Side-eyeing all your friends and colleagues as they sniffle and sneeze their way into the office and pubs? Same, honestly.
’Tis the season for sickness, with flu, colds and Covid all doing the rounds. And, if you (like me) have to avoid getting poorly for fear of empty pockets and a very angry brown letter from the bank, then these tips from an immunologist oughtta do the trick.
Dr Jenna Maccioch, author of Immunity: The Science of Staying Well and Your Blueprint for Strong Immunity: Personalise your diet and lifestyle for better health, recently shared her do’s and don’t’s of good health with The iPaper.
Dr Macciochi, who has spent 20 years immersed in the world of immunology, seeking to understand the immune system and find ways to be and stay well, told The iPaper,“Prevention is always better than cure.”
Here’s the lowdown on Dr Macciochi’s food-first approach to immune health and why focusing on holistic wellbeing is the number one way to stay fighting fit this festive season.
Seasonal veggies are in, and so is the kimchi
Aligning diet to season makes more sense the more you know. According to Dr Macciochi, our wellbeing intertwines with the changing seasons quite beautifully.
“Just as we adjust to the subtle shifts in temperature and daylight, so do the plants we eat,” explains Macciochi, who makes a ‘conscious effort’ to align her diet with the season. One reason why she does this is to do with certain phytochemicals being higher when eaten during the right time of year.
She lists pumpkins and orange squashes as veggies to be eating this season while explaining that eating vitamin C-rich foods supports the immune system.
“Vitamin C is the classic immune-supporting nutrient for good reason – science supports increased consumption for infection-fighting,” says Dr Macciochi.
Continuing, she explains the importance of supporting our gut health by choosing foods that help it function, namely mushrooms.
“I like to incorporate some of the more functional mushrooms like chaga or turkey tail, too,” she adds.
“Speaking of gut health, fermented foods are full of immune-nourishing nutrients as well as nature’s probiotics from the live microbes. I’ll warm up on a cold day with some spicy kimchi or make my own seasonal ferment with added herbs.”
Stay hydrated and prioritise vitamin D
Dr Macciochi explains that in colder months our bodies tend to feel thirst less. This, coupled with dry cold air, which she points out, can lead to increased respiratory water loss, with party season influencing our booze intake can spell disaster for our bodies.
Dehydration can make us more susceptible to things like infection, and while it might be tempting to reach out for a coffee — or five, switching it up for some herbal teas with warming qualities, like ginger and lemon, can be better for us overall.
But it’s not just the cold weather that plays havoc with our wellness. The lingering darkness in the morning and early sunsets can also impact our health. To combat this, Dr Macciochi recommends taking vitamin D daily, which can improve the overall strength of the immune system.
Embrace the cold, work out and rest until recovered.
“We have over 600 muscles in the human body – to live well we need to move well. Exercise literally makes your immune system work, but when it gets cold we tend to move less so I try to keep moving whether it’s a workout, a walk or just getting up from my desk regularly,” says Dr Macciochi.
Annoying though it is, those silly little walks and time outside are scientifically proven to improve our health — both mental and physical.
“There are so many benefits from taking movement outdoors so try not to let the weather put you off,” advises Dr Macciochi.
And, if you do get caught off-guard by an illness, then the best thing you can do is rest and then rest a little more.
“Building armies of immune cells and antibodies to go out and fight off germs takes time. It’s also very energy-intensive. This is why in the throes of sickness, this redirection of energy to the immune system leaves us depleted and fatigued. This is a sign from our body that we need to rest. One day on the sofa recovering will often get us back on our feet quicker than trying to power on through,” Dr Macciochi adds.
“Convalescence, the long tail of recovery, has all but disappeared from our modern lexicon. After acute symptoms disappear, we are often quick to jump back to our usual activities, forgetting that it can take a week or so to fully get over a nasty bug. Instead, I try to pace myself, checking in with how I feel before jumping back in.”
So, it turns out that an extra day to reset will do the world no harm and you a lot of good, as can; eating with the seasons, prioritising gentle, slow exercises and keeping that water bottle topped up. It might not be rocket science, but it is science to follow if you want a more robust immune system that supersedes the winter months and lasts all year round.
The number one trick to staying well? Prioritise your health.