Urgh winter can be fraught with colds and sniffles that leave lingering niggles behind for weeks. Or worse catching another after because the immune system just can’t recover. But fear not there are things you can do to help kick start it again and get back to feeling good again.
Vitamins, vitamins, vitamins! Yep, they’re pretty helpful chappies and we need them in our diets. So it goes without saying we need to eat them, but sometimes food just isn’t enough. But don’t worry this post is not littered with affiliate links to blast products at you, there are only a few well researched products I recommend. I am going to blast you with knowledge. however. Knowledge is the key to your health success. When you understand the what and the why, you’re more likely to act and succeed.
So let’s get to it … the key vitamins for the immune system are Vitamins A, B6, C, D and E along with the minerals Zinc & Selenium. You will see many many more banded about and listed on the side of vitamin bottles. But these are the big boys that you need to be eating and supplementing if your immune system has let you down this Winter. And there’s one more I’ve saved for the end, just to keep you on your toes.
Please note I am not a nutritional expert, nothing written here constitutes medical advice and you are advised to do your own research and seek medical advice if you are unwell. I am a qualified Complementary Therapist (Reflexologist and Massage Therapist) with nutrition in my training and experience spanning 18 years. I know only too well how overwhelming the sea of vitamins is on those shelves and have learned that most of them are not good for you, so I want to help you out a little by pointing you in the right direction.
Just to let you know this post contains adverts and affiliate links, if you click or purchase anything via these links I might earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support my blog please consider purchasing supplies through my links. You may read my full disclosure here if you’d like to know more.
I am a big fan of food based vitamins, sometimes referred to as food state, a type for which there are many brands. So I always recommend using those over synthetic vitamins where possible. I will do a post on this one day, there are many reasons why I prefer this type of vitamin. But for simplicity today, there’s no unnatural fillers, questionable ingredients and you absorb them fully because your body recognises and processes them as food. If you do take/buy standard vitamins that don’t say they are food based, you absolutely must take them with food to be able to absorb them. If you don’t your body will treat them as waste and you are literally just flushing them down the toilet.
There are lots of food based brands available and there are several brands of synthetic vitamins who now do a food based range. Personally I prefer only truly clean and ethical brands as it’s their whole ethos, so I know there’s no rubbish in them. I have a Practitioner account with Cytoplan and often use their range because it is generally food state with minimal or no bulking agents. You can find their full range on their website (not an affiliate link).
Some other great food state and ethical brands you may want to consider (Amazon affiliate links):Natures OwnViridianLink Nutrition
I have some specific product links further down the post that may be useful.
Ok, so back to the vitamins and immunity and let’s start with Vitamin D, because … well, it’s a biggy!
You may have heard of it, it’s mentioned rather a lot and with good reason. The best source of Vitamin D is obtained via the skin in response to sunlight. But during the winter in the Northern Hemisphere we cannot get anywhere near the amount we need from sunshine. While we do obtain small amounts of vitamin D from food, it is not enough so we all NEED to supplement.
An alarming number of people are deficient year round but even more in the Winter. There are a number of possible reasons, indoor jobs, poor diet and using suncream. Unfortunately suncream, in protecting from the nasties, blocks the ultraviolet rays that the skin needs to produce Vitamin D. Being outdoors in even light sunshine for 15 mins daily without sunscreen is all your skin needs to produce what we need, very fair skins may need less and darker skins may need longer. But being outside like this is what everyone needs, although it isn’t always practical or possible so supplementing may be needed year round.
10ug (400IU) Vitamin D is the dose currently recommended by the UK government and this is for everyone. This is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil, one of the best natural food sources (see, your Granny knew a thing or two!). Other countries recommend higher doses as do Natural Health experts, especially during the winter. There are research references that mention 800IU to 1000IU as being a dose that will return vitamin D levels to normal if you have been deficient. So given it’s January and if you haven’t been supplementing or away to tropical climes in the last month then you need to take 800IU to get your levels up until the sun returns. Much higher doses are readily available but should only be taken on medical advice.
Ok lecture done. You know. But do you know why we need Vitamin D?
Keeping it short, it’s pretty important for your bones muscles and teeth. It regulates the calcium and phosphate in the body you see, making it vital for bone, muscle and tooth development and growth. A lack of it can lead to a higher risk of bone disease and fractures and rickets. RICKETS???? Isn’t that a disease in our history books … well not anymore. It’s actually becoming quite common because of widespread Vitamin D deficiency. There are also studies that suggest vitamin D can help the battle against cancers, cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis. And your Mental Health needs it too – SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) has also been linked to a lack of vitamin D.
