We all think more carefully about our immune systems during the winter months, and it’s even more important this year with the pandemic. Alison Cullen, Nutritional Therapist and Education Manager from A.Vogel has some advice on protecting your health this winter.

One of the simplest and most effective ways of maintaining good immune function is to ensure sleep doesn’t become a low priority. During good quality sleep, we benefit from immune cells doing important patrolling work, to keep pathogens (viruses, bacteria and fungi) at bay. We also give our body a chance to repair muscles and other tissues that we’ve used in training or recuperate from daily wear and tear.

Interestingly, recent research shows the importance of sleep for supporting circadian rhythm and thereby strengthening the immune system. Humans like routine. Although it may seem difficult to do, having a regular schedule whereby meals, bedtime and waking time are at the same times gives your whole system a boost and ensures lower levels of inflammatory chemicals in your body. This is good for your musculoskeletal health, as well as your immune system.


Keeping up the intake of good quality nutrients can be harder during the winter when stodgy foods are more appealing. Using grains such as teff, quinoa and millet will hit the carb craving in a ‘clean’ fashion that also provides protein for blood sugar stability. Moving to steamed and roasted veg from raw salads is also a sensible move, with veggies soups and stews ensuring nutrient-rich and comforting feeds. Sprouting broccoli seeds and mung beans can give you fresh and vital ingredients that constantly renew for a few minutes’ attention daily. The Biosnacky range by A.Vogel is worth checking out if you are interested in sprouting.

What are the signs of a weak immune system?

Falling prey to every sniffle going; taking ages to recover after a bug, however minor; feeling ‘chesty’ and runny-nosed regularly; being prone to inflammation at the slightest provocation.

Is it OK to exercise if you feel tired or a bit unwell?

A moderate amount of regular exercise is positive for your immune system and staves off immunosenescence (whereby immune function becomes less efficient as we age). However, it’s not always the right thing to do. If you have a chesty cough, sore throat, or high temperature, it’s not sensible to divert energy from healing processes into exercising. Not only will you be ill for longer, with more inflammatory symptoms, you will also struggle to achieve your exercise goals.

Should we be extra careful this year to take care of our immune systems because of the pandemic?

It’s becoming evident, as more data is collected globally, that certain factors are strongly associated with greater risk of severe coronavirus infection. Checking your intake of vitamin D and zinc is sensible, as a deficiency in these nutrients has been connected with worse outcome during infection.  Avoiding becoming overweight, and taking any progression towards pre-diabetes very seriously, are both important strategies, as overweight and diabetes are both linked to a greater risk of during this pandemic, as well as more susceptibility to infections generally.

If you’re training for an endurance event should you take a supplement?

Moderate exercise is associated with reduced risk of illness, but that risk increases in athletes during periods of intensified training and competition. If you’re doing intense training for periods of a week or more, this is likely to affect you. Taking extra zinc, magnesium, and maybe probiotics or vitamin D if you have digestive problems or don’t get much daylight exposure during the winter will be beneficial. The latest thinking is that these nutrients increase the body’s tolerance to pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. The same research flags the potential of herbs such as Echinacea purpurea for supporting immune function and reducing vulnerability to infection.

Does it take our bodies longer to recover from exercise in the winter?

Not unless the winter has affected you in terms of nutrient intake, sleep quality, stress levels, or any of the other factors associated with recovery after exercise.

How else can we boost our immune system?

Keep your vitamin C intake up, as this is known to support normal immune function, as well as improving recovery time after infection. Vitamin C from fresh fruit is known to absorb better than C in the form of synthetic vitamins. If you want to bump up your daily intake without loading up on fruit, look for vitamin C supplements that are made from real fruit, such as Nature-C by A.Vogel.

New research shows that Echinacea purpurea (Echinaforce) supports levels of interferon, an immune protein that reduces a virus’s ability to replicate. It also shows the ability of Echinacea to inactivate a wide range of coronaviruses in vitro, with the researchers concluding that, ‘it could be effective as a prophylactic treatment for all coronaviruses, due to their structural similarities.’

More information

Echinaforce Echinacea drops & tablets are available from Holland & Barrett, Boots and independent health stores nationwide. RRP £10.50 for 50ml.