Julia Segal, Naturopathic Doctor – November 2014

The seasons play an important role in our health in this part of the world.  Summer brings the challenge of staying hydrated and getting adequate down time, while there is plentiful warm sunshine and fresh local produce.  Winter’s short days, cold temperatures and busy lifestyle challenge our hormones and our immunity.

Each body type, or constitution, is affected differently: some catch cold when the season changes, others as soon as they’re tired or run down. Some tend never to get sick, while some find themselves battling a recurrent sinus or chest infection.

If staying healthy and energetic was only about keeping the germs away, we’d all get sick at the same time and we’d probably lose to the germs, so paying attention to our immune system is more important that worrying about microbes.

Immune health is closely linked with hormonal and organ health and is influenced by factors such as nutrient and antioxidant status (your body’s own antioxidants, not the number of supplement bottles in your cupboard!), chronic inflammation and infection, the types of microorganisms in the gut, and levels of the important stress and immunity hormone, cortisol.  Our energy levels are usually affected by these very same things.

Part of my work as a naturopathic doctor is to consider the seasons and cycles of my patients’ lives.  As we head into what is hopefully a vibrant and healthy winter, here are some basic tips to keep you and your family energetic and healthy.  This doesn’t replace primary care for an infection that’s already taken hold, but it will help prevent future ones.

Nutrient dense whole foods and teas – lightly cooked greens such as kale, chard, mustard greens and cabbage, and brightly coloured vegetables such as squash, sweet potato, carrot and beet, supply many important minerals and nutrients very effectively.  Turmeric, ginger, onions, garlic and cayenne are warming and support the immune system.  A good-quality green tea at 2-3 cups/day protects the organs and blood vessels.

Adaptogens – an entire class of herbs that help our body to handle stress.  Traditional Chinese adaptogens taken during winter include astragalus and licorice roots, which together make a delicious tea when 1 tablespoon of each is boiled for about 10 minutes.  Licorice should be avoided by those with high blood pressure.

Get outdoors, move your body – our lymph only moves when we do, so moving clears waste and stimulates immunity.  There’s added benefit from exercising outdoors, even in winter: the fresh air cleans our lungs and the sunlight stimulates the brain (even if it’s not strong enough for our skin to make any vitamin D).

Vitamin D – we all need to take it. 2000 IU/day between October and May not only prevents deficiency, but also keeps the immune system strong, helps maintain a stable mood, and lowers the risk of many diseases.

Vitamins B and C – the adrenal glands produce our stress-handling and immune-modulating hormones. They rely on vitamin C and some of the B vitamins to function, which is one of many good reasons to use them.  B vitamins also benefit mood, nervous system function, and detoxification.

Down-time, deep breathing and 8 hours of sleep in a dark room are the other essential elements of harmonizing with winter: it’s hibernation time, so go inwards and rejuvenate while nature sleeps.