Is it really winter? What glorious winter days we are having, with blue skies and a warming sun, at least for some of the day! Coupled with light winds and less rain, it feels more like an autumn and people are out and about, along the beaches and park tracks, soaking it up. I think it’s a great opportunity to embrace the season!
In surveys across a number of countries, the majority of people prefer summer to winter. This is likely to be more so in Australia where we are known for our love of blue skies, beach culture and the sun. So why is winter the less favoured season? It could be a number of reasons, but I believe you can change your experience of winter by adapting to some of these.
In winter people can become more Vitamin D deficient because we tend to be outside less, and there are less sunlight hours. So we need to optimise every opportunity to get some measured sun exposure, the source of Vitamin D.
Hope fully you have stored some D from summer but we still need a half hour of sun exposure on bare skin most days. In winter this definitely can be harder, so supplementation with Vitamin D, or focussing on Vitamin D rich foods will help. Eggs, cod liver oil, oily fish especially salmon and mackerel.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to lowered immunity, mood and of course osteoporosis
However being outside is more then just about getting vitamin D. Spending time outdoors, whether it is in a park or a forest or at the beach, enhances mood and wellbeing simply by being there with nature. And that is in winter too!
So sneak in your dose of Vitamin D and the outdoor world wherever you can.
Did you know that exercise rates do go down in winter? (Oh really! ….is this you?)
However, exercise can help counter the circulatory effects of cold. One of the reasons we become more prone to cold and flu in winter is because cold affects the circulation at the skin and the mucosal surfaces and therefore our defences at these tissues. But we can condition our circulation by exercise and also by “cold conditioning”.
The Antarctic explorers applied cold conditioning principles as did the early European “Nature cure” movement, who encouraged cold exposure by cold splash bathing after a warm shower. In Antarctica they famously would have a “snow bath” to get clean every morning and to increase their cold tolerance. There have now been clinical studies that support the benefits of cold water immersion and cold water therapies on perception of cold, immunity, mood, general wellbeing and musculoskeletal conditions.
The cold splash shower is usually for 30 secs after your warm shower. This is best started in the warmer months! If you want a more gentle approach to cold conditioning, start by keeping the air conditioner closer to the outside temperatures as the season changes.
Of course one of the obvious downsides to winter is the increased risk of cold and flu illness.
It is true that respiratory viruses peak in winter, for both climatic and social reasons such as living in close quarters with a lot of other people. The perfect environment for virus replication is cold and dry. In fact humidifying the air can decrease viral numbers by 30%, so using a humidifier in winter could be a reasonable strategy.
Meanwhile it is your own immunity that can make the difference in your vulnerability to winter ills.
Your immunity can be boosted in many ways, and especially with basics like adequate sleep, good diet and managing stress. Warming winter foods need to be colourful and rich in vitamin A and Zinc, both of which support good immunity.
Pumpkin soups (with ginger), sweet potatoes, root vegetable stews with ginger and spices all are rich in beta carotene precursors to vitamin A. Zinc comes from nuts and seeds such as pepitas and sunflower seeds, chick peas, sea foods (especially oysters) and red meats.
Herbs for immunity
There are a number of excellent herbs that can increase the resistance of your own body’s immunity as well as act like antimicrobial agents. Two well known herbs for immunity are Echinacea and Astragalus, but other herbs such as Andrographis, Olive Leaf and Elderflower and Elderberries are also becoming well known.
Good quality Echinacea (augustifolia) is known for its effect in acute illness, but traditionally it has been used for convalescence as well. Indeed, there is now some clinical evidence of its benefit in prevention of acute respiratory infections. Usually this means taking it before and during winter, but it can also be used at the onset of an acute illness.
Astragalus is of particular interest since there is clinical trial evidence of its positive use in people with cancer and depressed immunity. It can boost our immune system in a number of ways, including elevating lowered white blood cell counts.
It is also used as a general tonic and is being investigated for its anti ageing effects! Astragalus is best used for prevention of acute winter illness.
Andrographis is a real clinical favourite of mine. It has been used extensively on the Indian subcontinent and now has clinical evidence for its positive effect on upper respiratory tract infections, colds and influenza. It is thought to be antimicrobial, but has other immune, liver protective and anti inflammatory effects.
I have also found Andrographis very good for prevention of winter colds, especially if you have been having recurrent bouts of colds and flu.
Elderflower and elderberries (usually as a mixture) has a long traditional use for colds and the influenza virus. There is also good clinical evidence for its use against the flu virus, mobilising antibodies and shortening its severity and duration. It is also safe and palatable for children. It is available over the counter at health food stores.
So meanwhile, I hope you can enjoy all aspects of winter; the blue skies and the stormy days, and strengthen your body and its defences so you stay well to do so. If you need extra help, especially if you have recurrent infections or a compromised immune system, a visit to a Naturopath would be worthwhile.
Ph 08 8242 2083
Shauna Ashewood is a Naturopath with 29 years of clinical experience.
She has Bachelor & Masters degree qualifications and special interest in cancer, autoimmune disease, and women’s health.
She consults at Therapia (Thurs to Sat) and at Semaphore on Tues and Wed.
Book your appointment with Therapia reception.