The winter months invariably bring with them bouts of colds, flu, sore throats, sniffles and a general malaise as the days draw in and the temperatures drop.  Some people’s moods are also affected by the short daylight hours.  As if this weren’t enough, the excesses of the festive season, which can seem to go on for months, can leave us bloated, lethargic and with compromised immune systems due to our over indulges.

staying health this winter

A recent study(1), found that we all come in contact with viruses and bacteria, however, it’s a person’s immune response being active enough determines whether a person is going to succumb to the infection or fight it off. They also found that antioxidants made the difference between a person’s biological metabolism and their gene expression which activated their immune response. So what are these antioxidants and how can we get them?

The What

Antioxidants are substances/nutrients in our foods that prevent or slow oxidative damage that occurs in our bodies. When our cells use oxygen, they produce free radicals which cause a lot of damage, leaving us more susceptible to disease and aging. Antioxidants act as scavengers destroying the free radicals, which enhances our immune reaction against infection and disease.

The most commonly known antioxidants are Vitamin A, E, C, Carotenoids, CoQ10 and Selenium. Less commonly know antioxidants but just as important are Flavonoids, Lycopenes, Luteins, Ligans, Glutathione, Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), Catalase, Glutathione Peroxidase.

The Where

Antioxidants are found in abundance in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables; berries, cantaloupe, mango, tomatoes, butternut squash, red cabbage, corn, carrots and lots more. They are also found in beans and grains.

healthy antioxidant vegetables
Eat the colours of nature.

So start preparing your body for winter (and Christmas) now.

Eat right.

  • Cut down (or out!) on simple sugars (they will inhibit your immune response). Simple sugars are – granulated sugar, chocolate, sweets, biscuits, dried fruit, soda, ice cream. Allow yourself 2 or 3 pieces of fresh fruit a day but remember fruit is still simple sugar.
  • Make some hearty soups packed full of colourful vegetables.
  • Watch your alcohol consumption; it’s really easy to get in to bad habits, especially in these stressful times.
  • Drink enough water.

Sleep. We talked about the importance of sleep recently. Here is the link for those of you that missed out.

De-stress. It’s so important to find a way to de-stress, stress really is a killer. Here is a link with some great tips!

Get some treatment! Now I really don’t mind which is your treatment of choice, whether it is Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Massage, Reflexology, Cranial, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, talk with a Nutritionist or any other therapy you can think of. Just get something – regularly; everybody needs help.

Exercise. Research has shown that moderate exercise promotes a healthy immune system. During moderate exercise immune cells circulate through the body more quickly and are better able to kill bacteria and viruses. However, there is also evidence that excessive intense exercise, more than 90 minutes of high intensity endurance exercise, can reduce your immunity, making you more susceptible to infections. This is important information for those of you that compete in marathons, triathlons and the like. Research suggests rest and recovery days to allow the body and immune system, to recover are important.

During exercise the body will also release endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. These substances work together to give you that feel good factor; a natural high.

Try one of our Yoga or Pilates classes. They will help you de-stress and improve your body shape as well as make you feel good.

de-sress with a yoga or pilates class
Looking good and feeling good!

There are many dietary supplements and herbal preparations available to aid in boosting the immune system, balance moods, improve circulation and encourage elimination of toxins all great for preparing for winter. Here are some of the best!


Salt water gargle at the first sign of a sore throat will help kill ethe infection and stop it from progressing.

Probiotic – neither food or supplements will be absorbed sufficiently without good, healthy intestinal flora. Many scientists have determined that approximately 80% of our immune system depends on friendly gut bacteria. So take a really good Probiotic and remember, most need to be kept in the fridge.

Echinacea (2) (3) (4) is the best known herbal treatment for warding off the common cold, ‘flu and minor infections. It has anti-viral and antibiotic properties. This means that you may be less likely to catch colds etc.  If taken at the first sign of cold and ‘flu symptoms, echinacea may lessen the symptoms and shorten the duration of the virus. Best taken in tincture form.

Vitamin D (2) There is so much research on this vitamin currently. It is being pitched as the new miracle cure-all. The only difference this time is that the research is actually backing up the hype.

Vitamin A, E and C (2) (4) are antioxidant and help to support your immune system.

