The lazy, hazy days of summer are drawing to a close. Autumn means back to school, and we start thinking about the long winter ahead. When it comes to health, this can be challenging for our little ones. To help keep our immune systems strong for the cold, dark winter months, here’s my list of my favourite tips - tried and tested thoroughly over the years!
Eat for the season
A vital cornerstone of health in my specialism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, is eating to suit the season. This respects the energetic function of our body and supports it through the changing seasons. During autumn and winter, dietary principles focus on strengthening the lungs, boosting immunity, and supporting the digestive system. We are encouraged to eat fewer cold, ‘damp’, raw foods (goodbye, summer salads and ice cream), and plenty of warm, cooked seasonal foods (hello soups, stews, root vegetables, leafy greens and porridge). Cabbage, an autumnal champion, is noted for supporting liver function and helping keep the body healthy.
Cod liver oil
Those who follow me know how much I adore this supplement. It provides the perfect balance of naturally occurring vitamins D and A (who are mutually vital to each other, and should never be supplemented individually). Cod liver oil also provides vital omega oils, and helps the liver to manage toxin metabolism. It is by far the most impressive immune-boosting supplement I have personally used - it’s a credit to previous generations who knew how vital this oil was (and why we all have memories of the dreaded ‘spoon of oil’!)…Thankfully, cod liver oil now comes in capsules and delightfully-flavoured liquids for kids. Be careful to select a brand that has no added extra synthetic vitamin D.
Vitamin C
Another immunity celebrity, vitamin C supports strong defences against infection. There is no surprise as to why nature provides abundant vitamin C sources, with all those gorgeous berries and rosehips growing in the autumn helping to prepare us for the winter ahead. Again, it is vital to select naturally occurring sources and avoid synthetic vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid). Great food sources of vitamin C are oranges, lemons, berries, kiwis, rosehips and camu camu powder. You can also buy supplements that blend natural vitamin C from food sources. Another cheap tip is to dehydrate organic lemon rind, and grind it to make your own potent vitamin C powder that can be sprinkled onto that lovely autumn porridge.
As digestion takes the spotlight in the autumn, supporting your gut health is vital, and no better way than to boost your friendly bacteria. Whilst there are many probiotic supplements available in the health shops, they can be expensive with limited effectivity. My favourite probiotic is homemade kefir. This potent probiotic grain cultures milk, creating your own homemade gut-boosting yogurt with a phenomenal amount of gut-friendly cultures. Every couple of days, you move the grain into a new batch of milk, and create a brand new batch of kefir yogurt. You can drink the kefir yogurt straight, or blend it with berries and honey to make a tasty smoothie. Kefir grains grow in size, and the tradition is to pass your extra grains to other people, so it is easy to source a kefir friend by asking around at your local health shop or online. If you are Wicklow based, drop me a line!
Elderberry syrup
An old autumn favourite of mine is homemade elderberry syrup. This wonderful berry ripens in early autumn, and is well known to help reduce the severity of colds and flus. It has the added bonus of tasting sweet so is a favourite with the kids. It is very easy to make your own elderberry syrup, by boiling the berries in plenty of clean water, reducing the liquid to a syrup, and mixing it with equal parts of honey. I always add cloves, ginger and cinnamon to my elderberry syrup, to add an extra digestive, lung and immunity support, making this the perfect autumn tonic. Check out my facebook page for elderberry syrup recipes.
Fiona O’Farrell is an Acupuncturist and Alternative Health Practitioner, and runs a vibrant practice in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, specialising in women’s health and wellbeing. For more information see
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