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How to strengthen your winter immunity

Saturday October 26, 2019
How to strengthen your winter immunity

The nights are getting colder, the evenings darker - but what impact does this autumnal change have on our health? And how can we prepare ourselves for winter?  

Nature has all the answers to help us adapt to seasonal changes. Autumn signals the agricultural harvest and traditional diets would have been abundant in berries rich in vitamin C. Harvests of zinc-rich plants, and mushrooms brimming with vitamin D too, historically provided the nutrients necessary for immune strength and winter wellbeing.

Traditional food preservation practices saw simple fermentation of autumnal vegetables and dairy, that not only sustained the foods throughout the bare winter months, but provided beneficial bacteria and resistant fibres that are need by the gut to produce immune factors, some B vitamins and short chain fatty acids. In a nutshell, the autumn larder would be filled with nutrient-rich, immune-boosting foods ready to ward off winter illnesses.

We can certainly learn nutritional lessons from our ancestors in this rushed and stressful modern world. So which nutrients are the most important as we turn the seasons?

Vitamin D
The reduction of daylight hours and seasonal tilt of the planet away from the sun, means that populations in the Northern hemisphere are unable to absorb the sun’s rays into their skin and transform them into vitamin D.  Consequently, an increase in depressive seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is been reported this time of year.


In 2010 it was estimated that 6% of the UK population experienced SAD, however these figures may fall short of the real picture due to misdiagnosis. It was thought at this time that only the elderly, vegetarians, vegans, those who stay home, or dress modestly would be in danger of deficiency, but in fact, Public Health England now recommends that ALL adults and children supplement with Vitamin D from October to March to avoid deficiency.


Vitamin D is a difficult nutrient to consume in substantial quantities as this fat-soluble vitamin is scantily found in fish, milk, eggs and mushrooms. Research has further linked vitamin D deficiency to a host of illnesses including the serious bone condition, rickets, which has shockingly increased in recent years.  

Vitamin D supplements are available widely, but most are derived from sheep wool, however, a recent discovery has been a vegan form of vitamin D3 from lichen allowing the formulation of vegan vitamin D3 food supplements.

Zinc is one of the pillars of immune health and has proved successful as a preventative and therapeutic mineral in many studies. Zinc contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Amongst many positive studies, it found that taking zinc within 24 hours from the start of viral cold symptoms, cut the risk of still having the cold seven days later by about half.  Research indicates that taking 15mg daily for adults can be useful immune support during the winter months.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C can be viewed as the second pillar of immunity; several cells within the immune system can indeed accumulate vitamin C as it is necessary to perform their task.  Regarding the common cold, studies have shown that vitamin C supplementation of 1000-2000mg daily can reduce the symptomatic period.  

Beta glucans
Beta glucans, are a beneficial polysaccharide found in mushrooms and oats.  However, research has shown that the form; 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans have an immune ‘tuning’ effect that assists a speedy immune response to infection.  That can contribute to a greater reduction in inflammation and reduced infection period.  Clinical studies have consistently shown that taking just 250mg daily significantly reduces infections, especially in people under stress.

Current evidence shows that beneficial bacteria, aka ‘probiotics’ are vital for human health and specifically immune function.  It’s a developing field of research but nearly a dozen preliminary studies have found a modest beneficial effect on the immune system.   So, if you are taking a probiotic for digestive health, it may well be helping ward off colds too.

As discussed, the onset of winter weather and dark nights can lead to low mood. Before reaching for sugary foods, or caffeine boost, or even medicinal intervention, consider how food can help. The culinary spice, Saffron standardised to 0.2% safranal has demonstrated effects comparable to anti-depressant medication in mood enhancement at 30mg daily.

Viridian Nutrition named Saffron as the Viridian Ingredient of the Year 2018. After reviewing a vast array of nutrition and herbal research, and speaking with leading influencers, Viridian duly recognised saffron, in further anticipation of its positive influence on health.

To stay well this winter, eat the kinds of seasonal foods your grandmother would have recognised and enjoyed – these will provide many of the important nutrients this time of year - embrace traditional practices like reading and conversation instead of tv and computers, enjoy walks in the bright days of autumn and visit your local health food store for any additional nutritional support. 

Author: Jenny Carson is a Nutritional Practitioner and Technical Supervisor at Viridian Nutrition. She holds a BSc honours degree in Nutritional Science and is currently studying for MRES in Public Health.

Viridian Nutrition is the leading supplier of food supplements to specialist independent health food stores. For information about personalised solutions visit


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Baggerley, C. A. et al.  Sunlight and Vitamin D: Necessary for Public Health.  J Am Coll Nutr:2015;34(4):359-65.
Bin Du, Chengyuan Lin, Zhaoxiang Bian, Baojun Xu.  An insight into anti-inflammatory effects of fungal beta-glucans.  Trends in Food Science & Technology, Volume 41, Issue 1, 2015, Pages 49-59.

Hemilä H and Chalker E.  Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold.  Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan.  31;1:CD000980.

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Public Health England.  2016.  PHE publishes new advice on vitamin D. [Online] [Accessed: 28.09.2017 at]

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The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.


TAGS: WinterWinter Health, Immunity


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