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Winter support for the immune system

Between mid-December last year and the first week of February this year, Government figures showed “significant excess mortality from all causes” among the over-65s in England. ‘Flu and the very cold weather were blamed for this spike.

The BBC reported in January that the UK was in the grip of the worst ‘flu season for seven years. All parts of the UK saw rises in suspected ‘flu cases with Wales seeing the sharpest – close to a fourfold increase in GP visits to 64.9 cases per 100,000.

In previous winters, we have to go back to 2010-11 which was the last time there was more ‘flu circulating when swine ‘flu, responsible for the pandemic of the year before, returned with a vengeance. What this winter holds is anyone’s guess, but demand for immune support from those who remember last winter is sure to be high.

Essential vitamins

According to Solgar, consumers are increasingly aware of the need for vitamin D, especially during the winter months when most people in the UK can’t make enough of the vitamin from sunlight and therefore should take a supplement. Similarly, vitamin C plays a wide-ranging role in supporting the immune system, with a deficiency likely to render people more vulnerable to infections.

On the botanical front, elderberries (Sambucus nigra L.) have traditionally been used to support the body’s immune system, says the company. They are high in anthocyanins and their significant antioxidant capacity is due to what is known as ‘oxygen radical absorbing capacity’ (ORAC). Their benefit to the body’s immune system may be down to an ability to modulate the production of cytokines.

Allicin, known to be a powerful cold and ‘flu virus preventative, is produced from fresh garlic compounds but itself is not found in the plant. Peter Josling, formulator of an allicin product well known in the independent trade, says that fresh garlic contains ‘allinase’ and ‘alliin’, which are contained in different parts of garlic. Allicin results when allinase interacts with alliin. Since allicin deteriorates very quickly, a powder extract is the only way to get a stable and standardised amount of allicin.

Echinacea, shown to shorten the duration of the common cold and ‘flu, as well as reduce sore throat, cough and fever, has become an increasingly popular remedy in health stores following considerable scientific research. This science supports the power of echinacea to treat upper respiratory tract infections in particular.

Finally, nutritional therapist Dr Marilyn Glenville recommends nutrients such as omega-3 and probiotics along with the essential vitamins.

Why immunity drops

Dr Michael Barnish, Medical Director for Reviv UK, a provider of wellness therapies, believes there are several factors in the body’s immune responses becoming compromised. Cold weather and exposure to other people’s bugs are given, but lower vitamin D levels due to a lack of sunlight is also a major factor.

“With the lack of sunlight exposure on our skin, a large proportion of the population are prone to lower vitamin D levels,” he says. “Vitamin D is an essential vitamin for immune function, and therefore can affect our levels of immunity.”

The best way to avoid becoming sick is to feed the body with the adequate nutrition it needs to maintain a healthy immune system. That means a source of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help the body deal with the over exposure to bugs and to stay healthy during the winter period. Essential vitamins and antioxidants that can help are Vitamin C, Glutathione, Vitamin D and the B vitamins.

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