Want to ward off illness this winter? Explore what nature has to offer before you head to your nearest chemist
Much in the same way you’d stock your pantry with bulk foods, it can be just as beneficial to keep your cupboards filled with some key immunity-boosting ingredients as the seasons change. Natural remedies can be just as good as pharmacy bought ones, if not more, as naturopath Katie Ruane (harleystreetnaturopath.co.uk) explains: “Over-the-counter or pharmacy-bought cold and flu remedies suppress the immune system, which is the opposite of what you want. You feel better, but that’s often because they contain caffeine which boosts your energy,” says Katie. “Natural remedies support and boost your immune system, meaning that you get over the cough or cold quicker than without them. Another plus side is that our body is able to make natural antibodies against the lurgy, so if the same bacteria or virus tries to take hold in the future, you can fight it off in a day or two.” Another advantage of natural remedies? No fuzzy-head feeling. “Natural remedies also don’t tend to make you feel drowsy or fuzzy-headed either so you are more able to function. The downside is that you might not feel as good as if you were taking a pharmaceutically based version.” To find out what ingredients we should be adding to our morning smoothies and evening stirfries, we asked Katie for her top winter store cupboard essentials to help boost your immunity as the days darken.
To fortify your immune system, you need to keep it topped up with nourishing, immuneboosting foods. Remind yourself to keep adding specific ingredients to your meals by drafting up a checklist and pinning it to your fridge. “Garlic and onions are wellknown immune-boosting ingredients,” says Katie. “Try to buy red onions if you can, as they contain higher levels of quercetin, which is an immune-supportive nutrient. Ginger and lemon can also help, which is why ginger and lemon tea is a traditional one to drink when you aren’t very well. Omega 3 fats are another essential which can be found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and eggs. Zinc and magnesium are crucial to a healthy immune system; and an additional way to increase your magnesium levels is to have Epsom salts in the bath or in a foot bath. Zinc is found in nuts, seeds, mushrooms, meat, eggs and more. With each meal you want to aim for half the plate to be vegetables and to have at least three different colours, not including white potatoes – although, having said that, potatoes have vitamin C and iron sources just under the skin, so when you do eat them, don’t peel them. Leafy green vegetables – kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and salad leaves are powerhouses at boosting your immune system.” Do this, and, if you can, buy organic as organic foods tend to have higher levels of nutrients in them.
It’s the word you’ll probably avoid mentioning in the office around this time of year, but the good news is that the flu can be fought off if you follow the right steps. “Most of us refer to the flu when we have a bad cold,” says Katie. “The real flu is harder to catch and will make you feel achy. It’s better to take a few days off work and get some rest than to go in, make others ill and have it linger in your body. If you have a temperature you can run a pair of socks under the cold tap, wring them out, put them on and then put thick socks on over the top and sleep with them like this.” Another sure-fire way to make sure that you don’t get bogged down with the flu, is to tweak your diet. “Eat at least five vegetables and have a maximum or two, maybe three fruits a day. Reducing processed foods, sugar and caffeine can also be beneficial, and eat more fish than meat, and more vegetables than both the fish and meat.”
Frog caught in your throat? Natural remedies can work really well for that scratchy feeling at the back of your mouth, as Katie explains. “With a sore throat you can drink lemon, garlic and ginger tea. Some people find hot drinks soothing and others find cold drinks soothing. You can also do a steam inhalation with tea tree, peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils, or just buy tea tree and use that. You can also make up a blend with the individual oils, tea tree oil, or Olbas oil by mixing a few drops in at least one tablespoon of oil like sunflower or coconut oil (ideally massagequality, not cooking!) and rub the mix over the throat. You can also soak a flannel in cold water, wring it out, place it over the neck and then cover that with a tea towel and then a scarf. Leave it on your throat until your body has warmed it up.” While getting a sore throat can be a nuisance, a blow to the immune system isn’t the worst thing for your health in the long run. “It’s a good thing for the immune system to have to work as long as it’s not a constant,” says Katie. “If you’re getting colds and sore throats all the time, then it would be worth addressing your overall health and seeing a naturopath who will help boost your immune system and gut function in a very specific way for you.”
Dry skin, a cold sore and chapped lips – not the winter essentials you want, but thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can aid your body naturally. “A great thing to do for cold sores is to rub garlic over the area, or get a drop of lemon essential oil on a cotton wool bud/pad/loo roll and dab it on – this can sting a bit, but it does help,”
says Katie. “If you have tea tree essential oil already for its other amazing immuneboosting properties, you can use that too.
For dry skin, coconut oil is my go-to. Ideally, get raw or unprocessed so the fats are still intact and not damaged. Coconut oil not only moisturises, but feeds the skin cells, helping them recover if they are damaged.”
While getting your essential vitamins and minerals from food is the ideal, it can be hard to get everything you need with the modern day diet. “You can also take natural immune-boosting supplements and syrups such as elderberry (make sure it’s not just sugar syrup though, as sugar is inflammatory and stops the immune system from working as well), Pukka make a good one,” says Katie. “You can also take things like Unbeeliveable Health Bee Prepared capsules, but be careful as they have bee propolis in and some people can react to it. There are also excellent supplement companies like Wild Nutrition, NutriAdvanced and BioMedica who make a variety of immune-boosting supplements for when you feel run down. When buying supplements, generally speaking, the more expensive they are, the better they are. It’s not worth buying supermarket-own brand or cheap ones, as they’re just synthetic copies of nutrients, and the body doesn’t know how to absorb them properly. Finally, get into nature every day, even if it’s only for five minutes.
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