When it comes to the prevention and fighting of flu, nature has a lot to offer and now more than ever, with Covid still present, keeping yourself healthy and flu free with an optimum immune system is vital. So how can you give yourself that added advantage and give your body the biggest fighting chance of staying well this winter and prepare for the flu season ahead?
Sunlight is one of Nature’s active ingredients and is vital for maintaining physical health and mental health. 90% of our vitamin D requirements come from sunlight and vitamin D is essential for a properly functioning immune system. With 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 6 children in England considered to have inadequate / low vitamin D levels, which means that immune function may be compromised in many people. It has been hypothesised that Vitamin D may plays a role in the body’s immune response to respiratory viruses, and there is evidence for and against this, but this vitamin has certainly been and continues to be in the spotlight for its potential to help in the fight against Covid 19 and other respiratory viruses.
With many foods containing active components that have a positive effect on our health, the Greek Physician, Hippocrates (406 B.C.E – 375 B.C.E), was really ahead of his time when he stated ‘let food be thy medicine’. One particular powerful antioxidant called Glutathione can be found in a few different foods and can certainly be an effective helper in guarding against flu and reducing susceptibility to other infections. In fact it is a good ‘all-rounder’ for maintaining overall health, as well as supporting healthy aging and general disease prevention, as both these things depend on the body having high levels of glutathione in the body. With its antioxidant benefits as well as being a powerful detoxifier, glutathione plays a huge part in the immune response.
Although the body produces Glutathione naturally, this slowly starts to diminish as we age and is also depleted after an immune response E.g. after illness, so it’s even more important that we try and keep levels high by eating foods that help the body’s’ natural ability to produce good levels of Glutathione. These foods include sulphur rich foods such as cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts. Whey protein, found in dairy products are also essential for Glutathione production as it boosts Cysteine (a type of amino acid and a building block of proteins), which is an essential building block of Glutathione. Selenium is also required for your body to produce Glutathione, so ensure a good selection of the selenium rich foods in your diet such as Brazil nuts, eggs and fish.
Unfortunately alcohol causes Glutathione levels to reduce rapidly, so if you are a regular drinker or drink in excess, you are certainly more likely to be susceptible to illness, including flu!
Simply being in and among nature has shown to elicit physical health benefits and that includes a positive effect in immune function. The practice of forest bathing, has been shown to have a direct impact on our immune function and increase white blood cells which help fight infection and are vital for a good immune response should we get ill.
We all know that exercise is good for us, and that doesn’t need to be indoors at a gym in fact been outside when you exercise has many benefits that exercising indoors doesn’t provide. One form of exercise you should be making a priority at some point during your day is walking. The health benefits of walking are important for all age groups and especially the elderly as we know immune function reduces in efficiency as we age, making elderly people more susceptible to infection, including the flu. Some studies show that exercise such as walking helps reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections, although the exact reasons why remain unclear.
Just a single session of fairly brisk walking or even cycling, if you prefer, for just 20-30 minutes has also shown to increase the activity of several different types of immune cells, so put on that big coat and head for the great outdoors. Remember also that research shows that just been out in nature has a positive effect on mood and that’s important here as a huge amount of research shows that positive emotions and positive thoughts actually enhance immune function. This is in contrast to negative thoughts and low mood, which has been shown to impair and negatively affect immune response. So although many people have been through some very trying months in regards to mental health, trying to find even small ways to uplift mood and create positivity in our own environments will be hugely beneficial to our immune systems and thus help keep flu at bay.
Of course nature also supplies us with some great medicinal herbs and botanicals that have shown to have an excellent effect on helping treatment and prevention of flu and similar respiratory infections. Three of the best are Ginseng, Elderberry and Echinacea all of which have some great research backing for their use for helping give the immune system a good boost. Ginseng has shown to play a key role in disease prevention by modulating the immune function of the human body with some research showing it can help treat and prevent flu as well as a respiratory infection called RSV, which causes symptoms similar to the common cold.
Elderberry is one of the most widely used medicinal plants in the world and is reported to have antiviral activity against flu and used commonly to help treat and prevent colds. Come the autumn, this is a great berry to forage and make your own elderberry medicinal syrup ready for the winter ahead. Elderberry offers many nutritional benefits including being high in vitamin C, anthocyanins, fibre and flavonols and research has shown its usage can reduce both recovery time and severity of both colds and flu.
Echinacea, although probably most synonymous with immune boosting, has more mixed evidence to show its efficacy, but again there is some research showing it can reduce the duration of colds, as well as increase some white blood cells that are responsible for fighting infections.
Maintaining a healthy immune system requires a balancing act between good wild nutrition, a healthy mind, physical exercise, good quality sleep and of course an abundance of all the other goodies that nature has to offer. By doing achieving what you can in all of these key areas, will really help best prepare you for the flu season ahead.
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING
Vitamin D and the Immune System, 2011. Journal Investigative Medicine
Role of glutathione in immunity and inflammation in the lung, 2011. International Journal of General Medicine
Aging & Health Promotion, 2006. The Effects of Walking Exercise Training on Immune Response in Elderly Subjects
The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system, 2019. The Journal of Exercise & Health Science.
Upper Respiratory Tract Infection Is Reduced in Physically Fit and Active Adults, 2010. British Journal of Sports Medicine
Ginseng: A dietary supplement as immune-modulator in various diseases, 2019. Trends in Food Science & Technology
A Review of the Antiviral Properties of Black Elder (Sambucus nigra L.) Products, 2017. Phytotherapy Research
Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections, 2004. The Journal of International Medical Research
Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold, 2014. Cochrane Library