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Sambucol logoAs winter approaches, many of us become more conscious of our immune health.

The cold weather can wear down our body’s defenses and more time indoors allows germs to spread easily from person to person, making winter a hotbed for cold and flu viruses.

But, the good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to strengthen your immune system and boost your chances of fending off sickness during the coldest months of the year.

With this in mind, we’ve partnered with Sambucol – the UK’s leading brand for immunity – to bring you eight ways to prepare for cold and flu season.

1. Eat more immune-boosting foods

Diet is one of the most powerful tools that we have when it comes to strengthening our immune system. Eating a range of foods that have anti-inflammatory properties and are rich in antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals, can make all the difference.

If you’re unsure where to start with this, there are a few main areas that you can focus on. For example, research shows that increasing your intake of healthy fats such as avocados, fatty fish, olive oil, and chia seeds can help to boost the body’s immune response to invading pathogens by decreasing chronic inflammation.

It’s also a good idea to increase your intake of whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. These are rich in nutrients like vitamins A, C, K and other antioxidants that have been shown to decrease chronic inflammation in the body by fighting harmful cells (free radicals).

For more ideas on how to strengthen your immune system through diet, check out our articles; 12 essential vitamins that your body needs, and 14 anti-inflammatory foods.

2. Consider whether supplements could be useful

Consider whether supplements could be useful - but always speak to your GP first

Note: It’s important to speak to your doctor before taking any new supplements and to keep in mind that they should never be a substitute for a healthy diet.

We know that certain vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, and vitamin C and D are important for immune health. And while the majority of us can get the nutrients we need by eating a healthy, balanced diet, some people find supplements useful – especially during the winter months.

For example, according to this scientific review, taking a vitamin C supplement can reduce the duration of colds in adults by 8%, while supplementing with zinc could reduce it by 33%.

If you’re wanting to give your immune system a boost, it’s worth checking out Sambucol’s range of great tasting supplements. As the UK’s leading brand for immunity supplements, Sambucol is founded on the unique qualities and antioxidant properties of natural black elderberries, as well as combining ingredients such as vitamin C* and zinc, which help contribute to the normal function of the immune system and protection against cells from oxidative stress.

Sambucol is backed by over 25 years of scientific research and is recommended by scientists and industry experts as an effective way to support immune health.

Sambucol supplements come in a range of different formats to suit everyone; including liquidtabletcapsule, and gummy form. Choose from Sambucol original liquid; the Immuno Forte range, which has added vitamin C and zinc; and the Extra Defence liquid, which is Sambucol’s strongest formulation.

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Browse Sambucol’s immune-boosting products

3. Get enough good-quality sleep

Get enough good-quality sleep

Sleep is essential for health for a number of reasons and research has made it increasingly clear that getting a good night’s sleep is closely linked with immune health.

Researchers have found that during sleep, certain areas of the immune system become more active. For example, there’s an increased production of cytokines (a type of protein), which are needed for the growth of cells associated with the body’s inflammatory response.

Studies have also found that sleep can improve T cell function. T cells are immune cells that fight off intracellular pathogens – for example, they can neutralise flu viruses that have already infected our cells and prevent them from causing further damage.

Meanwhile, poor sleep has been linked to higher levels of stress hormones, which may affect the ability of T cells to function as effectively. This study of healthy adults found that those who slept for fewer than six hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept for more than six hours.

In addition, researchers have found clear evidence that sleep improves the effectiveness of vaccines. For example, studies of vaccines for hepatitis and swine flu have revealed that when people don’t sleep the night after receiving a vaccine, their immune response is weaker.

Therefore, making sure you’re getting the NHS’s recommendation of between seven and nine hours sleep each night is one of the best things you can do to keep your immune system in check.

You can explore plenty of useful tips on everything from overcoming insomnia to the best and worst sleeping positions on the sleep and fatigue section of our website.

