With chillier temperatures, darker evenings, and the sweaters and wooly socks coming out of their safe storage spaces, it's safe to say this: the seasons have indeed changed! The way you approach your wellness and immunity should too. Here are the five things you can do to support your immunity in winter.
For those of you who don't know, I am a nutritional therapist with a specialization in digestive disorders. I work with high performers to increase energy, confidence, clarity, and productivity so that you can stay empowered to go. Your gut health plays an integral role in your immunity; no one likes going to work sick (and you certainly aren't leisurely enough to take a sick day whenever you need). So, what are the five things you can do to support your immunity in winter? Why does it matter? When should you start transitioning your wellness routine? Keep reading to find out!
Eat your EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids)
If you're a frequent offender of the Be(ing)U blog, follow BeU Fitness & Nutrition on social media, or have booked into the Empowered Nutrition clinic, you'll know that EFAs are a top topic of conversation. You're probably thinking, "how can this one nutrient do so much within my body?" Well, here's what it can do for your immunity; EFAs help regulate the healthy inflammatory response to pathogenic invaders (Kim, 2021). When your immune system detects a potential invasion at its barriers, it sends out an "SOS" message which then triggers DNA transcription of specific immune cells to go to the site and fight potential infection. EFAs allow this transcription process to happen! Without the message being carried, the SOS call falls on deaf ears, or other cells (which are potentially less effective) go to answer the call with far less efficacy than the specific cells called for. There's power in numbers, and the same goes for cells responding to an attack on the immune system.
**eating oily fish 3x weekly, incorporating an EPA/DHA supplement daily, or consuming 2 tbsp ground flaxseed daily are easy ways to get the necessary EFA consumption you need**
Keep it spicy
Spices such as turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, garlic, cayenne, and clove play an integral role in the speed at which you recover through an inflammatory response to a pathogen. Incorporating spices won't prevent you from getting sick, but they will ensure that the inflammatory response in actually being sick is a quick and effective process. This means that, whilst you are fighting infection, you are doing so in a streamlined fashion. A 2021 review of research on spices and Covid-19 concluded that, whilst specific spices and correlation with Covid-19 variants need to be further investigated from a clinician perspective, there is potential for spices to reduce the overall inflammatory load that your body incurs when initially fighting an infection (Kunnumakkara et al, 2021).
But Bronwyn, what does that mean? It means that you fight an infection, and potentially incur less chronic complications from being sick down the line.
**I love making turmeric scrambled eggs with avocado, tomatoes, spinach, and toast as an easy way to incorporate spices into my day**
I know, you've seen it everywhere; the influencer who's selling you their protein powder, the #ad for MyProtein and MyVegan that always comes across your Instagram feed, and even the baskets of protein bars on proud display next to the Chex Mix and $8.49 bag of wasabi almonds at the airport. There's a reason for the hype, but I agree that it's over done.
Protein regulates your body's necessary response to sickness. It makes the physical act of getting sick more effective, and less burdening on your body. Protein breaks down into amino acids which then physically become the fighter cells of your immune system! Protein allows for the production of antibodies, regulates the activation of your natural "killer" cells and macrophages (the guys who fight on the front lines of that head cold battle), and regulates gene expression for your overall health. Your body needs a good number of immune cells, but also needs the immune cells to be programmed to fight their best fight (without fighting your own self in the process)- that's where protein comes in. Amino acids regulate the fight, allowing you to keep going whilst your immune system is busy in the background putting up barriers to pathogens and restocking its own fighting reserves in the process.
**I would always recommend eating at least one palm- sized portion of protein with every main meal. If you're into measurements, that's at least 30-32g of protein per meal that you consume.**
Dial in on diet culture
This is as important as ever; dial in on what diet culture is currently promoting, because adhering to a low calorie, low fat diet can have negative consequences on your immune system. Your body needs a baseline of energy to function, right? (Yes, the answer is yes)
Your body needs extra energy when fighting infection. SO much work is going into your body's defense system, and if your energy consumption doesn't meet your baseline needs then, you guessed it, you're more susceptible to being sick. I won't tell you to not go for that bodybuilding goal, if that's your thing. I will, however, forewarn you that you're most likely going to be more susceptible to being sick if you are constantly focused on calories, macronutrients, and aesthetic. Food is so much more than a tool for aesthetic sculpting. Food fuels your body- immune system included.
**If you aren't sure how many calories you should consume to gain, maintain, or lose weight, you can look up LOADS of free calculators online which will all suggest a different number. I would suggest booking an Empowered Hour where we can nail down the right numbers for your lifestyle and needs.**
Probiotic strains to consider
Before I let you fly away for your day (or night), I wouldn't be a nutritional therapist who supports gut health without letting you in on a little secret; your gut health and immune health are correlated. As your gut health and function change, this has a knock-on effect on digestion as well as immunity. So, here are a few probiotic strains that have been researched as effective supports of both your gut and immune health!
Lactobacillus rhamnosus- supports respiratory mucousal immunity. A potentially useful strain for those who suffer from allergies, frequent chest infections, long Covid, or asthma. (Villena et al, 2012)
Bifidobacterium lactis- supports gut immunity. A potentially useful strain for those who are intolerant to gluten, or suffer from allergic rhinitis. (Singh et al, 2013)
Lactobacillus Paracasei 431- a randomized control trial in Thailand showed that Lactobacillus Paracasei 431 has potentially beneficial support when it comes to the body fighting against the flu. (Trachootham et al, 2017)