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The Cold War

How to support your immune system during the cold winter months

Coughs and colds are ever present during the long winter months, which is why it’s important to support your immune system. Don’t let winter bugs get the better of you, with our expert tips to keep cold-free and fighting fight.

Eat with the seasons

“Support your immune system to fight infections by eating seasonal, rainbow-coloured, whole foods, as nature intended,” advises Sarah Green, Registered Nutritional Therapist and Vice Chair of BANT ( “Include colourful and seasonal vegetables in soups, casseroles, shepherd’s pie, bolognese and so on, eating between four and seven hand-sized portions a day. Seasonal fruits, like blackberries, plums and apples, are a tasty way to increase nutrients and fibre. Include one to three hand-size portions a day. The more natural colours you eat, the broader the nutrients you are taking in to support your immune system. Avoid refined and sugary foods, which feed bacteria.”

Go alkaline

“Skip the acid-forming fast-food burgers and other processed foods,” says nutritionist Michele Kaye ( “Instead, choose an alkaline-rich diet of vegetables and fruit, beans, nuts and seeds, ideally organic. Make these foods 60 to 80 per cent of your diet to provide the vital minerals your bones, teeth and organs need. This supports and strengthens your immune system, raises your energy and reduces inflammation.”

Get your vitamin D3 levels checked

“Good levels of vitamin D3 are essential for good health,” says Sarah Green. “In the UK and Ireland, our sunshine hours, working indoors, sunscreen and covering up, means many of us don’t make enough vitamin D3, even with a sunny fortnight away. Your registered nutritional therapist can check your levels and advise on effective and safe D3 supplementation or you can check with your GP. Levels above 50nmol/L are deemed adequate, but research suggests for good health levels should be between 100 and 150nmol.”

Tuck into some oily fish

Make sure you include some oily fish or nuts and seeds in your diet this winter as they are good sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids. “Over the last 10 years there have been significant advances in our understanding of the important role of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in our diets,” says Future Fit School of Nutrition nutritionist Tilly Spurr ( “Adequate intake of these essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) has been linked with immunity in several different ways. Not only have omega-3s, particularly DHA, been shown to directly enhance the function of immune cells1, they also protect against stress-related deterioration in immune function2 and may also improve severity of the symptoms by lowering inflammation3. NHS and British Nutrition Foundation advice is to eat at least two portions of fish a week.”

Stock up on probiotic foods

“Studies suggest that early disturbance of intestinal flora may contribute to the development and progression of allergic diseases including IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease),” says Sarah Green. “Probiotics (which are found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and raw apple cider vinegar) may help restore normal intestinal flora and intestinal immune function as well as inhibit pathogenic bacteria.”

Top up your selenium levels

“There are still relatively few studies of the direct effects of good nutrition on the immune system but there is considerable evidence that people who are malnourished and have poor nutrient intakes are more vulnerable to infectious diseases,” explains Tilly Spurr. “This is particularly pronounced in areas of low selenium status, with low selenium intake being linked with a number of markers of poor immune function, increased risk of viral infection, virus mutation and disease spread4. Increasing dietary intakes has been found to boost all round immunity and defence against bacterial and viral infection.5 Selenium intakes in the UK have been falling over the last 30 years. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 75 μg/d in men and 60 μg/d in women but actual intakes are far below this level, with recent surveys estimating intakes as low as 25-35 μg/d6. Selenium is toxic at high levels with the tolerable upper intake level of just 300–450 μg/d so it is important to monitor your intake if you are taking supplements. Good food sources include brazil nuts, fish and grass-fed meat.”

Spice up your life!

Natural health and wellbeing expert Chris James ( recommends supporting your immune system by starting your day with a drink of hot water, lemon, ginger and cayenne pepper. He explains: “Lemon is a fantastic all-rounder, great for detoxification, digestion, and your skin, and delicious when mixed with ginger. Ginger is a great expectorant, which has been traditionally used to relieve gastro issues and sickness. It is imbued with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. I always keep the skin on or advise my clients to scrape off the skin with a teaspoon, as most of its medicinal qualities are found close to the skin. Finally, cayenne pepper is an excellent immune booster and helps to boost the gut and the metabolism which naturally slows at this time of year.”

Strike a pose

“We can strengthen our defence mechanism by practising yoga asana,” explains Cheryl Mac, yoga elder and founder of Yoga Bellies ( “Yoga can also help us fight infections by boosting our immune system, reducing stress and strengthening our body’s functions and systems. It stimulates your nervous, endocrine, digestive and circulatory systems, enhancing their functioning. Yoga is one of the most effective and time-tested natural immunity boosters that we can adopt for a healthier life. It is an ancient art that strengthens the body and also relaxes the mind. Yoga is not an alternative to medicines but rather a precautionary measure to keep diseases at bay. Yoga postures which focus on reducing stress; supporting the respiratory system and vital organs and the muscles and joints, all help to bolster the immune system. Try the following immunity-boosting postures:

Legs up the wall pose
(Viparita Karani)
This is the ultimate posture to ground the nervous system. It will boost immunity and keep stress at bay. You will feel calm and relaxed, as your body sends freshly oxygenated blood to your legs. This revives tired muscles from sitting at a desk too long. If your hamstrings are tight, you can also bend your knees and bring yourself away from the wall, allowing your body to relax into the posture.

Cobra pose
Cobra pose is great for stimulating the thymus. This is an organ located behind the chest bone that is responsible for the growth of T-cells, the body’s first response to the cold or flu. Lay on your front, forehead resting on the mat. Press down through the tops of your feet; the power of this backbend should come from your legs. Pull your chest forward as you soften your shoulders down and back. Hold for two to three breaths as you gently deepen the backbend.


1. Fenton et al (2013) Long Chain Omega-3 fatty acid immunomodulation and the potential for adverse health outcomes. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 89 (6). 379-390.

2. Kiecolt-Glaser et al (2014). Omega-3 fatty acids and stress induced immune dysregulation: implications for wound healing. Mil Med 179(11sup)129-33.

3. Maroon and Bost (2006) Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain.

4. Fairweather-Tait et al (2011) Selenium in Human Health and Disease. Antioxidants and Redox Signaling 14(7), 1338-1383

5. Hoffmann PR and Berry MJ. The influence of selenium on immune responses. Mol Nutr Food Res 52: 1273–1280, 2008

6. Rayman MP. Selenium and human health. Lancet 2012;379:1256–68

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