BlogNurturing winter wellness: Strengthening your immune system naturally

Nurturing winter wellness: Strengthening your immune system naturally

10 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

In the chill of winter, our immune system requires some extra TLC to stay strong. While vaccines offer targeted protection against individual viruses, other holistic practices and easy measures can fortify our bodies natural defences, and equip them with extra armour.

Contents

As part of our Wellness Wednesday series, this article explores the importance of winter wellness, delving into alternative, holistic, and natural approaches to ensure your immune system stays fighting fit. 

But, first: what is the immune system, and how does it work?

What is the immune system, and how does it work?

Our immune system acts like an army for our body, protecting our body from illness. In this army, white blood cells are the frontline soldiers. These cells directly fight invading antigens, like viruses and bacteria, to stop them from taking over and disrupting our wellbeing. 

Over time, our armies learn and develop skills, building from what they’ve previously experienced during battle. As our immunity grows in strength, we start to develop antibodies that work in a similar way to spies. 

Once our immune systems have advanced in this way, it is much easier to recognise and target a specific invader or virus because the army has dealt with a similar threat before. The spies, or antibodies, will locate the threat and use their specialist intel to devise a strategy or plan of attack, which is then communicated to, and carried out by, white blood cells. 

For those who are not exposed to many germs, or have a compromised immune system, staying up to date with vaccinations is extremely important. This is because vaccines introduce the immune system to a threat. This is not done to set the army up to fail; instead, vaccines train our immune systems to recognise this particular threat, and then how to respond to protect ourselves. 

In this way, vaccines and booster jabs can act as a simulation or dress rehearsal for your immune system, so that it can practise fighting off germs before a real battle ensues. 

Why does winter demand extra immune care?

With shorter days and longer nights, gloomy British winters can have a snowball effect on overall health. The lack of natural sunlight, combined with the cold, and often freezing, temperatures that grace the United Kingdom each year, make it harder for our bodies to keep warm, stay hydrated, and ready to defend us against illnesses or diseases. And so, our immune systems require a little extra support. 

Although exposure to cold climates doesn’t actually increase your susceptibility to infection, viruses like the common cold and the flu thrive in these temperatures. The influenza virus, for example, stays airborne for longer periods of time when the air is cold.

Most are aware of this, and believe that staying inside in the warm is the solution. However, in reality, research demonstrates that in the winter months people tend to socialise inside as opposed to outside to avoid the cold. This makes it easier for germs to spread amongst a group of friends for example, because they are often in closer contact with each other than they would be if they were outside. 

As well as this, your body, and in particularly your heart, has to work harder to function in cold climates. This can lead many to feel increasingly fatigued during the winter months, which can have a knock on effect on health conditions they may be living with, and their general wellbeing. 

Nourishing immunity: Balanced natural diets 

One way of ensuring your immune system stays strong and healthy throughout the winter is to provide it with the proper fuel and nutrients it needs through a healthy balanced diet. Although hearty stews, thick broths or soups, and sweet snacks are like a warm hug of comfort on a cold day, it is important to make sure you are eating a healthy, balanced diet - especially during the winter. 

Experts suggest eating whole plant, natural foods like fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables that can help equip your immune system with the nutrients it needs to sustain you. For example, citrus fruits, bell peppers, and tomatoes are a rich source of vitamin C, which is a type of nutrient that has shown potential in reducing the duration of a common cold

Spices that contain natural antioxidants, like ginger and turmeric, can also be extremely beneficial for your immune system, and incorporating them into your diet is a simple, holistic approach that can be taken to keeping it fighting fit, and add flavour to your favourite dish. 

Olive oil and salmon are both praised for their healthy fat contents, because they have shown great potential in reducing inflammation. This is especially important in the winter because inflammation is typically exacerbated by the cold, and if chronic, can significantly suppress the immune system.

Really, there are hundreds of different food types that may be beneficial for your immune system and help boost wellbeing; from poultry that provides vitamin B-6, to fermented foods like yogurt that contain active cultures and vitamin D; the possibilities, and nutrients are endless.

So, if your immunity is struggling - maybe it's time to switch up the menu. 

