Autumn can be a truly magical time full of crisp mornings, falling leaves, bonfires and the promise of Christmas starting to breathe a bit of magic into the air, but unfortunately, it can also herald an increase in colds, viruses and other unpleasant illnesses. It’s nigh on impossible to completely protect yourself from getting ill, unless you want to hibernate entirely for the winter and avoid all other people and situations where germs may arise, although close contact with people certainly can increase our chances of getting ill. During the colder weather we spend more time hibernating indoors with the heating on and so spend longer in close proximity with people carrying germs and less time in the fresh air, increasing the likelihood of catching seasonal bugs.
But there are some easy ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones against germs, and two of the most effective methods are ensuring that you’re all getting enough vitamins C and D into your bodies as both are great at helping to boost your immune system.
The immune system is a collective term for a series of processes, organs and cells inside your body that work together to protect against illness, disease and other foreign bodies. It generally does a remarkable job but there are ways to keep it healthy and increase your resistance to sickness during the winter months.
How to get your Vitamin D
As winter creeps in, the shorter daylight hours means we’re exposed to less sunshine and our vitamin D supplies could run low. Vitamin D is vital in maintaining a healthy immune system, so without it our bodies have less defence against infections. In the form of calcitriol, vitamin D arms and triggers our T cells during autoimmunity (so it helps stop them from attacking our own tissues) and blocks other chemicals from destroying tissues as well. Our bare skin absorbs vitamin D from direct sunlight, though it is not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to get enough for your body’s requirements and different people need different amounts.
So how can you boost your immune system and keep your vitamin D supplies topped up? Despite the cold air, getting outside in the short daylight hours where you can is a really good idea. Not only can the sunshine give you a vital injection of vitamin D, it can also help you be more active, keeping you fitter and healthier. Being active is also proven to help raise your mood (and depression is another debilitating condition triggered by the colder months). Finally, you can top up your vitamin D count with some foods. Try adding fortified breakfast cereals, oily fish, and egg yolk to your diet – these contain small amounts of the vitamin, though it is unlikely that you can get your full requirement just through eating. For vegans, pregnant women, the elderly or anyone else not getting enough vitamin D, supplements may be an option.
Boost your vitamin C
It has long been understood that vitamin C plays an essential role in keeping illnesses at bay: it has a vital role in supporting certain enzymes to function during the processes of a healthy immune system. Unlike Vitamin D, you can only get vitamin C through your diet and the body cannot store it (it gets flushed out by the kidneys), so it is essential that you top up your intake daily. The recommended daily intake for adults is 40mg. Oranges and orange juice are always pressed upon people fighting colds and grapes are traditionally brought to patients in hospital to help them fight off their illnesses. However, there are other foods even richer in vitamin C, including: kale, broccoli, potatoes, strawberries, blueberries, kiwis, red peppers and sprouts.
Another way of getting vitamin C into your diet is through taking supplements. Altrient C from Abundance and Health is one of the most effective oral vitamin C supplements on the market. It comes in gel form that you can easily add to drinks and has a 98% absorption rate and delivers the nutrient straight to your body’s cells. This high absorption is because it comes in the form of liposomal – tiny bubbles of healthy fats that surround and protect the vitamin C while transporting it straight to your bloodstream.
Despite popular belief, it is now believed that it does not help prevent you from catching colds, but increasing your levels of vitamin C can significantly reduce the length of time that your symptoms will trouble you. There is also evidence to suggest that it can prevent common colds from developing into more worrying illnesses such as pneumonia and lung infections. Once consumed, it is distributed easily into the body’s immune cells and can help kill harmful microorganisms in their growth and helps to form white blood cells (which are essential in fighting infection). The body quickly uses up vitamin C during illnesses, indicating just how essential it is in keeping the immune system healthy. Increasing your intake of vitamin C is especially effective at fighting illness for people who are exposed to extreme physical exercise and/or cold conditions and those who previously had low levels of it in their diets.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is one of the most powerful antioxidants, along with vitamin E and beta-carotene. Antioxidants are essential in fighting off disease and infection as they hamper the oxidation of the body’s molecules – a process that produces harmful free radicals and chemicals, such as those found in cigarette smoke, and lead to cell and DNA damage. Free radicals are exceedingly toxic to the body and can contribute to fatal conditions such as cancer and heart disease. It also has an important part to play in limiting the formation of carcinogens.