With winter firmly in our sights it is time to boost our health in order to prevent a winter cold or flu. We know that a diet rich in seasonal fruit and vegetables is essential to provide the vitamins and minerals we need to ensure our immune system is functioning at its optimum.
A powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, Vitamin C is found naturally in vegetables and fruit, especially chillies, sweet peppers, kale, papaya, citrus, as well as chestnuts and fermented foods. It is essential for the production of white blood cells, the foot soldiers of our immune system.
Deficiency in Vitamin A may cause damage to the naturally protective mucous membranes which provide a protective cover for the respiratory tract. This might leave it vulnerable to bacteria and viruses potentially leading to sore throats, colds and respiratory infections. Dietary sources of Vitamin A include liver, eggs, fish and fish oils, as well as vegetable foods rich in beta carotene (precursor to vitamin A), found in most orange and red fruit & vegetables, (carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe melons), as well as dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale.
Researchers in one study alone found that the number of T-Helper cells, which are an important component of the immune system, jumped 30% after a daily intake of 180mg of beta carotene for just two weeks.
Vitamin D and K are rising in our consciousness as immunity protectors and recent research has demonstrated their powerful effect in supporting winter health. Get some outdoor light and eat foods rich in vitamin D (fish and fish, raw dairy, dark leafy greens). Our gut can manufacture some of our requirements in vitamin K given the right foods, so a varied, unprocessed, local, seasonal and largely organic diet is key.
Zinc is crucial for making sure that the first wave of immune fighters, the lymphocytes, are in top condition. If zinc stores are depleted, lymphocytes might react more slowly to invading pathogens, leaving the body prone to infection.
Garlic actually helps protect from flu viruses whilst boosting the production of immune antibodies. Simply add garlic to meals throughout winter. When symptoms are setting in finely chop 1 clove of garlic mix with organic raw local honey and eat by the spoonful!
Better still, make fermented garlic honey: peel enough garlic cloves to fit in a 250ml jar, drizzle honey over them to fill the jar, stopper tightly and leave in a dark cupboard for 3-4 weeks; the garlic cloves become saturated with honey and you can eat them when starting to feel a cold or flu coming on. The garlic also imparts a delicate flavour to the honey – use a teaspoon of this infused honey in a mugful of hot water with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little freshly grated ginger and you have one of the most potent natural winter health helpers around.
Echinacea assists with the prevention of colds and flus through its anti-microbial properties. It is effective against both bacterial and viral attacks. Elderberry syrup can have a very potent antiviral and antibacterial action, too.
But what to do if you become ill? The human body’s normal temperature differs from person to person, ranging from 36.1°C – 37.2°C. A fever is classed as any temperature above 37.5°C. A common belief is that, if fever occurs, we must bring the temperature down, but what the body is actually doing, when developing a fever, is increasing its core temperature to fight the infection.
It is a misconception that bringing down a temperature artificially is a safer option. Supressing the body’s attempt at killing the invading pathogens may be counterproductive.
The NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) “Guidelines on management of feverish illness in children younger than 5 years” states;
- Do not routinely use antipyretic (fever reducing) agents with the sole aim of reducing fever in children who are otherwise well
- Do not routinely administer paracetamol and ibuprofen either in combination or alternately
- Antipyretic agents do not prevent febrile convulsions and should not be used specifically for this purpose.However, if you have a fever please monitor and seek advice from your naturopath should your temperature rise above 38°C at a steady rate.
Signs to watch for which you may need expert practitioner/medical advice:
- Fever in babies under 8 weeks over 38.5°C
- Fever more than 40.5°C (bacterial infection is probably present)
- Fever of more than 3 days (infection may be present)
- Fever which can’t be bought down naturally (infection may be present)
- Fever more than 41.5°C – extremely rare but can be harmful
- Fever due to sunstroke
- Fever in patients with cardiovascular or neurological disorders
- Absence of thirst – dehydration
- If you suspect meningitis or septicaemia call 999