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Ready for Winter?

Sarah Orecchia garners nutritionists’ food and supplement tips to help strengthen natural defences.

A strong immune system is more important than ever with pernicious bugs and viruses continuing to do the rounds in full force. With colder months on the way, coupled with many people growing weary of boosters, the alternatives will be in the spotlight.

The focus on diet and supplements to help support the immune system against viruses is relatively new concept. There have been numerous studies showing the importance of vitamins D and C in helping prevent illness and due to press coverage, many of the public are aware of this. However, there are a number of nutrients which can help strengthen the immune system, which many people don’t know about.

Some of these lesser-known supplements have been studied for their use with viruses and illnesses, many with fascinating and positive results including bee propolis, the amino acid l-lysine, black elderberry, reishi mushrooms and more. But first, let’s look at diet.

A number of things can impact immune function and what we put in our bodies plays a huge part. The top three things one can do, diet-wise, as advised by nutritionist Erin McCann Galvin, is to reduce one’s intake of sugar as well as refined carbohydrates and alcohol which both turn into sugar in the body. Excess sugar feeds bacterial growth and contributes to inflammation in the body.

Arginine-rich foods can also impact viral reactions. By consuming less of these things, the immune system can more efficiently focus on bacteria and virus cell invaders to help ward off illnesses. Erin suggests eating lots of colourful fruits and vegetables as those are the ones that are often richer in vitamins and phytonutrients. Nutritionist Farzanah Nasser suggests freezing excess berries, fruits and vegetables that may be about to go off in your fridge to ensure you always have nourishing foods at the ready for smoothies, soups, veg pots or stews.

As far as supplements go, it’s important to know the difference between daily support and emergency measures. When supporting immunity daily, it’s best to stick to supplements which can be taken on an ongoing basis if desired.

An interesting ingredient which has been studied for its use for Covid & other viruses is bee propolis. Nutritionist Susan Alexander explains that propolis helps increase cellular immune responses and directs and regulates the immune cells responsible for eliminating specific pathogens (

She explains that too many immune responses can overstimulate and tire out the immune system, not only causing inflammation, but also autoimmune diseases. Bee propolis however also contains the active flavonoid quercetin, which not only balances TH1 and 2 cells responsible for autoimmunity but can significantly suppress the lipoxygenase pathway of arachidonic acid metabolism, reducing inflammation. Therefore, propolis does not overstimulate the immune system – instead it modulates it and ensures any inflammation caused in the immune response is controlled and suppressed, making propolis a useful supplement to take to help support the immune system.

Two other natural plant-based ingredients also shown to help strengthen immunity are black elderberry extract, which is the subject of a new study published by researchers at the University Erlangen showing it has a strong antiviral effect against SARS-CoV-2, and olive leaf, which also has antiviral properties and is shown to help strengthen the immune system.

Plenty of quality sleep, managing stress levels and getting a reasonable amount of exercise (without over doing it) have all been shown to help strengthen the immune system. Adding those practices to a daily routine, along with fine tuning diet and supplementing it with the right nutrients, will help you and your customers have a better shot at maintaining good health this autumn and winter.

Sarah Orecchia - founder of Unbeelievable Health Ltd

Echinacea – Key research

Respiratory tract infections and their complications cause significant morbidity, mortality and healthcare costs. In 2012, the largest echinacea trial (755 subjects) by the Common Cold Centre demonstrated that preventative use of Echinacea purpurea during a cold season, reduced recurrent colds by 59 per cent, along with severity and duration of symptoms and the need to use painkillers.

Research conducted by Prof. Margaret Richie at the University of St Andrews highlighted that Echinacea purpurea adapts to individual needs; in those with lower level production of immune mediators, Echinacea purpurea is stimulatory, whereas in those with strong production, it lowers inflammatory mediators, supporting a more moderate, modulated response.

Meta-analysis data from six clinical trials with 2,458 participants presented at the Royal Society of Medicine showed that Echinacea purpurea extract significantly reduces recurrent respiratory tract infections and consequently the risk of pneumonia or bronchitis.

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