Now that the clocks have changed and there is no avoiding the fact that we are winter is on the way, you might be thinking about how best to keep yourself and your family healthy during bug season. For families with young children this can be particularly difficult as we know they tend to pick up lurgies and spread them!
The internet at this time of year is full of ways to boost immunity and thinking about nutrients such as vitamin c and zinc are really important as well as foods such as garlic, ginger and eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables which will have antimicrobial and immune boosting properties… HOWEVER I wanted to have a slightly different take here by thinking about the ways we can HARNESS bacteria to work in our favour this winter
My top five tips to boost your immune system this winter:
1. Be clean…
Personal hygiene is really important during bug season and at the top of the list is HANDWASHING. This is a basic principle that was drilled into me when I trained as a nurse and has stuck with me. Effective handwashing should use soap and warm water and be more than a quick swish of the hands.
This video from the World Health Organisation demonstrates effective handwashing by focusing on the areas often missed such as around the fingertips and in between the fingers.
Making sure that you’re washing hands before preparing food, after using public transport and after coughing/sneezing/nose blowing will help reduce the spread of harmful germs.
2 …But not overclean!
Yes – keeping clean is important but it’s critical to remember that we also run the risk of being TOO clean. Our explicit fear in the modern world of all things bacteria has driven lots of us to keep our homes almost sterile environments and this is driven by marketing of products which promise to eliminate 99% of germs etc.
By completely eradicating bacteria from our homes and being fearful of exposure to any germs we actually run the risk of it having the opposite effect. Remember that we have evolved alongside bacteria for millions of years and they actually form a crucial part of our ecosystem and even our bodies.
The Hygiene Hypothesis looks at the notion that exposure to germs, particularly in early childhood, actually HELPS the immune system to develop effectively and that the huge rise we see in the modern world of allergies and autoimmune conditions could actually be because we don’t have ENOUGH exposure to germs.
Several research studies have indicated that children who are raised around farms or even with pets in the home are less likely to develop conditions such as asthma later in life. So whilst washing your hands can help reduce the spread of nasty infections, it’s worth being mindful of how many often you’re cleaning the surfaces in your home with antibacterial products as it could be making your home environment TOO clean.
3. Boost your gut microbiome with probiotics
If you haven’t heard about the importance of the gut microbiome by now then you’ve probably had your head in the sand for the last decade so if that’s you then welcome back!
Research has now established that the collection of bacteria that lives within us outnumbers our own cells by 10:1 and is so critical to our health that it has been likened to another vital organ. So it’s important to get it right! We want to be welcoming in all the good bacteria that helps us thrive and eliminating the bad bacteria which can bring with it harmful disease.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to start ensuring that your gut is populated by the right kind of bacteria is to eat it! This can be done with supplements (for an adult choose a good quality probiotic which contains a range of culture strains and contains around 10 billion CFUs… several notable brands also do good quality probiotics suitable for young children and babies too) and also with fermented foods such as kefir, live yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi.
4. Feed your gut microbiome fibre.
As well as physically putting more of the right kind of bacteria into our bodies we can also choose foods which feed the good bacteria and help keep them happy.
Unfortunately lots of the foods we eat today (especially in the festive season!!) such as refined carbohydrates, sugary foods and trans fats have a pro-inflammatory effect and directly feeds harmful bacteria in our gut which start to take over from the good stuff.
Prioritise foods that are high in fermentable prebiotic fibres and your gut flora will thank you! This includes foods such as onions, garlic, leek, sweet potatoes, asparagus, artichoke, seaweed, beetroot, peas, cabbage, plantain, apples, coconut, bananas, pomegranate, berries, oats, barley, rye, flaxseed, beans and legumes.
For babies and toddlers breastmilk is also an excellent source of prebiotics!
5. Don’t go running to antibiotics.
Antibiotic overuse is one of the scourges of the modern world. Don’t get me wrong, under the right circumstances antibiotics are miracle givers of life and we have to give them credit for that. However, in the world today they have been overused to the point of having a huge detrimental effect.
Remember when I said earlier that bacteria has evolved with us for millennia? Well they are still evolving and the overuse of antibiotics has prompted certain strains of bacteria to become particularly virulent and harmful so that they can spread despite antibiotics. Cue the development of superbugs such as MRSA, Clostridium difficile and the bacteria behind drug resistant TB. Not nice.
In addition to this, when we use antibiotics we wipe ALL of our gut flora including the stuff we want to be there so long term it can actually be detrimental to immunity. So, always go under the guidance of your doctor, if they say antibiotics aren’t required, trust them, and trust your body to fight the infection and come out stronger, with all of your lovely gut flora in tact!
If you are prescribed antibiotics always take the full course even after you start feeling better, never share antibiotics or keep them ‘just in case’…you could be doing more harm than good.
If you want a personalised boost this winter designed just for you then consider having a 30 minute health MOT with me which can be done by a quick and easy 30 minute online consultation at an affordable rate.
Wishing you and your family a healthy and happy winter!