These days I don’t take supplements unless I really need them, but when I do include them in my wellness routine it’s always for a specific purpose. One of those circumstances is to guard against winter illnesses (and to battle them once they’ve set in!). The landscape of winter wellness supplements has vastly changed from what pretty much used to be your only option of chewable orange-flavoured Vitamin C tablets.
I recently caught up with medical herbalist Janeen Howard from GO Healthy and naturopath Sharlene Bennett from Good Health – two of New Zealand’s leading natural supplement companies – to find out what’s the best way to tackle winter lurgies and learn more about some of the latest natural ingredients for boosting immunity against colds, coughs and the flu.
People often start taking Vitamin C after they get sick – is there any point taking immunity-boosting supplements once you’re already sick? Or should you be using them preventatively throughout the whole winter season?
Janeen says, ‘Absolutely! If you have already been hit by winter nasties, taking supplements and key immune ingredients, like Vitamin C, will help to reduce the duration and severity of winter ills and chills. Prevention is still the best option though to help strengthen and build your immune defences to be in a better situation to fight and defend against those winter lurgies!’
Sharlene says, ‘Yes, Vitamin C is great to take for immune support even when already unwell. When we are unwell our need for Vitamin C is even greater in the body than while we are well. We do not produce Vitamin C in our bodies, we only obtain it from our diet and supplementation. In times when the body is under stress and immunity is low, we may not get the adequate levels that we require from our dietary sources alone and therefore Vitamin C and other immune boosting natural supplements can be of great help.’
If you take immunity-boosting supplements all the time, can your body get used to them? Can this make them inneffective when you actually need them?
Sharlene says, ‘Generally this is not the case with natural supplements. Our individual response will differ from person to person to anything, including supplements. Sometimes it is helpful to try something different (a different ingredient/dose or combination of ingredients) if you find the effect from your natural health supplement is not enough or not working as it has been.’
‘This may also highlight that what you are currently taking is not providing enough support for you by itself and you may need something additional to help provide additional support. This would be especially so if constant low immunity and chronic illness was involved.’
Janeen says, ‘It is recommended to take immune supplements daily during winter so you can build your immunity and be better prepared.’
Kids seem to bear the brunt of winter lurgies; there seems to be so many options for adults and only chewy Vitamin C tablets for the children! Are all the ‘grown up’s’ supplements suitable for kids as well?
Janeen says, ‘Kids are certainly prone to germs and bugs, especially in daycare settings and school where exposure is increased. Vitamin C chewables are an extremely popular immune supplement for kids, they are convenient and taste great.’
Sharlene says there are other natural immunity supplements available on the market that would be suitable, but often age limits on capsules and tablets are due to them being a potential choking hazard. She says capsules can be opened and put into food as well; probiotics and prebiotics are great for ongoing immune support and to restore gut flora balance especially as children are still developing their immune systems.
NZ Real Health editor’s note: It’s always best to check the supplement packaging for the brand’s helpdesk and contact them directly to determine if it is suitable to use with children along with any modifications that would need to be made to dosage etc.
Beyond oranges: the new immune boosters
With 150-200mg of Vitamin C per 100g (your average orange has around 52mg per 100g), blackcurrants are now being seen as a small but mighty immune-booster and have become a favourite in winter wellness supplements and health tonics.
The trendy bright yellow spice appearing in lattes across New Zealand has been used in traditional medicine from a number of cultures for thousands of years. Its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties are mainly attributed to the active ingredient curcumin. It’s not just a matter of adding a pinch into your water either; curcumin is fat-soluble which means you need to ingest it with some form of fat so that your body can properly absorb its benefits. This may mean adding a little coconut oil or full fat milk to your drink.
Probiotics and prebiotics
Probiotics help increase the good bacteria in your gut and prebiotics help feed the probiotics. The aim of including these in your diet is to help restore optimal gut flora balance as your digestive system plays a hugely important role in your general immunity.
Used for supporting general immunity in a similar way to Vitamin C, the active compound oleuropein has been studied for its antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Uniquely made only in New Zealand, it’s rapidly becoming known all over the world in the medical and skincare industries for its antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Not all Manuka honeys are created equally though; these days they will often be graded with a UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) rating which tells you the quality and purity of the honey. If you want to use Manuka honey for medicinal purposes, it’s best to go for one that’s at least UMF10+. You are likely to find it included in throat lozenges but you can also add it into hot drinks at home.
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