Top 4 For Family Wellness This Winter
Infections such as the cold and flu are a part of life and despite the annoyance and discomfort of becoming ill, these infections do have an essential role in the development of our immune system.
How we respond to infection, that is, how well or how badly we cope or bounce back, depends on a variety of factors including the strength of the immune system, the effectiveness of the barrier mechanisms (skin, nose, mouth, digestive tract), the virulence of the organism and lastly the vitality of the individual.
Vitality, in naturopathic terms, describes the resilience and vibrancy of an individual and can encompass physical, psychological and spiritual facets that are significant to overall health and wellbeing. Ones own vitality is impacted, strengthened or changed via various circumstances, which in turn impact the health of our immune system. For instance, the vital reserve of tired Mamas is usually weakened due to sleep deprivation, stress, lack of self-care regimens and inadequate nutrient status — all in which increase duration and susceptibility to illness. Kids typically have higher reserves and their ability to bounce back (and not feel cold!) all has to do with their amply functioning autonomic nervous system, which governs the nervous and endocrine system. Combined with their untainted nature and psyche from the stressors of modern day life, their receptivity and response to stimuli that stimulates their Vis, strengthens their immune system and sets them up for a better response when they do fall ill.
Vis medicatrix naturae, is one of naturopathy’s founding principles and translates to “the healing power of nature.” This recognises that each individual has the innate ability to heal themselves through finding balance and harmony. Our Vis thrives on clean air, clean water, sunshine, whole food nutrition, adequate sleep, movement, community, mindfulness and balance. This remains unchanged from children to adults — we seek and need the same things throughout our lives to achieve overall wellbeing. These foundations weave the tapestry of our vitality, and how well we and our families apply these principles in everyday life determine the vital reserve and thus the strength of our immune system especially as we move into winter time.
The above lay the foundations for a healthy immune system and holistic wellbeing, each deserving their own blog post in the future. However the Vis can also be supported or stimulated in more specific ways in order to support immune health and wellbeing for the whole family.
Here are my top 4 specific ways to support winter wellness for the family —
1. Medicinal Mushrooms
In particular Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum/tsugae) for everyday immune support, especially in the winter time. Reishi can be taken in powder forms within herbal extracts or added into cooking (I love adding whole slithers to Dahl with shiitake). It is a potent tonic medicine, that supports vitality through helping the body adapt to stressors via its adaptogenic potential. Reishi, like other mushrooms are Funghi, which literally translates to fungus. When our immune system detects “fungus” it up-regulates our immune system, thus priming the overall adaptability and vigour of our immune response to potential pathogens. Reishi is safe to take throughout pregnancy and its immune benefits pass through the womb and in breast milk. Reishi babies are known to have powerful and intelligent immune systems. The essence of Reishi calms and protects; emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally according to Taoists; and this essence passes through the beings of those who consume its gift. My basic elixir recipe includes the following: Combine 1tsp of Reishi with ½ cup coconut milk, ½ filtered water, a pinch of cinnamon and ½ tsp of ghee. Heat on the stove and serve. I give a little bit of my cup to my daughter and she loves it!
2. Bone Broth
There is a reason why bone broth has been consumed for thousands of years and why your Grandmothers chicken noodle soup always seemed to make you feel better! Bone broth is rich in vitamins, calcium, magnesium, 19 essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, and provide many other healing substances in an easy to absorb way. Bone marrow, that liquifies over time into the broth is especially beneficial to the immune system as it contains lipids (alkylglycerols) that are involved in the production of white blood cells — the guys responsible for fighting off pathogens. It is also now known that 80% of all immune system cells reside in the digestive system, highlighting the intimate relationship between the health of the gut and the health of the immune system. Glutamine is an important amino acid that protects gastrointestinal integrity via its healing and sealing action. Along with glycosaminoglycans (GAGS) and gelatine (this is what makes bone broth jiggly after refrigeration), these substances protect connective tissue, reduce inflammation and strengthen the important barrier function of the gut lining in preventing pathogenic bacteria entering into circulation. Broth can be sipped on its own, added into stews, bolognese or used to boil vegetables and create vegetable purees or mash for kids. It is easy to get creative with its use so that the little ones get the nourishing, restoring and multi-system fortifying benefits of it too. See our Bone Broth recipe.
3. Eat Seasonally and Spice It Up!
Various nutrients are needed to support the immune system such as vitamins A, C, D and E as well as minerals zinc, selenium and omega 3 fatty acids. Focusing on eating whole foods such as good quality animal/fish proteins, legumes, nuts/seeds and seasonal fruit and vegetables is essential for a vital immune system. Seasonal refers to the times of the year when a given type of food is at its peak in terms of harvest and flavour. This is usually the time when the item is the cheapest but also the freshest on the market. Eating seasonally is an important principal in naturopathic medicine as it encourages the consumption of a wide variety of fresh foods that are as close to nature as possible whilst having the strongest complement of nutrients that are relevant for that time of year. It is no coincidence that fruits such as oranges, lemons, grapefruits and mandarins, which are rich in vitamin C, a potent antioxidant essential for immune health, are seasonal in winter! Kiwis are also incredibly rich in vitamin C and widely available in Autumn/Winter. Broccoli, spinach, Asian greens and parsley are also plentiful in Winter and rich in vitamins C, A, E and beta-carotene, all in which increase infection fighting ability of the immune system. Ensure to cook (or hide) lots of herbs and spices for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial and immune boosting qualities. Think onions, garlic, ginger and turmeric.
4. Cod Liver Oil
There are many stories of mothers insisting their children take a spoonful of cod liver oil daily. Centuries ago, northern Europeans used cod liver oil to protect them from the cold, and it seems that this humble remedy has been lost to today. Cod liver oil is one of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), and it contains relatively high levels of vitamin A and vitamin D. These essential fatty acids are vital for brain health and a proper functioning immune and endocrine system. Vitamin A (Retinol) is commonly known as the anti-infective vitamin because it is required for normal functioning of the immune system. The skin and mucosal cells (cells that line the airways, digestive/urinary tract) function as a barrier and form the body’s first line of defence against infection. Retinol is required to maintain the integrity and function of these cells. Vitamin D is a potent immune system modulator and enhances innate immunity. Cod liver oil is especially relevant for growing children for the benefits have far reaching effects on the development and support of various body systems and tissues. It is important to note that Vitamin A can be toxic in high doses and labels should always be followed for correct age appropriate dosing according to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). Nordic Naturals is my favourite as it surpasses benchmarked quality standards and does not leave a fishy taste — so it can be hidden in juices or taken straight without too much or any complaints!
There are many other ways that we can support the health and vitality of ourselves and our families all year round; whether it be through diet, lifestyle or personalised supplementation and advice. The above tips were shared for their no nonsense and easy to use or hide qualities so that everyone, no matter what age, can benefit from the wonderful properties of these medicinal foods.