Immune System and Winter Wellness

Have you ever wondered why your doctor is not constantly sick?

When patients come into clinic they often feel the need to show me how sick and terrible they are feeling, understandably, but the extra big cough and sneeze across the desk and myself add to a load of bacteria and virus I encounter every day and is most likely attacking my own immune system.

Thankfully, we don’t get sick every time we come in contact with these bugs.

Our mucous membranes, skin, lungs, mouth and gut are all protecting the internal environment from infection.  The immune system warriors wait to fight and do a great job at avoiding disaster in most cases. 

Unless you are run down, with poor nutrition, lack of sleep, too much alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and stress, these poor immune cells really struggle to keep up.

I’m often asked what ‘supplements’ we can use during winter to avoid catching colds and flu.

The evidence suggests that vitamins and antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, E and Zinc assist the function of the immune system but supplementation of these substances are only valuable and effective in those who are deficient. 

So unless you have a disease of the gut or you live in a third world country, most supplements will be unnecessary and even possibly harmful.

There are many supplements that accumulate in the system and can be damaging such as fat-soluble vitamin A.  An excess of vitamin C may cause kidney stones.

Are you deficient? If you are feeling tired, run down and experience recurrent infections, some nutrient levels can be tested.

Vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc, iron, and folate have simple and very affordable blood tests to ensure you have adequate levels of these nutrients to provide energy, nerve function, cellular turnover, and immunity.

If you do have a deficiency, it is essential to monitor and correct with targeted supplementation. 

In other words, nutrients are powerful and necessary but more is not always better and can potentially be damaging. 

Water-soluble vitamins are easily lost in cooking or food storage and we don’t store them in our body so we need regular intake from our diets.  

Fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A and D can build up and be toxic in high doses so although they are important too much is also risky.

So how can we superpower our immune system to do its best job?

My take home message is…

Take:

  1.  Sleep.
  2.  Rest, nature, movement, meditation
  3. Stay hydrated . We don’t feel as thirsty as the weather cools but with the reduced humidity and drinking less, we become dehydrated and it’s easy to notice our skin which shows the first signs of dryness.
  4. Test your B12, Zinc, Vitamin D, Iron and Folate levels. Correct these with supplements if they are depleted.
  5. Eat vitamin C-rich fruit and vegetables with lots of antioxidants and proanthocyanidins – anything fresh and colourful will work.
  6.  Limit the consumption of those substances that tax the body – smoking, alcohol and stress.

So when that guy on the bus sneezes, chances are you’ll just shake it off.

Up to date:

  1. vitamin supplementation for disease prevention – the efficacy and safety of multivitamin and mineral supplementation. A Systematic Review. Huang et al. Ann Intern Med 2006
  2. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/supplement-guide-vitamin-a
  3. http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/vitamin-c-for-common-cold