Pumpkin salad Image Credit: iStock

The UAE’s winters may not see frozen vistas of ice and snow, but that doesn’t mean residents don’t feel the impact of the seasonal dip in temperatures. In fact, because it is so hot for most of the year, the sudden contrast can come as quite a shock. 

Indeed, as well as the usual runny noses, respiratory illnesses rise by 20 to 30 per cent in winter with mostly children being affected since they are still developing their immunity, doctors from Dubai Health Authority (DHA) stated last year.

It was only recently that scientists were able to prove that cold weather does indeed make people sick. A few years back, Yale University scientists in the US found that lower temperatures weaken the nose’s first line of immune defences.
Researchers discovered that cooler temperatures result in a “sluggish immune response” and leave people more susceptible to infection. The immune cells’ response was weaker under cold conditions, which enabled the rhinovirus to invade and multiply.

Later research by the Yale team found that in colder temperatures, immune cells were less likely to commit intentional suicide, or apoptosis, to prevent the spread of the virus to other cells. Under warmer conditions, cells sacrifice themselves via apoptosis to protect the body; however, colder temperatures slow down the infected cell’s ability to commit suicide.

As we breathe in cold air, the temperature inside our nose drops and leaves immune cells at a disadvantage in protecting us from invading viruses and other pathogens.

The outlook is not completely bleak though, there are steps you can take to boost your immune system and give yourself a fighting chance of keeping you and your family fit right through to spring.

“Vitamin D plays a major role in reducing the risk of cold and flu, especially in kids, by activating the T-cells to become killer cells that attack and destroy pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and moulds,” explained Dr Rula Abughazaleh, Dietician at Rashid Hospital.

“In February 2017, The British Medical Journal published a study that concluded that vitamin D is more effective in preventing colds and flu than flu shots. During the summer, kids get enough vitamin D from the sun, but during winter the lack of sun exposure results in less vitamin D production and supplementation might be necessary in addition to consuming vitamin D rich foods such as milk, oily fish, eggs, beef liver and vitamin D fortified foods.”

Experts agree that stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables is a big help, packed as they are with powerful nutrients and vitamins.

“Make sure you buy organic to get the maximum nutrition value from your fresh produce,” advised Ahlaam Ali, a local lifestyle and nutrition consultant. “Also make sure you buy them fresh at least two times a week. This helps max the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from your produce.”

In addition to getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, staying active and consuming the right foods will help to protect your immune system, health professionals say.

They urge people to opt for probiotics and live yogurt which boost immunity by supporting the digestive system. Zinc-rich foods such as oysters, crab and nuts will also give your system a jolt, as will good quality proteins such as lean meat, fish, egg, beans, and quinoa.

Oily fish such as salmon and tuna are rich in vitamin D and omega 3, while super greens such as spinach, kale and parsley contain chlorophyll that helps in getting rid of any toxins.

And avocado lovers can go to town as the fruit is rich in monounsaturated oils that help in elevating the good cholesterol or the high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
Garlic is another winner, as it is rich in selenium, manganese and vitamin B6 – which all help in fighting off bacteria. Vitamin C rich foods such as peppers, guava, kiwi and berries will help combat the dreaded flu.

“In general, ensure your diet is rich in lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats and dairy products such as yogurts that offer good nutrition to help build your immunity. And let’s not forget about getting adequate and good quality sleep – especially as we all lead such busy lifestyles.” 

“It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and eating well-balanced and nutritious foods that have nutrients and antioxidants to help boost your immune system,” said Nadine Tayara, a Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant.

“In general, ensure your diet is rich in lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats and dairy products such as yogurts that offers good nutrition to help build your immunity. And let’s not forget about getting adequate and good quality sleep – especially as we all lead such busy lifestyles.” 

Arm yourself

Go for a rainbow
Ensure you have different coloured fresh foods on your plate at every meal. Apart from making sure that your meals are balanced, the more colours you get in the better it is for your immunity.  This way you get a complete range of nutrients hence kickstarting your immunity significantly.

Ginger
With its various healing properties, ginger is the ideal antidote to sore throats and colds in general.  Brew fresh ginger with your tea bag daily to boost your immunity.

Turmeric
Turmeric’s tremendous antibacterial properties will help with any inflammation in your body.  Brewed with a cup of almond milk or coconut milk with a dash of black pepper is great as a preventative measure for colds as well as other inflammations throughout the body.

Recipe for success

Dr Ahlaam Ali offers readers her own ultimate cold prevention/cure concoction

Ingredients
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp grated ginger
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 cloves
1 tsp of coconut oil
1 tsp of honey/maple syrup
1 cup of almond or coconut milk

Directions
In a saucepan, roast the turmeric powder for a few seconds then add the milk and all other ingredients except honey. Let it all simmer for 15 to 20 minutes and take off the stove. Let it cool for a few minutes, add the honey/maple syrup and drink away! It can cure a cold overnight.