The leaves are starting to turn, the nights are drawing in and the clocks go back in October.
As the seasons change it’s time to take steps to boost your immunity and enhance your wellbeing says Editor Jane Garton.
A Mediterranean style diet containing plenty of fruit and veg, oily fish and omega-3s is the way to go. Look out for autumn foods in season right now – think pumpkins, carrots and sweet potatoes. All are rich in beta-carotene, which helps to boost immunity.
Fresh mushrooms are another great option: they are rich in protein and taste great mixed with oriental varieties such as shiitake, which contain powerful anti-viral chemicals and cholesterol-reducing compounds.
And don’t forget to scour the autumn hedgerows for blackberries – mix them with apples for a healthy autumn pie. If buying, choose organic produce whenever you can; it is more likely to have been locally grown so chances are will be fresher and retain more nutrients.
Research shows that several ingredients found in echinacea may help increase antibody production, raise white blood cell counts as well as stimulating white blood cell activity
Another herb to watch out for is pelargonium – a pretty herb from South Africa. Herbalists are increasingly using it as a natural antibiotic, antiviral and expectorant.
Both echinacea and pelargonium can be taken at the first hint of symptoms to help ward off an infection or reduce its severity.
DON’T BE SAD
The clocks going back in autumn is bad news for the estimated three million of us who suffer from SAD or seasonal affective disorder in the UK. Most of us probably experience a slight dose of the winter blues but if you are a SAD sufferer, the symptoms can be more severe. Typical symptoms include finding it hard to get up in the morning, overwhelming fatigue and generally feeling low. A craving for stodgy, comfort foods is also common.
Lack of sunlight is thought to be the main trigger – it seems to upset the delicate balance of the two brain chemicals melatonin and serotonin but it is not known exactly how or why. Despite this uncertainty, however, there is a herb that can help.
Sometimes known as the sunshine herb, St John’s wort can help to lift the seasonal blues. It is thought that it works by helping to boost levels of serotonin in the brain. You need to take it for at least six weeks to get the full benefits and you should always consult your doctor before taking it in case of any adverse reactions with other prescribed medicines. If the seasonal blues affect you badly it may also be worth investing in a light box.
STOCK UP WITH VITAMIN D
Produced by the sun’s action on the skin, vitamin D has been shown to be as important for immunity as it is for bone health. And now is the time to consider taking a supplement as during the autumn and winter months the sun is considered too low in the sky to be effective.
Aim for at least 10mcg a day and go for vitamin D3, which research suggests is better for maintaining levels than D2. Vitamin D3 is also found in small amounts in foods such as oily fish – think herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines and fresh tuna. Other sources include cheese, egg yolks and fortified foods like fat spreads and some breakfast cereals.
Your state of mind can also affect immunity. Studies show, for example, that just five minutes of anger weakens the immune system, while positive feelings such as joy and love can boost it.
Read a funny book, have a joke with a friend, tease your partner, watch a comedy on TV – anything that brings a smile to your face raises levels of endorphins – the body’s own feel-good hormones, which research shows can help activate natural killer cells, thereby boosting your immune system.
As well as keeping dehydration at bay, drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day helps to flush out toxins, which is vital for a healthy immune system. Urine colour is a good indicator of hydration levels – it should be clear or pale yellow. Dark urine means you are already dehydrated.
Try to drink at least one and a half to two litres of fluids every day even in the colder autumn and winter months. If you don’t like plain water zip it up with a slice of lemon or lime. Herbal teas and fresh juices are other healthy options you could try.
As autumn approaches, the darker evenings and colder temperatures may make you less inclined to head outdoors to exercise, but a change of season is the perfect time to get together with friends and try something new such as an exercise class. Remember working out with friends is one of the best motivators there is. Whatever activity you choose you are more likely to stick with it if it is maintainable and above all enjoyable.
7 AUTUMN FOODS THAT PACK A PUNCH
The active ingredient in garlic called allicin has natural anti-fungal and antibiotic properties.
Especially the Manuka variety, honey is brimming with natural antibiotic properties.
Egg yolks are rich in vitamin D – known to help modulate immune function.
Rich in zinc, studies show Pumpkin seeds can help fend off colds and flu.
Oats contain beta-glucans, a type of fibre thought to have anti-microbial and antioxidant benefits.
Oranges and lemons
These citrus fruits are full of vitamin C – a potent immune booster.
Full of vitamin D as well as zinc.