1. Add garlic to EVERYTHING.
Foods don't need to have a fancy name and a matching price tag to be classed as a superfood; garlic is nature's medicine cabinet packed into some highly fragrant and rather delicious bulbs.
Garlic is a natural antibiotic with antiviral, antibacterial and anti fungal properties, making it an all over immune booster and defender against winter bugs. The active ingredient in garlic, allicin, is released when the bulbs are crushed, so to maximise its potency crush your garlic and then leave it to stand for 10 minutes before cooking.
Worried about garlic breath? You can also get garlic in a high potency, odourless supplement form. Ideal.
2. Make sure you have a happy tum.
You may well be wondering what the health of your digestive system has to do with fighting off winter bugs? Well in actual fact, a lot. Between 70-80% of our immune system is based within our gut.
You can strengthen your defences to illness by boosting levels of "friendly bacteria" in the digestive tract with a high potency, multi-strain probiotic supplement. You can also support these friendly bacteria through food by eating fermented "live" foods such as sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and probiotic natural yoghurt.
3. Drink ginger tea. LOTS of ginger tea
Fresh root ginger has been shown to have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Ginger tea is fantastic when you feel the beginnings of a cold as it's a diaphoretic tea, meaning that it can warm you from the inside. We feel warm already just thinking about it.
It also promotes perspiration, which can help to reduce fever, cool the body, and speed the elimination of toxins from the system. To make fresh ginger tea, peel a thumb-sized piece of root ginger, slice, and steep in hot water with a slice of vitamin C packed lemon for 5 minutes. Et voila!
4. Get on the vitamin D hype
It's not called the "sunshine vitamin" for nothing. We naturally produce Vitamin D under our skin in response to the suns rays, but the reality is that over the winter months a large number of us in the UK are vitamin D deficient. Thanks, Mother Nature.
This is significant because not only does vitamin D play an important role in keeping our immune system functioning properly, but low levels of this vitamin have also been linked with mood conditions such as depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For those of us not lucky enough to be jetting off for some winter sun this Christmas, there are a small number of foods that provide vitamin D like oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), eggs and some fortified cereals.
However, it's really hard to get enough vitamin D through food, so a vitamin D supplement might be considered (or, you know, a flash holiday. It's for your health, remember.)
5. Try to get (some form of) regular exercise
It might be the last thing we feel like doing on a cold, dark winters evening (especially when weighed up against a glass of red wine), but exercise really is one of the best immune boosters there is.
I'm not suggesting that at the first sign of a cold you pull your weary body into your leggings and trainers and go out for a run (at this stage the best thing you can do to limit the length and severity of the cold is rest, rest, and rest some more). However, for prevention, regular moderate exercise is very important and has been has linked to a temporary boost in bacteria-fighting immune cells, and substantial long-term immune system benefits.
Be careful not to overdo it though, as strenuous exercise (such as marathon training and intense gym training) can actually decrease immunity.
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