As we move out of summer into the shorter, colder days of autumn, we need to give our bodies a little extra defence against those pesky winter colds and flus, our bodies are in need of a little extra TLC.
Sandra Clair, founder of plant medicine company Artemis, has some top tips for strengthening your immunity before winter.
1. Stay hydrated and look after your gut
Ensure you are drinking enough water throughout the day to help your liver and kidney flush out any toxins. Coffee, soda and alcohol don't count, but medicinal tea does contribute towards your water intake. Mucous membranes in the mouth and throat area are key barriers to infection and form part of the immune system. It is a good idea to keep them well hydrated so that they can act as a physical barrier against potential invaders.
Both traditional knowledge and modern scientific understanding agree that the health of the gut plays an important role in immune health. However, the key for optimising your gut health is less of a scientific miracle and much closer to commonsense healthy living; eating plenty of real whole food, especially plants, and minimising your exposure to synthetics and chemicals that can wreak havoc on your microbial diversity.
2. Get some sunshine
Try to get out into the sunshine for at least 30 minutes a day and expose at least 15 percent of your skin to the sun. Vitamin D is important as it fortifies the immune system, and your body does not produce as much if your skin isn't exposed to the ultraviolet rays in sunlight. Plus, fresh air and exercise contribute to your overall wellbeing.
Vitamin D supports the body's immune defences and its ability to guard itself against opportunistic invaders - plus, if you stay tucked up inside, there is greater exposure to viruses or bacteria, especially in unventilated spaces!
3. Use traditional plant therapeutics preventatively
Before the winter months really start to set, it is a good time to integrate fortifying plant medicines into your daily routine to build and strengthen your immune system. Building up your immunity when you are well is essential, as it helps prime the body for the colder months and supports the body to adapt to the stressors that will come its way during high-risk times. This is doubly important if you are prone to catching colds and flus.
Medicinal plants work on the physiology of the body and have the unique ability to improve the way your body functions.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) are the two medicinal plants to call on for immunity. The active constituents of Thyme have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties; Echinacea is one of the most prevalent plants used in traditional healthcare to support healthy immune function as it supports the multiplication of white cells that protect the body against foreign invaders.
4. Limit stress
We live in a time when everyone is facing multiple stresses, but we can help ourselves better adapt to these by focusing regularly on adrenal and nervous system health. Regularly take a few moments to yourself and engage in rituals of self-care becoming burnt out will only result in your body becoming susceptible to bugs and increases the chance for more serious illnesses to take hold. When we are under immediate stress, our body is capable to adapt and get back to balance as best it can, however under prolonged stress, it becomes harder for our bodies to maintain balance. St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) improves resilience to stress and helps clear the stress hormone cortisol.
5. Set a good sleep routine
Deep sleep is paramount to staying healthy as it is during this time that your body and mind has a chance to rest and recalibrate. Establish a bedtime routine and aim to go to bed at the same time, preferably before 10pm, as this is when levels of sleep-inducing melatonin rise. Before going to sleep, give your mind a chance to unwind by putting your computer and work away, at least one hour before bed. Enjoy a relaxing infusion with Hops (Humulus lupus), Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) to help your nervous system switch into regenerating mode. You may have noted that in times when you are unwell, fatigued or stressed, your sleep suffers. The flow on effect is that the less sleep you have, the more unwell you can become as poor sleep has a negative impact on your immune system. A good night's sleep is therefore essential for keeping your immunity up.
Sandra Clair is the founder of New Zealand's leading traditional plant medicine company Artemis, a Swiss trained medical herbalist who is in the final stages of completing a PhD in Health Science at the University of Canterbury.
Sandra's research for her thesis is looking at how traditional medicines can be integrated back into our contemporary evidence-based healthcare system.
She grew up in Switzerland where plant medicine is a normal part of contemporary medicine and acknowledged as the basis of modern medicine with over 2,500 years of history.