Winter is the time to be militant out about daily immunity rituals. At Leapfrog Remedies we believe that the pillars of a strong immune system are good nutrition, regular exercise, quality sleep and stress management techniques, but if Covid does strike, the more layers of protection you have to stop it developing at speed, the better. Our Leapfrog pharmaceutical scientist, Dr Hamid Merchant says: “We need to minimise the oral viral load early on in the disease to control the vertical transmission of the virus to the lungs” – so, disrupt the microbes in the nose and throat before they migrate south and start you coughing and wheezing. Here are our non-negotiable winter health hacks to boost your immune system and keep you fighting fit, and what to do if infection does strike.
We need 10-15 minutes per day of direct sunlight to allow our skin to synthesise the sun’s UVB rays from cholesterol into the Vitamin D hormone. An immunity powerhouse with anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory effects, Vitamin D can enhance the function of important immune cells called T cells and macrophages. A metanalysis published in the British Medical Journal reviewed 25 randomised trials and showed that – pre-Covid – daily supplementation reduced acute chest infections and inflammatory markers improved. During the British winter adults need to supplement with up to 4000 IU per day, while children need 400 IU.
Immunity and quality sleep are bedfellows. In one study, 153 men and women were infected with rhinovirus and monitored for symptoms of a cold. Those sleeping less than 7 hours were 2.94 times more likely to develop a cold than those sleeping more. Melatonin – a hormone produced as darkness falls to aid our transition into sleep – is an anti-inflammatory medication and a great tool to have in the body when fighting infection. Late night lights and screen time is wreaking havoc on our natural circadian rhythm. It also makes evolutionary sense that chronic sleep deprivation is detrimental to the immune system: acute sleep loss when there’s a clear and present danger helps to mobilize the system, but if it extends over time, then the same system eventually starts failing. Remember the hours before midnight are key, so dim the lights in the evening and be ready to hit the hay at 10pm for sleep’s maximum benefits.
In terms of prevention, getting outside each day gives your immune system more of a fighting chance. The more green you see, the better it is for your overall health and lifespan according to a metanalysis published in The Lancet in 2019. Getting air outside for 20 minutes per day is key, but ventilation at home is also an important mitigation strategy for Covid. One of the reasons flu has always spiked in winter, is because we congregate indoors for warmth and keep our doors and windows closed to conserve heat and reduce heating bills. An open window will help lower the spread of the virus to family or housemates, even when you might be asymptomatic. The fresh air turnover will dilute the virus concentration that’s shed from those who are infected, and a lower dose of initial infection can ultimately mean a milder version of the disease. Short bursts of 10 to 15 minutes throughout the day – or leaving the window ajar all day – has the potential to reduce the risk of infection from particles by over 70%.
A 30-second cold shower can kick-start your immune system. A study has shown that those who had a 30-90 second burst of cold water during their shower reported fewer sick days that those who took warm showers. Cold water – anything below 21 degrees C – helps to boost your white blood cell count because the body is forced to react to the changing conditions. These blood cells are your fighters, that help protect your body against diseases. So, a good immunity tip is to have a warm shower and finish with cold – it will accelerate your functions and, over time, your body will become better at activating its defences.
Did you know that if you don’t floss your teeth, it’s like eating off a 40% dirty plate? We like our teeth – and our plates – to be clean. But brushing your teeth only reaches around 60% of each tooth, leaving 40% ‘dirty’. That means the 6 million hungry bacteria that live in your mouth have a buffet between your teeth to thrive on. Bacteria particularly like feasting on carbohydrates like pasta, bread, cereal or sweet treats. Then they reproduce, build up plaque to thrive on and can drop acid onto gums and teeth causing bleeding and infection. If your body is trying to fight bacterial infection in your mouth, then your immune system is compromised (and there have been scientific studies that link gum disease to Alzheimer’s later in life). So, to give your immune system the healing resources it needs to fight other infections in the body, keep your teeth clean. Consistent flossing and brushing (in that order) create a food and housing shortage for bacteria in your mouth, so your immune system is primed and ready to fight other battles.
