Is it just me or do more and more people seem to be getting colds and flu during the summer? And not just in the UK but everywhere. The last time I visited South Africa (during their summer) I was absolutely amazed at how many people were ill. It seemed like the entire population had a nasty virus whilst under a bright blue sunny sky.
Here, nutritionist Fleur Borrelli, explains what’s going on and what we can do to minimise the risk of falling prey to summer colds.
Inclement and seasonally odd weather combined with the ease of world wide travel are allowing viruses usually associated with winter to find their way into our bodies through the warmer months. However, one has to be wary of overstimulating the immune system through the summer as it’s a time when we are more prone to hay fever and reactivity to the many pollens and increased level of dust that we face.
With apologies to immunologists, I’ll over simplify the working of a couple of parts of the immune system. First there is barrier aspect. This is the first line of defence and involves the skin, the respiratory lining or mucous membrane and the gut lining. All need to be intact to prevent permeability and all need to be producing the defence compounds that kill off invaders such as secretory IgA (sIgA)
The second is the defence in the blood stream and the body tissues. This has many components but two of the more important are known as Th1 and Th2. Th1 deals predominantly with bacteria and viruses and Th2 with allergy and parasites.
So, it is very important to work on both areas but equally important not to over stimulate the Th2 as you may avoid the coughs and colds yet stimulate allergy and activity against parasites. The term best used to describe balancing the immune system is ‘modulation’ and actions and supplements known as modulators are the key.
- Wash your hands! Many germs are passed through contact and minor abrasions can allow bugs through the skin. We frequently touch membranes such as our eyes, nostrils and mouth and transmit infections all too easily. Skin brushing stimulates the skin defences and blood flow.
- Do daily nasal washing with salt solution and use inhalations with tea tree or lobelia extracts. These keep the airways open and aerated and have mild antiseptic benefits.
- Take a probiotic daily. These supplements provide concentrated ‘good bacteria’ to the intestinal flora which in turn protect the bowel wall. They also stimulate the production of sIgA which then flows around the body in the blood stream and protects membranes and the skin.
- Take a multivitamin/mineral as many different nutrients are immune modulators. Minerals are best taken in citrate form and the more natural the source of vitamin the better. Some pharmaceutical grade vitamins and minerals may actually be harmful.
- I make specific mention of vitamin D. This is the sunshine vitamin made in our skin in reaction to light. Whilst it is important not to allow the skin to burn, we are now too overly protective, perhaps, and the use of sun creams and poor exposure of the skin to light leaves too many of us deficient even in the summer. This is particularly so for those who may not have much sun exposure through the winter months. Vit D is a major immune modulator.
- Glyconutrients. These are derivatives of plant sugars that influence both Th1 and Th2 cells. As each produces compounds known as interleukins that suppress the other, Glyconutrients appear to modulate immune activity. In other words, if Th2 is overactive and causing allergy this will be reduced where as a weak Th1 defence against virus and bacteria will be stimulated.
- Life style – eat healthily. Through summer focus of summer fruits and berries , salads and summer vegetables. This Eastern Medicine approach of eating with the season is very important.
- Life style – exercise. 30 mins of brisk walking is all that is needed to stimulate various immune mechanisms including detoxification. More , but not too much, will help defend the body throughout the year.
- Life-style. Sleep. The body’s immune system is very linked to good sleep. It is very important through the summer that we darken our bed rooms so that the early dawns do not wake us too early. Thick, heavy drapes along with as much quite as is possible is very important.