Updated: Feb 26, 2019
The days are getting longer and Spring is on the horizon at last, but after a few months of short daylight hours with little UV and a fair amount of comfort eating and drinking going on is there any wonder why so many people fall foul to colds and infections during the winter months?
In addition to that we tend to hibernate, work and travel in small overcrowded environments where bacteria thrive and are passed on easily in airborne coughs and sneezes!
So how can we reduce the risk of infection, and the severity of the inevitable if it catches up with us?
Vitamin C is the obvious immune system booster, and I think most people will try to increase this vital nutrient once they've succumbed to a cold. But is it worth it?
It depends on timing...
4 stages of an infection:
When you suspect you may be coming down with something; you know the signs, a bit of a sore throat, a headache perhaps, a few aches and pains that weren't there before, you know what I mean? This is the best time to take Vitamin C therapeutically.
When there's no going back and you just want to curl up in bed... too late for prevention obviously, but you may still shorten the duration of the infection.
When symptoms may still be there but you're feeling human-ish.
You're 100% fighting fit again!
Obviously the best scenario is not to have caught the wretched bug at all, but with kids at school, epidemics in the work place and cramped public transport, sometimes it's nigh on impossible to avoid it. Besides, a good challenge to the immune system serves to strengthen it!
So, what can we do to lessen risk and impact?
Firstly there's the obvious answer, look after yourself generally and your immune system will reward you with good health.
It's pretty obvious that the more you abuse yourself with alcohol, sugar, late nights and a poor diet diet, the more prone to illness you are going to be.
Stress doesn't help either...
When does Vitamin C really make a difference?
Prevention is better than cure...
Eat more Fruit and Veg... no brainer. The more fruit and veg you eat, the more vitamin C you get, simples. It's a crucial antioxidant which helps support the immune system. Vitamin C makes Natural Killer cells.. They sound great don't they?! They are.. so 5 a day simply isn't enough, aim for 8-10 a day of brightly coloured fruit and veg. Snack on berries instead of crisps, use celery, broccoli and carrots instead of tortilla chips with dips. Cut down refined carbs and sugar which reduce cellular uptake of vitamin C. High blood sugar literally makes you ill.
Did you know that the government set 'RDA' is still based on the minimum level required to prevent scurvy? NOT the amount we need to prevent the myriad of other diseases such as Cancer etc. (Google Vitamin C and Cancer..)
Supplement Vitamin C. Not just any vitamin C, make sure it's a buffered form such as Magnesium Ascorbate. Plain old (but cheap) ascorbic acid will irritate a delicate digestive system in larger doses, and cause diarrohea in some people. You can only absorb so much at once, so don't bother with doses higher than 500mg per capsule, and take 1 x 500mg day when times are good. Vitamin C is water soluble so you can't overdose, you'll just get yellow pee.. don't be alarmed!
When you feel you are coming down with something, nip it in the bud. Take 500mg per hour until you start to feel better. If you've missed the boat and don't improve after 6 doses, stop and try again after a good night's sleep. DON'T then go out on the town and drink 5 pints of lager!! I use Bionutri's Vitamin C Complex. I like it because it also contains pomegranate, plum and bilberry fruit extract shown to boost the effects of the vitamin C.
Obviously none of the above is going to help if you insist on eating a terrible diet, drinking too much and burning the candle at both ends. Supplementing is just that.. supplementing a healthy diet and lifestyle.
So what about Vitamin D?
Another vital part of our immune system.
But we get that from the Sun don't we? Well yes, when UV rays are strong enough to trigger the production from cholesterol under the skin.. and IF we're not blathered in SPF. So that rules out October to April in the Northern Hemisphere; half the year unless we're lucky enough to winter abroad or fly aeroplanes for a living!
To this problem add the issue of institutionalised people getting NO exposure to sunlight, even in the summer, and those who may have very low cholesterol levels thanks to medication.. namely Statins. That's usually the same group of people who are institutionalised; ie. the elderly; a vulnerable group of the population most in need of vitamin D, and most at risk of deficiency.
If you're a dairy free zone and don't eat fish, you're even more at risk.
If you are worried about yourself or a relative, you can request a simple Vitamin D test from your GP, they're unlikely to offer it unless you ask.
Supplement Vitamin D
How much how often?
This depends on whether you are deficient to start with, what time of year it is, where you are in the world and your daily exposure to sunlight. As a guideline anything from 1000iu-4000iu daily depending on the factors mentioned above. A spray that is absorbed sub-lingually is the best way of supplementing. It's a fat soluble vitamin, stored in the liver and can be overdosed so always consult a health professional if taking high doses for any length of time, and re-test levels after 1 month of supplementing. Private tests are available from qualified health practitioners at around £30 if your GP won't oblige.
People often ask me why I'm not ill very often, and when I am it's for around 3 days, not 3 weeks?!
The answer lies above, I eat plenty of fruit and veg, only have sweet treats when riding my bike allows it, I take 1g Vitamin C and 1000iu Vitamin D daily and if I feel I'm under attack, I up the C to 500mg hourly until the threat has past. I exercise 4-5 x week, this helps to reduce stress, and I take probiotics... now there's another blog!!