At Eden Health Retreat, we’re welcoming winter with open arms! The fresh touch of cooler air settling upon us brings a welcome change from the heat. However, the change of season often brings the increased risk of falling ill and contracting a cold or flu. To keep your body fighting fit to fend off any hint of sickness, we need to focus on strengthening our immunity.
In the journal entry below, Elisha Morgan – a degree-qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist and a holistic chef within the kitchen team at Eden – shares her insight into key areas of the immune system. She also recommends important nutrients to strengthen our body’s defence system and shares a gorgeous tonic recipe packed with nourishing ingredients to keep you strong and healthy this winter.
Winter and our immune system
With winter now upon us, it is time to focus on supporting our most complex and hard-working defence force: the immune system. Our immune system is endlessly active, even when we do not have an obvious infection. Beyond our awareness, our innate and adaptive immune responses work tirelessly to communicate with and modify our microflora, dispose of defective cells, detect and eliminate pathogens before they take hold and do what is linked to so many health concerns: chronic inflammation.
We need to be aware of the top causes of stress for our immunity and the systems that are intricately linked to optimal winter health.
Our gastrointestinal tract communicates directly with our immune system via the Peyer’s patches (lymphatic tissue) and our microbiome. Taking care of digestive health and the microbiome will minimise inflammation and the overall burden on our immune system, allowing it to conquer seasonal viruses swiftly and assist a fast recovery. To optimise digestion, it is crucial to avoid eating on the run and to consume all meals in a stress-free environment. For a quick pre-meal practice that activates the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ nervous system, focus on taking the time for a deep diaphragmatic breath.
To optimise our microbiome, support beneficial bacteria with a varied whole food diet containing plentiful prebiotic fibre (some great options include chia seeds, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, apples and legumes) and fermented foods (such as sauerkraut, organic miso and natural yoghurt).
The lymphatic system is located partially within the gastrointestinal tract (Peyer’s patches) with the remainder located throughout the entire body where lymphatic vessels lie in tandem with blood vessels. Unlike the cardiovascular system, which utilises the heart to pump blood around the body, the lymphatic system relies on muscle contraction to circulate lymph through vessels and nodes. Here, white blood cells dispose of waste and pathogens and are then moved up to the heart where they enter circulation and are detoxified by the liver. Keeping the lymphatic circulation moving is crucial for keeping the immune burden as low as possible, and is achievable by ensuring regular movement such as daily exercise, dry skin brushing, stretching (such as yoga) and massage (especially lymphatic).
Key nutrients for winter health
For a strong immune response, there are a few key nutrients that assist in the optimal renewal and health of our immune cells.
Vitamin C is a well-known favourite, and for good reason. This key nutrient increases resistance to infections by boosting the activity of phagocytes, T Cells, natural killer cells and interferon. This water-soluble vitamin is found within immune cells in concentrations up to 100 times of that found in plasma during active infections, so regular intake is crucial. It’s also a master antioxidant, acting swiftly to quench free radicals and calm oxidative stress.
Fresh and raw fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C. Citrus, kiwi fruit, red capsicum, papaya, berries and leafy greens are particularly good candidates.
Zinc is involved in over 3000 biochemical reactions within the human body! This hard-working mineral is required for its attributes as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune optimising powerhouse. Great sources include shellfish (oysters contain the highest concentrations), meat, chicken and eggs.
Zinc is also plentiful in plant sources such as legumes, grains, seeds and nuts but absorption is low due to phytates (chemical compounds that bind minerals in plants). To increase bioavailability, soak beans, nuts, grains and seeds overnight, rinse well then use as desired.
Vitamin D is a nutrient we can be very low in, especially in winter when the sun is often behind a veil of clouds and the colder weather sees us sheltering indoors. This vital nutrient optimises innate and adaptive immune responses by regulating the activity of macrophages, lymphocytes and dendritic cells.
The best food sources include egg yolks, oily fish (sardines, wild-caught salmon, mackerel) and organic dairy (such as yoghurt, butter and cheese). Mushrooms are often reported as a source, however, they must be grown with some UV light exposure for there to be vitamin D available.
Beta Carotene is converted into Vitamin A within the body. This master antioxidant supports the health of the thymus gland, which prepares our T Cells for their crucial job as specialised adaptive immune defence cells whilst supporting our first line innate immune cells. For beta carotene, think dark green, red, orange and yellow! This is also a fat-soluble phytochemical (pro-vitamin A), so consume beta carotene sources with some healthy fats such as organic butter, ghee, olive oil or avocado.
Extra nutrients for added support
Tumeric is a master anti-inflammatory superstar which stimulates intracellular Glutathione – your body’s ultimate antioxidant defence system. Enjoy turmeric in soups, stews, curries and hot beverages daily.
Ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory, promotes digestion and stimulates circulation aiding in the widespread distribution of nutrient-filled blood. Enjoy some grated ginger in a hot tea with organic honey and lemon when you are feeling a little under the weather.
Garlic is a potent antimicrobial and is a long-loved herbalist’s addition to your seasonal health regime. Simply mix equal parts honey and apple cider vinegar and submerge as many squashed garlic cloves as desired, let sit in a dark cupboard for 2 weeks then use. This is a traditionally wonderful winter staple and can be used as a salad dressing or taken by the spoonful when a bug has taken hold.
Echinacea is an immune-modulating and lymphatic-supporting herb, making it a seasonal favourite. Simply add to your favourite herbal tea blends. Caution is recommended for anyone with an allergy to members of the Asteraceae (daisy) family of plants.
Elderflower is utilised for upper respiratory infections where it works to minimise inflammation and congestion. Add dried Elderflowers to any favourite herbal tea blend.
Winter Tonic Recipe
This immune-boosting tonic is designed to provide a good dose of vitamin C (orange, kiwi), beta carotene (spirulina), potent anti-inflammatory and digestive support (ginger, turmeric) with microbiome supporting prebiotic fibre (chia seeds) and probiotics (yoghurt)!
- 1 orange peeled
- 1/3 cup pineapple
- 1 kiwi fruit peeled
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
- 4 tablespoons yoghurt (coconut or organic whole dairy)
- 1 teaspoon spirulina (may substitute a handful of fresh dark green leaves such as spinach)
- 1 teaspoon chia seeds
Place all ingredients together in a blender until smooth and serve.
If you give this recipe a try, be sure to take a picture and tag us @eden_health_retreat!