Q & A: How to boost your immunity against the winter bugs

“What is the best way to stop the winter bugs before they take hold?”

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer provides some answers.

During the winter many of us will start to feel run down and can become more susceptible to bugs. This can be particularly troublesome when the new school term starts and children often bring new bugs into the household.

The immune system should always be ‘on guard’. A high temperature and those aches and pains which occur when you’ve picked up an infection are mainly down to an immune response; a high temperature is needed to kill off viruses or unwanted bacteria.

So, from a nutritional viewpoint, what can we do to best defend ourselves?


Sugar in all its forms is an immune suppressant; this means table sugar, honey (excluding Manuka honey), fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits and alcohol.  It has been found that drinking two averaged-sized fizzy drinks can suppress the immune system for at least two hours afterwards, and maybe for as long as five hours!

Remember too all the ‘hidden’ sources of sugar such as cereals and ready meals.  The best advice is to try to eat food in its natural state and to use natural sweeteners such as xylitol or stevia, which can also be used for cooking.  Plus, there’s nothing better for you than drinking plain water so swap out those sugary drinks for some water flavoured with fresh fruits for an extra flavour hit!


There are a few key nutrients that specifically support  immunity so it makes sense to ensure you and your family are including these in your diet on a daily basis.

Vitamin C is found in all fruits and vegetables and helps increase white blood cell production when needed. It is also a key antioxidant, protecting the body against free radicals which can attack the immune system.  Why not treat yourself to a juicer in the January sales, which is an easy way of getting many more fruits and vegetables into your daily diet?

Vitamin D, primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunshine, but also found in egg yolks, fish, liver and cheese, is also key in building a healthy immune system.

The mineral zinc is another well-known immunity booster.  It’s found in sea foods, wholegrains and eggs.

One of the best insurance policies for the body to ensure it’s getting all the nutrients it needs on a daily basis, is to take a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement.


Two herbs that are well worth keeping in your medicine cabinet are Echinacea and Pelargonium.

Echinacea helps support white blood cell production, essential for a healthy immune system.  If you know you’ve been surrounded by people with nasty bugs, or your children are in danger of bringing infections home, take the herb echinacea for a couple of weeks (suitable for adults and children over 12 years).

Alternatively, at the first sign of a cough or cold, the herb pelargonium can be particularly effective and is suitable for all the family from the age of six years onwards.