Zinc (4) is another crucial component of the immune system so therefore helpful in keeping us free from viruses.  As it cannot be produced or stored by the body, it must be obtained from the diet. Vegetarians/vegans in particular are prone to zinc deficiency as the majority of sources are from animal products and a (healthy) high fibre diet can actually reduce absorption.

Ginkgo Biloba has been used in Chinese medicine for many thousands of years.  Today, clinical trials have shown Gingko’s ability to improve brain function (5) and its direct action on arterial circulation increases the blood flow (6) therefore possibly helping to bring relief to cold hands & feet and those with Raynaud’s Disease (7).  Not suitable alongside blood-thinning medications.

Ivy (8) can be taken in tincture form and has an expectorant action on the chest, therefore loosening mucus from the lungs and easing persistent coughs.

Sage (9) used as a gargle, may be beneficial for sore throats due to its antibacterial properties.

Thyme (8) may be helpful for catarrhal conditions and coughs as it contains components that act locally on the lungs, disinfecting the airways, relaxing bronchial spasm and reducing the viscosity of mucus.

Eucalyptus (10) has great expectorant properties that could be useful in bronchitis. It can also be used as a vapour bath or chest rub for respiratory complaints such as nasal congestion. A little on a tissue, placed on a pillow can really help to get through the night when you have a cold.


Winter blues / Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD affects so many people. Here are some things that have been shown to help.

  • 5-HTP (11) – do not use with anti-depressants
  • St. John’s Wort (12) – do not use if on the oral contraceptive pill
  • A Light Box (13)

Important:  supplements and herbal remedies should be taken under the advice and guidance of your healthcare practitioner to ensure correct dosage and avoid potential contra-indications.

So start preparing your body for the onslaught of the colder months (probably only another 6!) and have a happier, healthier winter.

Written by Anne French and Ginny Haswell.



1. PLoS Genet. 2011 Aug;7(8):e1002234. Epub 2011 Aug 25.

 Temporal dynamics of host molecular responses differentiate symptomatic and asymptomatic influenza a infection.

2. Urol Nurs. 2009 Nov-Dec;29(6):455-8.

Conventional and alternative medical advice for cold and flu

3. Antiviral Res. 2009 Aug;83(2):165-70. Epub 2009 May 3.

Induction of multiple pro-inflammatory cytokines by respiratory viruses and reversal by standardized Echinacea, a potent antiviral herbal extract.

4. Altern Med Rev. 2007 Mar;12(1):25-48.

Colds and influenza: a review of diagnosis and conventional, botanical, and nutritional considerations.

5. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:164139. Epub 2011 Aug 18.

Examining Brain-Cognition Effects of Ginko Biloba Extract: Brain Actitation in the Left Temporal and Left Prefrontal Cortex in an Object Working Memory Task.

6. Phytomedicine. 2008 Mar;15(3):164-9. Epub 2008 Feb 6.

Ginko biloba extract improves coronary blood flow in healthy elderly adults: role of endothelium-dependent vasodilation.

7. Vasc Med. 2002;7(4):265-7.

The use of Ginkgo biloba in Raynaud’s disease: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial.

8. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass 8. Naturheilkd. 2005 Dec;12(6):328-32. Epub 2005 Dec 22.

Open trial to assess aspects of safety and efficacy of a combined herbal cough syrup with ivy and thyme.

9. Toxicon. 2001 Oct;39(10):1601-5.

Seasonal changes in the composition of the essential oil extract of East Mediterranean sage (Salvia libanotica) and its toxicity in mice.

10. Eur J Med Res. 2009 Dec 7;14 Suppl 4:205-9.

Anti-inflammatory effects of Myrtol standardized and other essential oils on aveolar macrophages from patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

11.  J Affect Disord. 2011 May;130(3):343-57. Epub 2010 Jun 26.

Second-tier natural antidepressants: review and critique.

12. Psychiatrike. 2010 Oct-Dec;21(4):332-8.

History and therapeutic properties of Hypericum Perforatum from antiquity until today.

13. Psychiatry Res. 2007 Jan 15;149(1-3):315-20. Epub 2006 Dec 11.

A pilot study of adherence with light treatment for seasonal affective disorder.