Citrus fruits are known for their vitamin C content which can help give the body an immune boost particularly during the winter months.
The covid-19 pandemic has reminded us harshly that viruses aren't seasonal, and thus prioritising one's own health is a habit warrented all year long.
When it comes to health, it is important to consider the impact that both lifestyle and nutrition have on our immune system. Medicine is changing in the way it is practised with a lot of emphasis on prevention, well-being and interdisciplinary teamwork.
While I can weigh in on the medical facts regarding nutrition to maintain health, consulting an expert within the field itself is also warranted. The nutritional advice included in this article is referenced from leading sports nutritionist Linia Patel, who proved an invaluable source of knowledge for the UK population during lockdown with her added experience in Milan. So, while the sun is still glorious in the grand duchy, this is a time to make the most of preparing for the winter ahead in terms of building your body’s immunity.
However, given the global events over the last few months it has become evident that we need to look out for all segments of our population including: those with long-term health conditions (diabetics, immunocompromised), pregnant women and those with mental health conditions.
The summer triad to carry over: sleep, hydrate, protect
The hottest months of the season will see you reaching for water, more often than on a crisp January morning. Our cells and blood volume require water, so it follows that this should be a default habit that should be carried on throughout the winter. Poor hydration is known to have an impact your immune system’s effectiveness.
Sleep plenty. As some of us still struggle to adjust to the ups and downs of smart working, establishing a regular and full sleeping pattern is easier said than done. This said, the benefits of sleep have been demonstrated both in reducing your likelihood of contracting the flu but additionally crucial for a faster flu-recovery.
In “Why We Sleep”, Matthew Walker describes in detail how important your levels of cortisol (a hormone released in stress) are when it comes to immunity and how screen time can affect these. A combination of increased screen time and lack of sleep can increase your cortisol, sending you spiralling into lower immune responses, consequently leaving you with poorer immune defences. As a rule of thumb, sacrificing sleep over exercise is never a good idea. Make it a habit to listen to your body’s needs so as to perform better when you do undertake physical activity.
Most of us top up on sunscreen outdoors and although the grand duchy doesn’t conjure up images of tropical sunlight necessitating such precautions, the ski season is not far off. It is important therefore to remember that light reflecting off snow can be very harsh. With exposure increasing in elevation, excessive exposure to UV light reflected off snow can damage your corneal surface (the front of your eye) and your body’s largest organ: your skin. With frequent sun exposure leading to lesions and tumours that may require surgical removal, eye protection is equally warranted during the winter months. As highlighted by the British Association of Dermatologists, those with fair skin are most at risk, so appropriate sunscreen must equally be used in winter and snow-filled conditions. Creams that offer solely “cloud cover” provide inadequate protection.
The winter pair to add: vitamin check
Keep on top of your vitamin D. Winters were never ideal for operating in icy, ventilated theatre rooms, so early September colds were common amongst surgeons. We were, however, always told by those more senior to maintain our vitamin D levels in order to combat the flu or avoid it altogether, which proved to be no old wives’ tale. Studies have since shown that those with low vitamin D are more likely to suffer with the common cold than those who are not. Vitamin D is responsible for the production of cathelicidin, a special class of peptides, that hold antimicrobial properties and are highly responsive to bacteria. Produced with sunlight, it comes as no wonder that this is a vitamin most of us lack in the northern hemisphere. The recommended dose by UK standards to maintain sufficient levels of during the darker months is 400IU of D3 a day, however clinical experience has shown that doses of 1000IU works for maintenance.
Citrus fruits are known for their vitamin C content. The latter gives your body the immune boost necessary to combat flu-like illnesses. To top this up incorporating zinc is another way to shorten your duration of symptoms. Eating a variety of poultry, nuts, fish or legumes can help incorporate zinc in your diet. Supplementing if feeling poorly can be done with a safe dose of 15-25mg a day; however, evidence reminds us that this isn’t a replacement to gaining nutrients through an adequate diet.
Your aim by eating a balanced diet is to tackle illness in one of two ways: either combating it faster or curbing the symptoms. As you exercise you listen to your body’s needs, you tailor your pace and adjust your movements accordingly; your nutrition and lifestyle habits should mirror the same ethos.
Dr Lilani Abeywickrama is a Luxembourger ophthalmologist based in Luxembourg. Her main interest is advocating healthy living and precision technology within her specialty and is pursuing her interests in the field of healthcare management.