Flu jabs are considered the best protection against an unpredictable virus that can cause unpleasant symptoms and severe illness in at-risk groups. But nutrition also plays a critical role in staying healthy all-year-round.
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Vitamin C, garlic and spices such as ginger have long been hailed natural immunity boosters.
But another vitamin which has been shown to help keep winter colds at bay is vitamin D.
Medical doctor and nutritionist Dr Michelle Braude explained why we should add a daily dose of vitamin D to our routine.
She explained: “This time of year is the peak of cold and flu season, and colds spread like wildfire.
“Many experts agree that one of the reasons for this is that we now spend more time indoors and being in closer proximity to people makes it easier for germs to spread.
“There is also evidence to suggest that being cold makes our immune system less able to fight infection, so it’s incredibly important that we boost our immunity during the cold winter months.
“Susceptibility to infection and illness is the primary symptom of a poor immune system and a person with weakened immunity is at an increased risk of experiencing more severe infections, which are harder to treat.
“Some other signs to look out for include; fatigue, digestive difficulties and joint pain.”
Dr Braude said its long been known the ‘sunshine vitamin’, vitamin D helps to protect our bones, but it’s not becoming well-recognised as an essential vitamin for the immune system too.
She added: “An analysis carried out at Queen Mary University London, found that vitamin D helps to reduce the risk of respiratory infections, including colds and flu – especially amongst people who don’t get enough vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, or from their diets.
“Studies have also found that the vitamin is crucial for our immunity to fight off coughs, colds and flu, once we are already infected.”
Vitamin D deficiency is most prevalent during the peak of cold and flu season and there is evidence to support the use of supplementation which can help to reduce both the incidence and severity of cold and flu symptoms.
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Dr Braude said: “A recent research review claims that vitamin D is more effective than the flu vaccine.
“The evidence, which spans at least a decade, found that for those with the most significant vitamin D deficiencies (blood levels below 10 nmol/L), taking a supplement cut their risk of respiratory infection in half.
“Additionally, people who took a daily or weekly vitamin D supplement, were less likely to report acute respiratory infections like influenza or the common cold than those who did not.”
If you succumb to winter bugs regularly, Dr Braude’s advice is to eat a colourful, varied diet filled with fresh whole-food ingredients, instead of highly processed packaged foods.
“I’d also advise supplementing with vitamin D all year as it’s important for immune health, as well as so many other aspects of health and wellbeing, and deficiency can occur in the summer time too.
“A healthy nutrient filled diet, combined with a good vitamin D supplement, can go a long way in helping the entire family stay well all-year-round, and for those that struggle taking tablets, or suffer from pill fatigue, a vitamin D oral spray is proven to be just as effective.”
You may want to consider including vitamin D-rich foods in your diet.
The NHS lists the best food sources of vitamin D as:
- Oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
- Red meat
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods – such as most fat spreads and some breakfast cereals
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