Carla Oates shares her top tips for keeping your skin healthy this winter
Your immune system — a sophisticated network of billions of cells that move through your bloodstream, organs and tissues — is constantly defending you against invaders that can make you sick, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and some types of fungus.
Resting, good sleep, taking regular time out and meditating daily all reduce stress levels in the body.
When an unwelcome visitor enters your body in winter, your immune system identifies it then produces white blood cells and other substances to attack and destroy it. And it works harder than ever in winter. For starters, you spend more time indoors and in close proximity to others, making you vulnerable to picking up viruses and infections.
Although scientists haven’t been able to pinpoint one magic immunity-boosting ingredient, there are plenty of simple things you can do to support your immune system and keep your skin healthy.
Nourish yourself in winter
A well-nourished body has all the micronutrients it needs to arm itself against unwelcome visitors, so strong immunity begins with good nutrition.
To do its job well, your immune system needs plenty of phytochemicals (plant chemicals), antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C (kiwi, citrus fruits), iron (red meat, leafy greens), zinc (red meat, shellfish, sunflower seeds), calcium (dairy, tahini, leafy greens), selenium (brazil nuts), vitamin A (carrots) and vitamin E (avocados, almonds).
Antioxidants are basically free-radical scavengers: they hunt down free radicals that damage your cells, cause inflammation and tax your immune system. So eat plenty of colourful, antioxidant-rich fresh fruit and vegetables plus lean protein, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Where possible, avoid fried foods, processed meats, sugars and refined carbohydrates.
Onions, leeks and garlic contain an antioxidant called quercetin, which is antibiotic and antiviral and survives the cooking process. Garlic also contains other immune-boosting compounds.
Ginger is rich in protective phytochemicals and also boasts antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric is another powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Its active ingredient curcumin is also antiviral and antifungal — if you mix turmeric with black pepper, you’ll absorb more of it.
Extra-virgin olive oil and green tea are other rich antioxidant sources and are anti-inflammatory, too, so consume them liberally.
Ingest probiotics & fermented foods
Seventy to eighty per cent of your immune system is located in your gut. That means a healthy gut is crucial for strong immunity.
Eating a side of probiotic foods such as raw sauerkraut and kimchi or a dollop of natural yoghurt with a meal can help foster good gut bacteria.
It’s also important to eat at least 20g of resistant starch, such as legumes, daily. This feeds beneficial bacteria in your colon, prompting them to make immunity-boosting short-chain fatty acids and do other good things for your health.
Taking a good-quality probiotic is another way to ensure you’re feeding the good guys in your guts that work hard to attack any pathogens and harmful bacteria you may ingest.
Soaking up a little sunshine each day prompts your skin to produce vitamin D, which boosts your immune system. UVB rays are almost non-existent in winter, however, so you may need to supplement your diet with vitamin D–containing foods and/or take a supplement. Fatty fish, cod liver oil capsules, mushrooms, butter, egg yolk and beef liver all contain small amounts of vitamin D. And, if you do need to get a blood test for other reasons, ask to have your vitamin D levels tested to see if you’re deficient.
Eat good fats
A good ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6s is important because it helps keep inflammation in check, which in turn contributes to a healthy immune system. But saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil also play a key role in immune health. Inadequate saturated fatty acids in blood cells may hamper their ability to recognise and destroy foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria and fungi.
It’s important to dose up on H20 in the cooler months. Lymph is an important part of your immune system because it carries white blood cells around your body via your blood. Your body needs water to make lymph. Water also keeps your digestive system functioning properly and helps to flush toxins from the body. If you do catch a cold or the flu, dehydration can make you feel even worse. So keep sipping.
Manage your stress levels
The immune-dampening effects of the stress hormone cortisol have been well documented. Resting, good sleep, taking regular time out and meditating daily all reduce stress levels in the body.
While the exercise-immunity link isn’t clear, there are a few theories on why getting active may help us stay well. Moderate physical activity may help flush bacteria from the lungs, reducing the risk of infection. Another theory is that exercise helps antibodies and white blood cells circulate more rapidly so they may detect illnesses earlier. It has also been suggested that the brief rise in body temperature during and immediately after exercise may work like a fever to help the body fight infection better. Plus, exercise slows down the release of immunity-weakening stress hormones and triggers the release of endorphins, which help you relax and enjoy deeper sleep.
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep deprivation can elevate cortisol levels. Studies have also shown that lack of sleep can turn on genes linked to inflammation, which taxes the immune system. Inadequate sleep also suppresses the functioning of the immune system. And research has shown that people who are sleep deprived get less protection from cold and flu vaccines. Aim for at least 7–8 hours a night.
Wash your hands
Cold and flu viruses are mostly spread as tiny mucus droplets that become airborne when people cough or sneeze. You can breathe them in or pick them up when you touch surfaces such as desks and door knobs. Viruses like the flu can survive for two hours or more on surfaces, so wash your hands thoroughly with soap before touching your face or preparing and eating food. Teach your kids to cover their mouths and noses when they cough or sneeze, and to cough into the inside of their elbows or a tissue. Don’t forget to discard tissues after just one use.
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