So if you do nothing else buy a good Vit D supplement or Cod Liver Oil supplement that provides a minimum of 10ug (400IU) daily and take it twice a day (to get 800IU) for at least a couple of months. You even get it in drop form if you hate swallowing tablets or capsules. Here’s a couple of good rubbish-free options in sensible doses:
But there’s more …
Vitamin C! Poor old Vitamin C has been overshadowed by Vitamin D in recent years but it hasn’t made it any less important. You probably already know it’s good for your immune system. It’s been well publicised for decades. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and our bodies cannot store it so you need to eat a plentiful fresh supply via citrus fruits, berries, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, bell peppers, brussels sprouts and even the humble tatty has it. Vitamin C is in so many foods that generally you shouldn’t need to supplement, provided you eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. But when you need extra immune boosting antioxidant power, such as after a cold or indeed to protect you from catching it, you need to both increase these foods AND take supplements. There’s shedloads of research on this vitamin and almost all of them have focussed on it’s antioxidant power, which is awesome by the way.
So how much do you need? 1000mg (standard vitamins, half for food state) is the dose recommended to boost the immune system. You don’t need to take this dose all the time, just for a few weeks to boost your system but it should make a big difference. Food state vitamins are almost always lower in dose due to significantly better absorption.
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant that helps your body fight off infection. Almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds are all high in vitamin E. So are spinach and broccoli so eat your greens! (there’s your Granny again!). It’s great for your skin too, so if you also suffer from a sluggish winter complexion, supplementing is ideal. Being deficient is very rare as you don’t need much Vitamin E to benefit. A good multi-vitamin will be enough. Watch out for artificial Vitamin E though, it’s widely used in vitamins but its use is controversial due to some studies linking it to health problems. Natural Vitamin E (usually from Soyabeans) is called d alpha-tocopherol. Synthetic (petrochemical based) is labelled as dl alpha-tocopheryl. Oh gosh that’s another post I must write isn’t it?
Vitamin A, you guessed it … is another antioxidant. Found in colourful foods that are high in compounds called carotenoids — carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe and squash are all great sources. The body turns these carotenoids into vitamin A, and they have an antioxidant effect to help strengthen the immune system against infection. Good stuff. Watch the amounts on supplementing with this one. Too much can be toxic. Generally a good multi-vitamin will provide an ideal amount.
Not forgetting Vitamin B6. I could and no doubt will do a post all about B vitamins and why they are so wonderful. But for now, this important vitamin is critical in how your immune system and your nervous system functions. B6 is important in the formation of your white blood cells (the wee warriors who fight infection) and antibodies to stop you getting reinfected. And if you suffer low moods in the winter (or the oh so common premenstrual moods) you’d benefit from taking B6.
Foods high in vitamin B6 include bananas, lean chicken breast, fish such as tuna, baked potatoes and pulses. B vitamins often come as a group supplement called B complex and I do recommend that for many. However for immune boosting you may find enough in a good multi.
Zinc and Selenium. You’ve heard of these right? Well they both contribute to the normal function of the immune system amongst many other great things. Food such as seafood, mushrooms, lamb, beef, nuts and seeds are all high in zinc and selenium. However selenium is much harder to get from food nowadays as our soils are depleted and so the levels in foods have declined dramatically. Brazil nuts are the richest food source available but taking a supplement is a sensible option. Taking a supplement for both of these can help up your levels during a weak time to help strengthen you up. The normal dose of zinc is 15-25mg but there is no clear guideline for selenium. Both trace minerals are likely to be found in reasonable amounts in your multi though. If not, top them up.
Now there’s one more thing that I really urge you to try. I’ve recommended it to almost all of my clients at some point and everyone should keep a tub of these little fighters in their fridge (many don’t even need to be kept in the fridge now!). Listen up if you’ve recently had antibiotics, this is vital to restoring your gut health too. It’s Probiotics. Here’s a suggested one but whatever you choose do check for added rubbish such as fillers/bulking agents (eg magnesium stearate, talc, silicon dioxide) they’re usually not necessary, are an indication of poor quality & quantity of ingredients (regardless of price) and could be potentially harmful.
But Probiotics are not just for dodgy tums (but my goodness do they sort them out). They are probably the most effective immune boosters of the lot. Huh? Well there’s a lot going on with these good guys, they seem to help us in very complex ways that scientists are only now starting to understand. But even on a very simple level good health starts with the gut and so does your immunity. Probiotics populate the walls of the intestines so lowering the chance of bacteria from multiplying (there’s no room) in the intestines and so they can’t enter the blood stream and cause illness.
I could really could go on and on about probiotics and I think they’re so fab I’ll definitely do a blog post all about them sometime and perhaps on the others too, they’re all great.
So give it a try. Go get some mixed strain Probiotics, Vitamin D, C and a good multi-vit (with high Vit D levels so you don’t need to take a separate one). You might just feel flippin fantastic!
Remember please see your GP/Doctor if you feel unwell. Never assume something is nothing… if it’s lingering on, get it medically diagnosed.
Thanks for reading … Be well and be happy.