Exercise’s role: Keeping your immune system healthy

As previously mentioned, in cold weather our hearts have to work harder to keep the blood circulated and pumping around our bodies. And when our hearts are healthy and are working effectively, immune cells are transported rapidly around the body, ready for action. 

Along the same line, our hearts also work harder when we exercise. So, maintaining fitness levels throughout the winter is one way of ensuring we are not putting strain on our hearts, and our immune systems, so they can stay fighting fit. 

But, with the cold setting in, the thought of lacing up your trainers for an icy morning run is often less than desirable. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to exercise indoors that may stop you from feeling under the weather, perhaps try yoga, Pilates, or an exercise video. 

Even if you just chose to climb the stairs a few times while you wait for the kettle to boil, or do a quick boogie in the kitchen, incorporating exercise and movement into your daily routine is an easy, natural, holistic way to boost mood and energy levels; which in turn will benefit your immunity. 

The British Heart Foundation recommends getting up and moving around every hour, as a natural way to keep your blood pumping and your immune system active, so you and your health don’t get snowed under. 

Reinforce immune resilience: Sleeping soundly

Much like exploring natural balanced diets, our Wellness Wednesday series has already covered why sleeping soundly is beneficial for our general wellbeing, but it is important to reiterate this in the context of strengthening your immune system for winter wellness.

Managing our sleep and ensuring we get enough rest is a simple, yet extremely effective, natural and holistic way of supporting our immune systems during the colder months. As we sleep, our bodies regenerate and repair cells to keep us healthy, and cytokines are released by the immune system. 

Cytokines are small proteins that are naturally produced by our bodies that effectively kick the immune system into action. Cytokines affect the growth and activity of blood cells, to help the body fight off infection and regulate inflammation, but sleep deprivation can lead to a decreased production of these proteins, which can have a snowball effect on overall health.

Some of the most popular natural and alternative approaches to improving sleep include embracing holistic solutions, such as practising meditation or mindfulness techniques, or taking part in relaxing exercises such as Tai Chi. 

Alternatively, plant based sleeping aids like lavender, CBD, and chamomile products are other natural options that may be useful for those wishing to soak in more slumber, and prevent the winter blues. 

Additional armour: Herbal supplements

Beyond kitchen, nighttime, and fitness routines, herbal remedies and natural supplements can also provide an extra layer of armour for your immune system. 

With limited hours of sunlight in the winter, sometimes we aren’t able to get enough vitamin D, which can increase the likelihood of getting sick. So, to keep your immune system strong, the British Heart Foundation recommends we take 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the colder months. 

Vitamin C and Zinc supplements are alternative natural boosts that prove particularly popular in the winter because of their ability to reduce the duration of common colds. Research suggests between 1,000-2,000 mg of vitamin C can reduce the length of a cold by around 8% in adults and 14% in children, and around 75 mg of Zinc could cut the length of a cold by a third (33%). 

CBD and prescribed medicinal cannabis have shown potential in aiding sleep, boosting appetite and in some cases, benefiting workout routines, which all have a knock-on effect on immunity. 

There is also evidence to suggest that cannabinoids can act as immunosuppressives, which can prove extremely beneficial to people living with autoimmune disorders or overactive immune systems. However, this may not be beneficial to those with functioning immune systems.

Because these substances and supplements react differently in different situations, it is always best to approach additional supplements with caution. While some alternative, or holistic supplements can help to strengthen your immune system, others could interact with prescribed medicines you are already taking - which could lead to unpleasant or unwanted side effects. 

Regardless of the supplement's natural ingredient base or organic formulation, speak with your healthcare provider for guidance and advice before incorporating them into your routine. 

Conclusion

In summary, as we navigate the chill of the British winter, it's essential to give our immune systems the care they deserve. By incorporating holistic approaches, maintaining a balanced diet, staying active, and prioritising quality sleep, we can fortify our body's natural defences. Additionally, consider herbal supplements like vitamin D and vitamin C to further boost immunity. With these practices in place, we can embrace the season with confidence, knowing that our well-being is well-supported. Stay warm, stay well, and make the most of this winter season!

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Authors

With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

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