Winter is just around the corner and for some of us this might evoke skiing holidays, alpine sports or simply snowball fights… For others, winter is unfortunately the season of never ending infections, frozen hands and feet, as well as those famous ‘winter blues’. 

Today, I will propose several ways to tackle the winter season and to prevent all of its unpleasant side effects.   

An article by Ariane Monnami, nutritionist, with diplomas in Micro-nutrition and Neuro-nutrition.   

 

Cold-weather resistance 

Chapped skin, cracked lips and fingertips, blanched toes and fingers which can cause pain… I have little doubt that if you experience these types of symptoms during the winter season, this time of year is your worst nightmare — And of course, playing around in the snow with your children is simply out of the question!

 

Hydrate your skin from the inside out...

It can never be emphasised strongly enough that our skin’s fatty acid composition is what gives it a supple and moisturised appearance — it is also what allows it to resist to cold, windy and even hot weather. Therefore, it is important to regularly consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as:

-  Oily fish such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, haddock, salmon — (prioritising small-sized fish).

-  Rapeseed oil, walnut, hazelnut, camelina or linseed oil — (ensure that cold pressed oils are stored correctly to avoid toxicity). 

- Almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts 

In the long run, these dietary changes will allow you to obtain a more resilient and toned skin. However, the amount of Omega-3 in our diet remains relatively small and can be insufficient if you are already experiencing symptoms such as dry and scaly skin or chapped  lips and fingertips. In this case, Omega-3 food supplements are a time-saver and can effectively speed up your skin’s transformation process.

 

..strengthened and solidified..  

We have seen that cellular membranes rich in Omega-3 form the first barrier against cold weather agressions. However, our skin is not simply made of cells, it is also an ensemble of collagen fibres and of elastin, called the “interstitial tissue”. This tissue also includes Keratin which forms an essential part of our hair, our nails and our skin’s most outer layer; it acts like a real barrier against external agressions. 

In order to build up a high quality interstitial tissue and Keratin, we also need zinc, selenium, silicon and and B-vitamins, most importantly Vitamin B-6. In theory, our diet should provide us with all of these elements - however between intensive farming, preservation methods and dietary habits lacking in variation, the nutritional deficiencies start to accumulate and it is therefore important for us to regularly stock up our reserves. 

Here, dietary supplements and herbal medicine can be very helpful; horsetail for example is a great source of both silicon and easily absorbable minerals. 

 

..and fully hydrated..  

This section is for those suffering from Raynaud’s syndrome and its well-known symptoms of fingers and toes that turn completely white at the slightest exposure to cold, to then go back to bright red, boiling hot and awfully painful as they start to warm up. 

This phenomenon is linked to capillary spasms which interrupt blood circulation in our extremities; not only do fingers and toes turn white, they become entirely numb and insensitive. 

As they begin to warm up, the process is reversed and the capillaries suddenly dilate and the surge of blood flow causes redness and a burning sensation. 

Here again, Omega-3 is important in promoting both capillary membrane and red blood cell flexibility and adaptability. 

 

A positive outlook

Winter Blues  

The winter season is a time when the days are simply too short, when the sun is low and often hidden under a thick cloud cover. For those suffering from seasonal mood swings, the winter period is a time of ‘darkness’. 

As mentioned in the previous article on preventing autumn blues, the lack of natural light can play tricks on our mood. Of course, this is not to say that we are all victims of full-blown seasonal depression but we can all experience some of its symptoms, for example the craving for comfort foods such as those high in sugar and carbohydrates, or the reluctancy to get out of a soft, warm and comfy duvet in the morning.   

 

..and tiredness 

However, lack of natural light is not the only cause of low morale. The lack of energy that we can all be subject to can develop into genuine physiological fatigue. During winter there are in effect two problems - 

1) Our diet contains fewer fruits and vegetables; we resort more often to carbohydrate-rich foods and ‘comfort food’ casserole dishes - as a result we miss out on important vitamins, especially Vitamin C. 

2) We consume in excess — along with winter comes numerous viral infections and our immune defences are constantly at work. In order to build up this defence system, white blood cells and antibodies, we need both zinc and protein as well as Vitamin C! 

