How to support your immune system during winter

immune system

For many of us the colder months bring the misery of sore throats, flu, coughs and colds.  As much as we try it's impossible to avoid coming into contact with people who are infectious.  The immune system is our first line of defence against viruses in the skin and immune cells within the mucous membranes of the gut and respiratory tract.

During the winter we are more susceptible to colds, viruses and infections infections.  Scientists believe that it is the cold temperature of our nasal passages which allows the cold in, and usually the first sign of a cold is a runny nose. We can help support our immune system during the winter with good nutrition, supplements and herbs.


  • Probiotics – approximately 70% of our immune system is located in cells in our gut, we can support this part of our immune system by increasing friendly bacteria through probiotic-rich foods such as  kefir, natural yoghurt, kombucha tea, sauerkraut, miso soup, tempeh
  • Vitamin D – enhances the natural immune response against various infections.  Deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to infection.  It would be worthwhile supplementing during the winter months when our exposure to sunlight is limited.
  • Zinc – supports our immune cells and inhibits virus replication, good sources from food are:  usually abundant in protein foods, beef, pork, poultry, eggs,, seafood, cheese, beans, nuts and wheatgerm.
  • Vitamin A – along with Zinc is great at boosting the activity of our immune cells, it strengthens our defence barrier of mucous membranes increasing our resistance to infections.  Good food sources are: egg yolks, butter, liver.  Carotenoids (which the body converts to vitamin A) are yellow, orange, red and dark green fruits and vegetables such as apricots, leafy greens.
  • Elderberry (sambucus) – is rich in flavanoids, the berries are believed to contain anti-viral agents, powerful antioxidants which stops viruses entering our cells and enhances immune activity.

Further support during a cold

  • Vitamin C – improves the function of the immune cells, helps lessen the symptoms of a cold and shortens the duration.  Good food sources are:  citrus fruits and juices, broccoli, dark-green leafy vegetables, red peppers, kiwi fruits, strawberries   
  • Echinacea – is an immune-boosting herb and an effective anti-viral agent.  Research shows that it increases the amount of white blood cells, which fight infections.
  • Essential oils – if a family member is suffering from a cold you can help prevent it spreading by cleansing the air in your home using an anti-viral essential oil in a diffuser.  Good ones to use are: eucalyptus, ravensara, tea tree, thyme are all powerful anti-viral essential oils.  You can find out more about how essential oils and various methods of use for colds here at Quinessence.

Reduce stress and rest

Stress increases the levels of stress hormones being released into the body.  These hormones inhibit white blood cell formation and function leading to the suppression of the immune system.  The greater the stress the greater the negative impact on our system.

Stress also leads to immune suppression by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the flight or fight response.  The immune system functions better under the parasympathetic nervous system, this is the system which functions during periods of rest, relaxation, meditation and sleep.  Good quality sleep and relaxation are very important factors in reducing the effects of stress and enhancing our immune system.

Stay hydratedWhen our bodies are working overtime to fight infection it’s important to increase our fluids to stay hydrated, this helps loosen any mucous and replaces fluids lost if we have a  fever.

When we feel a cold coming on, usually we start to feel tired achy or feverish, we can support ourselves naturally by staying hydrated, giving ourselves plenty of rest along with good nutrition  To further our immune resistance we can regularly include in our diet foods rich in immune-supportive nutrients, such as zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins, selenium and protein along with a regular intake of probiotic foods, and antioxidants.

It’s important to look after ourselves during the colder months when our bodies may need extra support to keep healthy. Stay well this winter.


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