It seems everyone has a cough this month. With winter coming, it’s more important than ever to fortify yourself against illness. And while liposomal vitamin C is the gold standard vitamin you can add to your daily routine if you haven’t already (it can boost your immune system, brighten dull skin, and boost energy levels—all important parts of winter health), there are plenty of other supplements that can to help strengthen our bodies (and brains) this winter.
Vitamin D to support the immune system
Experts agree that during the darkest and coldest months, supplementing with vitamin D is non-negotiable. The lack of sunshine at this time of year means, according to the government, that most of us suffer from a lack from at least October to March, around one in six adults. The Department of Health has identified four key risk groups for whom the Chief Medical Officer has recommended supplementation as essential, adds Shabir Daya, founder of UK site victoriahealth.com. Under-fives, the elderly, pregnant or lactating women, and people with darker skin pigmentation.
In addition to helping the body absorb calcium and phosphate, two minerals essential for bone health and growth, vitamin D receptors in immune cells help the immune system function as it should. In one study in the British Medical Journal, extra doses of vitamin D were also shown to help prevent serious respiratory infections. The effect of vitamin D on gut health (which is also closely related to the health of the immune system) is becoming better understood, and one 2017 study shows a correlation between higher levels of vitamin D and the abundance of gut microbes associated with good gut health. A dose of about 1,000 iu is sufficient for the average adult, but try to include it in your diet as well. This means plenty of milk, egg yolks, fatty fish, liver and sugar-free cereals. Instead of oral supplements, there are also patches like Barrire (similar to nicotine patches, but cute) that allow the vitamin to go directly into the bloodstream for better absorption.
Vitamin B6 for bad mood
All B vitamins are important, but because B6 contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system, it is especially important during colds and flu. The reason is that it plays a key role in the production of T lymphocytes, protective cells that send signals that direct the immune system’s response to infection and disease. If you suffer from reduced energy and increased fatigue during the winter, B6 should help as it helps your body convert food into cellular energy. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can cause hopelessness, sluggishness, and difficulty concentrating. B vitamins regulate biochemical pathways and ensure proper cognitive function, while B6 specifically affects neurotransmitters in the brain, helping to control mood and mental activity. If you suffer from low moods during the winter, it is important to keep supplementing with vitamin B6, as low levels have also been linked to the development of symptoms of depression. While supplements are available, the good news is that you should be able to get all the B6 you need from a healthy diet that includes plenty of chicken, tofu, fish, bananas, and legumes.
Zinc for good sleep
This is a mineral, but taking zinc in the winter is a good way to boost your body’s natural defenses, especially against seasonal skin conditions and illnesses. The cold, dry winter air can be harsh on the skin, says Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, general practitioner and prescription online doctor. Zinc plays a role in wound healing and maintaining skin integrity. Ensuring optimal zinc levels can promote skin health and prevent problems such as dryness and cracking. Since the amount of zinc affects the weakened function of immune cells, its ability to strengthen immunity has been well studied. Another study supports the possibility that oral zinc tablets can shorten the duration of the flu. The benefits of taking zinc along with a daily dose of vitamin C are also well-documented: in one study, researchers found that the combination significantly reduced rhinitis. The lack of natural light and colder temperatures during the winter months can often prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep, but adequate zinc levels can combat this, as research shows that supplements can improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. If you’re really struggling to get decent shut-eye this winter, consider putting on a plate of oysters. In addition to being a rich source of zinc, they also contain melatonin, which supports healthy sleep. However, you need to look to other food sources such as meat, fish and shellfish to get enough zinc, as the body does not produce it on its own. If you want to add supplements to the mixture, do so only for short periods of time or as directed by a healthcare professional, as too long-term use can cause digestive problems.
Omega-3 for elastic skin
Omega-3 fatty acids are important all year round, but in the winter months, when the air is colder and drier, they ensure that the skin remains well hydrated and elastic. Due to their strong anti-inflammatory properties, they are also important in keeping dry skin, such as eczema, which can often break out badly during the winter, at bay, while the same anti-inflammatory effect also helps to lubricate joints that stiffen in the cold. We already know that omega fatty acids play a key role in hydrated skin and help support the skin’s protective layer, explains Lorraine Perretta, Nutrition Manager of the Advanced Nutrition Program. Because omega acids help cell membranes retain moisture, they are also important in supporting the skin’s immune system, especially during the winter months when coming in and out of hot and cold spaces. Studies have shown that when combined with vitamin D, the two have a synergistic relationship, especially when it comes to regulating serotonin levels in the brain, which is important for improving the low mood many people experience during the winter. Adequate omega acids are also important if heart health is a concern. Omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are important for heart health, says Aragona. They help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular function. This is important because winter can bring more cardiovascular diseases.
Iron improves energy
Iron is an energizing mineral needed to produce hemoglobin, an important component of red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen around the body and extracts energy from food sources, so if you’re iron deficient, you’re likely to feel constantly tired and as if you’re running on empty. Children and pregnant and menstruating women often have lower iron levels, while traditional winter warmers like coffee and tea (and wine) can also interfere with healthy iron levels. If you’re feeling too cold this early in the season, you might want to check your iron, as low levels can interfere with your body’s ability to generate, store and dissipate heat. The recommended daily dose for men is 8.7 mg for men and about twice that or 14.8 mg for menstruating women. To improve the absorption of the iron supplement, make sure you have vitamin C on hand. Just half a glass of orange juice is enough to support optimal absorption and even reverse the inhibitory effects of some substances such as tea and coffee.
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