It's definitely more challenging to keep well during the cooler months. We're inside more which means less sunshine, less social and physical activities, more exposure to bugs and viruses and more sugar especially in the form of things like hot chocolates! However winter isn't the only time we may need some extra help... I wanted to help cover off basic aspects of keeping well and general immunity. I'd really like to believe that our bodies are designed to mostly heal themselves, so we need to understand how to best support that process. One of the most important concepts is consistency, given that developing a robust immune system is not usually based on luck but rather a series of choices made on a regular basis.
So with that in mind, I genuinely hope this overview helps you in some way.
1. SLEEP AND REST
There is definitely something in following our natural inclination to sleep more with the shorter days, allowing our bodies to heal and replenish. In fact it's absolutely vital.
I also often observe a natural cleaning-out process at the change of each season, such as a clear runny nose or general fatigue, and my inclination during those times is to assume my body is asking me to rest so that my immune system can do what it needs to do, strengthening it at the same time. It's also hard to thrive when we're under any kind of chronic stress whether it be emotional, physical or mental so keep mindful of how you are connecting with the world around you because this also affects our health. A balanced nervous system that is not in constant fight or flight mode helps. Notice how many people get sick on their first day of holiday? It's almost like the body knows you now have time for rest and will force it, so giving it the rest it needs regularly will allow you to better enjoy your time off. This is where some people really enjoy bodywork or modalities such as Reiki or cranial sacral therapy.
2. EATING WELL AND LISTENING TO YOUR BODY
We are literally what we eat, and nutrient dense food nourishes and fuels an efficient immune system. Digestion is a hugely intensive process for the body and when unwell, our bodies can often switch off our appetites to allow that energy to be focused on healing. Listening to that is key.
Important is keeping hydrated. Chronic dehydration can wreak havoc at a cellular level, so drink good water regularly, add a few grains of himalayan or celtic salt, and support with nourishing herbal teas (such as nettle) and broths. Check out my chicken broth recipe here.
Eat a wide variety of nutrient dense real food daily. Avoid packaged and processed foods as well as pasteurised milk products, soy, refined sugars, additives, preservatives and other things that contribute to inflammation. Celebrate fresh seasonal produce, organic or spray free if you can.
Winter is the perfect season to utilise cheap cuts of ethically raised meat cooked low and slow incorporating as many goodies as possible: seasonal root vegetables, broths, garlic, onion, leek, turmeric, ginger, apple cider vinegar, lemon, lard/tallow, and leafy greens. I'm a big fan of ethically nourished animal fats and proteins, supported by broths and not too many starches.
Need some recipe inspo? Purchase your copy of my real food recipe ebook!
A spoonful of blackstrap molasses daily may support good mineral balance too, and is greatly enjoyed by kids. It can be taken by spoon or added to some warmed milk of your choice.
Our digestive system governs around 70% of our immunity so it's important to look after the health of the lining and the symbiotic diversity of our gut bacteria. Poor dietary choices and certain medications can affect this so ensure you make informed decisions on what you're taking.
Loading up on probiotic ferments (we love sauerkraut but kefir and kvass are other options - I don't recommend kombucha) help to nourish and heal.
Allergy/intolerance testing is important because you can be reactive to foods that would otherwise be considered healthy, as the inflammatory response will place extra burden on your immune system.
Learning to check in with your body after eating to ascertain what foods are working for you and what ones aren't is important. I know if I've eaten something that doesn't really work for me (like sushi) because after eating, instead of feeling full of vitality, I actually just want to sit down and slob, which means my body is working harder to digest than it should be.
3. WHAT WE THINK
Ever notice how many people anticipate sickness, even before winter had even started? Stay mindful in observing your internal chatter and decide if certain thoughts actually work for you. Of course it's not just that simple, but expecting to stay well does seem to go some way so maybe give that a go?
Doing what makes you feel good helps to create a space to process your thoughts and feelings is helpful too. For me, nothing beats a walk on the beach with my rescue pup and is a great time to do some grounding.
4. EXTRA SUPPORT
While the most important approach is nutrition and lifestyle based and what we do consistently, sometimes we may find ourselves needing some extra tools. Some quality herbs and supplements may be necessary to help you prevent, or recover from, illness. Here are my top picks.
Many of us know how important this is for immunity and to fight infections, but it's also important for many other health factors. We can't produce our own so we need to include it in our diets, in regular amounts however reducing starches significantly also helps us need less Vit C. Food sources include rosehip tea, parsley, citrus fruits, leafy greens, capsicum and broccoli sprouts.
You could even try a transdermal home-made spray. Mix 2t of Camu Camu with 2t of distilled water. Mix until dissolved completely. Add 2t coconut oil and mix again. Apply on skin (will keep fresh in jar for a week).
Deficiencies are common, but also directly correlate to many illnesses and imbalances. Hopefully you've gotten adequate responsible sun exposure over summer as the sun is the best source to stimulate production but if you didn't, there are some things you can do to help. My preference is Rosita's Extra Virgin Cod Liver oil but other dietary sources include mushrooms, organic free range egg yolks, salmon and organic beef liver.
An essential mineral and electrolyte required for more than 300 biochemical reactions, it helps to maintain muscle and nerve function, immunity, blood sugar regulation and cardiac health. A high percentage of chronically depressed people exhibit magnesium deficiency. While I'm a huge fan of wholefoods sources where possible, research has indicated that as many as 80% of us are magnesium deficient, so supplementing is often helpful for everyone.
Food sources include dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, avocados, bananas, dates and cacao (hence why a chocolate craving usually is seen when magnesium is low). My preferred source is baths or foot baths with epsom salts or magnesium chloride flakes, and magnesium oil on the soles of the feet before bed is also great.
Bioray CytoFlora Immunity Tonic supports a healthy gastrointestinal tract, bowel regularity, and a healthy immune system. Clinical results also show increased communication, speech, sociability, cognitive awareness and moods.
Other suggestions include:
These are very general suggestions - you may need to work with a naturopath or integrative medical practitioner if there is anything complex happening. These suggestions should never be taken as medical or professional advice, and I encourage you to seek urgent treatment if there is ever any respiratory distress, floppiness or signs of severe dehydration etc.
This this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Sometimes becoming unwell is more about our bodies asking for a break, so if you do find yourself unwell at all, take some time out to consider what got you to that point and what are some strategies to kickstart a more balanced lifestyle.
Being grateful for our bodies and our immune systems and all that they do for us, is a great place to start.
* I use affiliate codes within this article. See my disclaimer here.