4. Wash your hands properly

Wash your hands properly

It may sound obvious but keeping your hands clean to prevent the spread of dirt, viruses, and bacteria and is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself (and others) from getting ill.

According to research, proper hand washing reduces the risk of respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%; and the risk of stomach bugs in people with weakened immune systems by 58%.

However, while the importance of washing hands for hygiene is common knowledge, this study revealed that most people fail to wash their hands correctly 97% of the time; with the most common mistake being not washing them for long enough.

To make sure you’re washing your hands as thoroughly as possible, you might want to follow this step-by-step guide from the NHS.

5. Stay hydrated

Stay hydrated

We’re less likely to forget to drink enough water when it’s warm, but during the winter months, we may feel less inclined to stay on top of our hydration.

However, drinking enough water isn’t only essential for keeping the cells in our body functioning properly, but also for maintaining a strong immune system. And since our bodies are made up of around 70% water, this isn’t surprising.

Optimal hydration is needed for the transportation of fluid, nutrients, and communication signals to organs; for healthy functioning of the lymphatic system which removes toxins, abnormal cells, and pathogens from the body; and to transport infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body.

For example, this study found that, among other things, dehydration led to reduced levels of white blood cells needed to heal tissue and fight infection.

Staying hydrated also encourages the production of saliva, which is the body’s first line of defence against infection and illness. This is because it contains the antibody immunoglobulin A, which acts as a barrier against pathogens.

You can find more information in our article; 11 tips for staying hydrated and why it’s important. Or, if you struggle with your water intake, it’s worth checking out our article; 9 healthy and hydrating alternatives to water.

6. Take care of your gut health

Take care of your gut health

Our bodies are full of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, the majority of which are found in the intestines. Collectively, these are known as the microbiome.

Research has found that the microbiome plays a key role in immune function by communicating with immune cells and controlling how the body responds to infection. As a result, taking care of your gut health can be an effective way to strengthen your immune system.

Taking steps to lower stress levels, avoid processed foods, and eat more whole foods and fermented foods are all helpful in improving gut health. For example, studies have shown that eating fermented foods, which are naturally rich in probiotics, can boost the immunity by reducing chronic inflammation and helping to restore the balance of bacteria in the gut.

For further tips and advice, you might like to have a read of our articles; 7 ways to improve gut health and 8 fermented foods for gut health.

7. Limit your intake of processed foods and added sugars

Limit your intake of processed foods and added sugars

Limiting your intake of processed foods and added sugars is important for health for a number of reasons – including maintaining a strong immune system.

There’s building evidence to suggest that added sugars and refined carbohydrates contribute disproportionately to weight gain and obesity, and that being overweight increases your chances of getting ill.

For example, this study found that people with obesity who receive the flu vaccine were twice as likely to still catch the flu than people of a healthy weight who received the vaccine.

In addition, reducing your sugar intake can reduce chronic inflammation and promote weight loss, which, in turn, may lower your risk of developing health conditions that weaken the immune system such as heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

8. Stay active

Stay active

The thought of exercising can become less appealing as the days get colder and darker. But staying active is an effective way to keep your immune system strong all-year-round.

Research has shown that engaging in regular exercise of moderate-intensity can reduce chronic inflammation and help immune cells to regularly regenerate.

What’s more, studies have also indicated that moderate-intensity exercise can increase the effectiveness of vaccines in people with weakened immune systems.

Good examples of moderate-intensity exercise include brisk walking, jogging, yoga, swimming, and Tai Chi. For more inspiration, head over to the fitness and exercise section of our website.

Final thoughts…

Many of us will be turning our attention to our immune health as the temperature drops and the nights draw in. And while not everyone welcomes the switch of seasons, thankfully, there are plenty of simple ways we can prepare our immune systems for winter and increase our chances of staying fit and healthy.

For more healthy lifestyle ideas, head over to the general health section of our website. Here, we cover everything from diet and nutrition to fitness and exercise inspiration.