Most of us come back from holiday feeling healthier, energised and refreshed but as we say goodbye to the last bank holiday of the year and return to life as normal it can be hard to keep that feeling going. So how do you stop yourself from falling ill or into a post-holiday slump and start supercharging your immune system for the seasons to come?
Unless you’ve been hiding out in a cave you should have made enough vitamin D during this summer’s glorious heatwave, it is created naturally in the body when UV light hits the skin, hence being dubbed ‘the sunshine vitamin’. That said, research from the University of Cambridge has shown more than one in 10 Brits over 40 is deficient in it (there are very few food sources although you will find it in small amounts in oily fish, eggs and liver) and we are particularly at risk of deficiency between October and March when the sun is scarce.
So now is the time to think about topping up your levels with supplements. Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have shown those given regular vitamin D supplements suffered with fewer respiratory tract infections like colds and flu. It also estimated more than three million fewer people in the UK would come down with infections like colds and flu if they took vitamin D and regular supplementation as it offers pretty much the same protection as the flu vaccine. Now as the kids head back to school, and you to the office, and pick up every virus going, this should be your cue to top up: Public Health England recommends we all take a 10mcg supplement from October to March. Try BetterYou DLux 3000 Vitamin D3 Oral Spray 15ml £8.45.
With no more bank holidays until next year and no significant time off for many until Christmas, the end of summer can feel a bit bleak for some. Whatever age we are we can all get that ‘back to school’ feeling. Changing your mind set plus making an effort to keep getting outdoors is key to fighting these feelings says Psychologist Dr Megan Arroll. ‘A Danish study showed that people who work outdoors are somewhat protected from low mood associated with the shorter darker days which highlights it is important we go outside and engage in some sort of outdoors activity.’ She adds, ‘We may dread the winter, but If you continually tell yourself how horrible it is, chances are it will feel grim. Try and change your internal monologue about this time of year.’ Make the most of the late summer sunshine and embrace the changing season: we are British, we are happy moaning about the weather!
If you need more of an incentive to get out and active one study shows those who exercise at least five times a week spend 43 per cent fewer days with infections like colds and flu. And reminisce about your summer: flick through your photos/videos savouring the details can help to go some way to helping you re-experience them now. If you don’t want to look back, look forward and plan yourself a mini-break!
More and more research suggests cultivating more of a balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut can not only help improve your digestion it can also help to boost your mood and how you handle stress. So, if you have spent the summer largely eating picnic snacks (and who could actually bear to cook in the blistering heat?) it should be worth having a bit of a diet upgrade now.
Start by making the most of the seasonal produce around. Eating food that is grown at roughly the time you eat it should mean it is not hanging around losing its nutritional value. What’s in season now includes blackberries, russet apples, plums, figs, pears, marrow, pumpkins, squash, kale. Also try to include plenty of prebiotic foods (these provide the conditions for good gut bacteria to thrive and flourish) like garlic, onions, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes and probiotic ones including natural yogurt, kefir (a fermented yogurt drink), miso and sauerkraut or take supplements (particularly if you’ve had a holiday stomach bug which can wipe out all your beneficial bacteria) to encourage healthy gut flora. Introducing good gut flora has also been shown to help with anxiety and depression. One theory is that healthy bacteria produces key neurotransmitters, like serotonin, chemicals that regulate mood. Serotonin is known to create feelings of optimism, confidence and general well-being.
It might not exactly be porridge weather yet, but it is certainly worth adding oats to your diet right now. The beta glucan contained in them is a type of fibre with antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that researchers believe could enhance the immune system. It is not entirely clear how it works on immunity yet, but one school of thought is that it enhances natural killer cell function making your body better able to fight off disease and infection. Kick off the day with highly nutritious immune-supporting breakfast like a bircher cereal made with oats soaked overnight in apple juice with added grated apple, half a teaspoon of cinnamon and live probiotic natural unsweetened yogurt. Head of Nutrition at Healthspan Rob Hobson suggests adding antioxidant-rich berries and anti-inflammatory seeds to enhance the nutritional load. If exotic fruits like mango, papaya, passion fruit and kiwi remind you of your exotic travels top your bircher with those instead.
Holiday time can disrupt yours (and the kids’) usual sleep routine and trying to sleep (here or abroad) in the muggy, humid heat hasn’t been easy. As the evenings slowly start to get darker that bit earlier it might be worth catching up on some sleep now and here’s why: lack of sleep not only makes you grumpy it suppresses immune system function. A study from Carnegie Mellon University showed those of us who sleep around six hours or less nightly are four times more likely to come down with a virus compared to those who get a good seven hours or more. Another study involving 11 pairs of identical twins with different sleep patterns showed the one who slept less had a more depressed immune system. When we sleep protective cytokines (proteins which help with cell communication during the body’s immune response) increase and inflammatory cells (implicated in all kinds of illness) decrease – so sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. Aim for seven to eight hours a night: regularly getting less than six hours constitutes sleep deprivation.
If you haven’t been eating as well as you should have, resist the temptation to suddenly start throwing a stack of vitamin and mineral supplements down your throat thinking this will plug the gap. At best it will just be a waste of money, at worst this can actually be harmful. However, one supplement that can help you meet your full spectrum of essential daily vitamins and minerals is a multivitamin. As Healthspan Medical Director and Medical Nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer says: ‘It simply isn’t true to say everyone can meet their nutritional needs from diet alone. A multivitamin supplement is not a substitute for a balanced diet, but it can provide a form of dietary or nutritional “insurance” when taken daily and research appears to be slowly building up a picture of exactly how it can help.’
There is also evidence to show how the herbal remedy echinacea could help you fend off any impending lurgies. A review of studies from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy in 2014 concluded it could reduce the chances of catching a cold by approximately 58 per cent and reduced the length of it by 1.4 days. Try A.Vogel Echinaforce Hot Drink £9.99 and Echinaforce Echinacea Drops £4.50 for 15ml.