Good nutrition is critical to a strong immune system and is foundational in the fight against infection. The roll call of essential vitamins and minerals? Vitamin C (oranges, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit, red peppers) for its antibodies that help stave off bacteria and viruses; Vitamin D (oily fish, mushrooms, red meat, egg yolks); Vitamin A (sweet potatoes, spinach, apricots, carrots) which helps to regulate the immune system; Vitamin E (nuts and seeds and greens) which fights cell damage; and Zinc (shellfish, meat, legumes, nuts and seeds) which boosts the metabolism and aids in wound healing.
Dry Body Brushing
One third of your body’s toxins are excreted through the skin, so if you’re prepared to get out of bed 5 minutes earlier you could be giving your immune system a helping hand. Do this daily with a natural bristle brush before your shower. Brush in ten firm upward strokes to the heart on each section of skin, starting with the feet, and always brush to the centre of the body. This action will unclog pores, excrete toxins and stimulate the lymphatic system. Bacteria, toxins and waste from our blood filter through the lymph nodes and are cleaned, but sometimes the process can be sluggish. As many of the lymph vessels run below the skin, brushing can help the body with its detoxification process. So, when we brush our skin, we’re directly assisting in removing pathogens and strengthening our immune system.
Dr Hamid Merchant, pharmaceutical scientist at the University of Huddersfield, suggests steam at the very first sign of a cold, flu or Covid symptoms: “Hyperthermia – or steam treatment – can help with the clinical symptoms of upper respiratory infections, like the common cold virus or flu virus. A Lancet Study in 2020 looking at Covid 19 confirmed that a higher temperature in association with the moisture minimises the viral load and disrupts the viral capsid, the protein shell of a virus that encloses its genetic material.” Steaming with essential oils known for their antimicrobial properties allows the steam to deliver tiny vapours of the antimicrobial constituents from these essential oils into the respiratory tract, similar to a nebuliser in a clinic. Not all natural oils are safe to take by an inhalation technique, however. The recipe of Vicks VapoRub contains a few essential oils known for their antimicrobial activity – it was the go-to remedy during the 1918 Spanish Flu – and Olbas oil has similar action. If going the old-fashioned route of covering your head with a towel over a bowl of hot water, make sure it is not boiling. Dr Merchant adds, “Domestic use steam chambers are good at producing correct temperatures and not being toxic or dangerous to the delicate tissues of our airways.”
In the event of Covid infection, Dr Merchant suggests a throat rinse. Benzydamine – an analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent found in Difflam Oral Rinse – can reduce inflammation in the throat. It acts like a first defence to control the inflammatory release in your throat of immune cells called cytokines. Lozenges like Strepsils use 4-dichlorobenzyl alcohol and amylmetacresol in combination to work as an antisceptic against a range of viruses. “By managing the symptoms, these early interventions may give the body the time it needs to produce antibodies and recover naturally from the disease.”
Lactoferrin is an anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory protein that your body makes daily, working in your eyes, nose, mouth & certain white blood cells to protect you against germs. But when we’re stressed, tired, run-down, not eating properly or simply ageing, our innate lactoferrin may be depleted faster than it’s restored. This can leave us vulnerable to infection. Supplementing with Lactoferrin works in synch with your immune system because your body recognises it. Lactoferrin is also a key component of mother’s milk that gives a baby’s its immunity. Lactoferrin extracted from cow’s milk is biologically similar and is the hero ingredient of our Leapfrog IMMUNE, an easy-to-take chewable tablet of pure Lactoferrin, Zinc and Vitamin C. “Lactoferrin will help with the immune response, and together with steam and a throat rinse they work like a team,” says Dr Merchant.
Read Dr Merchant’s scientific paper “Lactoferrin reduces the risk of respiratory tract infections: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials” published September 2021.