive, macadamia and avocado oils are also fantastic, they contain some SFA’s. Speak to a qualified Naturopath/Nutritionist about supplementing with a good quality Cod Liver Oil over the winter months. Cod Liver Oil is not used for it’s fatty acid content, but rather its content of the fat soluble vitamins A and D. Vitamin D is essential for a healthy immune system (if your immune system was an orchestra, think of vitamin D as a ‘conductor’). Vitamin A is essential for the formation of healthy mucous membranes; most people simply do not consume enough in their diet. Mucous membranes are located in your eyes, respiratory, gastrointestinal and urogenital tracts. Their entire purpose it to help prevent and manage debris and infection.
  1. Eat serve of green vegetables every day. Think spinach, bok choy, brussels sprouts, celery leaves, peas, all forms of cress, fresh green herbs, asparagus and broccoli. You can sauté greens lightly in coconut oil, butter or olive oil, adding fresh herbs. Eating them is potentially better than juicing, as the chewing action will maximise the digestion and absorption of nutrients (especially for those who are a little frail, elderly, or have poor digestion).
  1. Excess Sugar is a chemical insult to your immunity. Some experiments show that excess sugar consumption (as glucose) suppresses immune functions for 30 minutes to 6 hours after ingestion. Many of us continually eat sugar laden foods while fighting an infection, thus it’s no surprise people don’t recover and require more time away from work, school and activities they want or need to do. Additionally, glucose (a simple sugar) competes with vitamin C; they have extremely similar molecular structures. For strong immunity and  an abundance of energy, cut the junk and sugary foods. A little sugar is OK and essential to provide some substrate to help make ATP (energy) to fight infection, but obtain your sugars from fruits, vegetables or good quality dairy if you tolerate this.
  1. Colds, flu’s and infections are notorious for emerging during a stressful time or immediately after the stressful time has subsided. Most people are not aware that stress is not just psychological: it may be physical (e.g., over-exercising or highly physical occupations with little time for breaks) or nutritional (under-eating, overeating and broad spectrum micronutrient deficiencies). Learning what triggers stress for you will contribute to improving your immunity and vitality for the short and long term. The body’s physical response to stress also consumes precious cached vitamin C to try and keep us going- at the expense of our immune system.
  1. Adequate sleep. Many of us don’t respect how important this is, only taking advantage of sleep’s health restoring properties when we are forced into bed with symptoms. Address and rectify anything preventing you from having regular, sound sleep. Parents of babies and young children; I empathise with you completely. If you can, take turns with a partner, friend or family member to allow you a full night in bed every so often.
  1. Hydration. Water, broths and un-caffeinated herbal teas are wonderful for re-hydrating a crenated (shrivelled), water depleted cellular microstructure. Dehydrated cells, tissues and membranes are magnets for infectious micro-organisms. We must keep our cells moist with water if we want them to be resilient to infections.

I will also add as a footnote: efficiently washing your hands is still the single best way to prevent the spread of infection. I am dumbfounded as to why this is not practiced by people more often. Wash your hands!

No matter what flu or infections emerge this winter, they key is to build your immune system early, but you can still start today. A vital winter is yours and entirely possible with the right care and attention.

© 2016. Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, ND. Lecturer | Medical Scientist | Naturopath. May be reproduced with the authors permission and author credit. info@annaliescorse.com.au