A poorer diet combined with increased exertion means that nutritional deficiencies can quickly begin to add up — regular intake of precursors is therefore very important and can include the following: 

- Vitamin C in the form of fresh citrus fruits or dietary supplements — Acelora  berries are particularly beneficial, providing both a natural and concentrated source of Vitamin C. 

- Tyrosine, an essential precursor in the fabrication of dopamine and noradrenaline (see article: “Sleep, the role of neurotransmitters”) — these neurotransmitters are both responsible for our motivation, concentration, decision making and perseverance. During the winter, our body is forced to make strategic decisions; the immune defences are prioritised and tyrosine becomes less available for the building up of neurotransmitters, another cause of morning tiredness and our difficulty to just ‘get-up-and-go’! 

 

Bacteria and microbes won’t get past me! 

The winter season also brings along a multitude viruses such as flu, gastroenteritis, never-ending colds… without forgetting what our little ones can also bring back with them from school. 

In order to protect ourselves against this, simple hygiene practice is important: 

- Regularly washing your hands, avoiding agressive products. 

- Regularly cleaning and rinsing out your nose at the first signs of nasal obstruction. 

- Ensuring regular ventilation of rooms/spaces. 

 

Unfortunately, this is not enough — most important is our immune defence system and its two vital elements: 

 

Vitamin D

You will remember from the previous article (insert link) - “Vitamin D is full of surprises” - that Vitamin D not only plays a role in the binding of calcium in our bones and in ensuring bone strength but it also influences our immune defence system.

Recent studies have shown that a daily intake of Vitamin D can lower the risk of catching a cold, flu and other acute respiratory infections by 20%. For those who are nutrient deficient, a supplement intake is even associated with a reduced risk of 70%! 

However, it is important to note that in order to see these results, the intake of Vitamin D must be regular, rather than in a concentrated amount once every three months. 

 

Intestinal flora 

Boosting your immune system with Immunity Support, which contains four strains of lactic ferments ((Lactobacillus acidophilus + Lactxobacillus rhamnosus GG + Bifidobacterium animalis lactis +  Bifidobacterium bifidum) and Vitamin D — 

In preparation for the winter season and in restoring healthy gut bacteria following antibiotic treatments, lactic ferments (or probiotics) have been proven for effectively stimulating local and general immunity. 

A previous article, “Discovering intestinal flora”, explained the importance of a healthy gut flora balance, for both fermentation and putrefaction, and the ways in which it is essential for both good digestive function and maintaining a healthy immune system. 

In its normal state, intestinal flora prevents the growth and spreading of pathogenic bacteria — the “bad bacteria” — that can be found in our diet.  

A number of scientific releases have shown that the strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GGcan have particularly beneficial effects; its particular characteristic of ‘pili’ (fur/bristles) allow it to adhere to the gut wall in order to carry out its functions: 

- Balancing of the intestinal microflora.

- Prevention and treatment of diarrhoea due to antibiotic use. 

- Stimulation and promotion of a healthy immune system. 

- Regeneration of intestinal mucosa. 

 

A necessary synergy 

Combining multiple strains of lactic ferments can enable more efficient action. 

Lactobacillus and bifidobacteria are both important elements of our gut flora and the combining of different strains of lactic ferments can strengthen their barrier effect by ensuring greater resistance against pathogenic bacteria. 

Furthermore, Lactobacilli also produce polysaccharides (complex sugars) which is then used as food by the bifidobacteria. 

 

References 

  • Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data - BMJ 2017; 356 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6583 (Published 15 February 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:i6583
  • HEYMAN M - Probiotiques et immunité. Effets des probiotiques sur le système immunitaire : mécanisme d’action potentiel. Cah. Nutr. Diet.2007;42(2):2S67-75.
  • TIMMERMAN HM, KONING CJM, MULDER L, ROMBOUTS FM, BEYNEN AC - Monostrain, multistrain and multispecies probiotics - A comparison of functionality and efficacy. Int. J. Food. Microb. 2004 ; 96 : 219-233.