As we roll gently into Autumn it is a good time to look for ways to lift up our immune system and strengthen our ability to fight off infections. Small changes to diet and lifestyle can go a long way towards lifting the immune system overall health which helps us to fight illness more effectively when it does get through the defences.
A good level of vitamin D is an essential component of a healthy immune system; we can make a significant proportion of the vitamin D we require in our skin when it is exposed to direct sunlight. If the sun lingers in the early Autumn, make sure you get outside and feel some of those vitality boosting rays on your skin. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which means we store it in our system, and a good store of vitamin D can help to carry you through much of the gloom of winter. In the depths of winter there is not enough strength in the sun’s rays to build a good supply of vitamin D so if your immune system starts to weaken you may want to top up your vitamin D. I recommend a sublingual vitamin D spray, especially if you are one of the many who suffer from intermittent bloating or intestinal discomfort which can interfere with the absorption of vitamin D through the intestines.
In Chinese Medicine terms, coughs, colds and viruses all come under the heading of External Pathogens. There are various suggestions in the Chinese texts about how best to protect ourselves from External Pathogens. • If you are warm and relaxed after a bath or shower, avoid exposure to cold, damp or wind – especially across the shoulders and up the back of the neck. There are points on the shoulders and at the nape of the neck which are notorious for letting in the Wind, a common cause of coughs, colds, aches and pains. With this in mind, don’t leave the house with wet hair, and always wear a scarf in cold weather if you can.
• Try to keep the kidney area warm, the kidney area is on your back at the base of your ribs, either side of your spine. As we move towards the colder weather, put the crop tops and midriff exposing t-shirts to the back of your wardrobe! If you feel the cold easily in the winter months, consider buying a ‘haramaki’. A haramaki is a Japanese waist warmer, a tube of material that fits around the waist to keep the kidney area and lumbar spine warm.
• As we move towards colder weather, it is good to avoid too much cold food and cold drinks – the coldness drains energy from the Spleen which is a vital energy for both the digestive and immune systems.
Probably one of the most proactive things you can do to boost your immune system for the coming winter is to boost your gut health by boosting your intake of prebiotics, and incorporating natural probiotics into your diet. Dietary prebiotics are foods that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut; rich sources of prebiotics include wholegrain cereals, dark green vegetables (with stems and stalks), fruit (with skin and pith), pulses, nuts and seeds. Probiotics are foods which actually contain beneficial bacteria and other gut-friendly micro-organisms which help to enrich and rebalance the internal microbiome; traditional diets from across the globe all incorporate some elements of fermented or cultured foods rich in beneficial probiotics. Probiotics are available as supplements, we stock Lambert’s probiotics in the clinic, but the best way to improve your gut health is to incorporate some natural sources of probiotics into your diet; good examples of probiotic rich foods are live yoghurts, unpasteurised cheeses, homemade sauerkraut, homemade kimchi or kefir (cultured milk). Many studies show a marked improvement in immune system function following an increase in probiotic intake. Indeed at the first sign of a sniffle consider reaching for sources of probiotics rather than antibiotics; probiotics improve your gut microbiome and support a healthy immune system whereas antibiotics are quite destructive to the gut microbiome and can leave your immune system in a weaker state.
Lastly I should mention that a significant improvement in immune system function if often reported as a welcome ‘side-effect’ of regular acupuncture treatment so if you feel you catch more bugs and germs than most, you could benefit from a course of acupuncture to lift your system up.