Winter is traditionally the ”inner” season. We get rugged up, gravitate to warmth and tend to hibernate in the cold and wet or blustery conditions outside. But winter also has its pluses – those gloriously crisp sunny winter days and for us in South Oz, beautiful verdant growth abounds. In fact getting out on those sunny days is crucial to supporting your immunity with adequate amounts of the sunshine vitamin D.
Unfortunately with winter also comes an increased incidence of colds, flu and respiratory infections. These may be particularly worrying for cancer survivors, especially if you are undergoing or have just finished treatments that affect your immune system.

Warm, slowly cooked foods are great during winter, especially combined with the warming spice ginger, to balance the coolness of the environment. Vitamin A rich foods are good for providing the nutrients that protect our first layer of defence – the mucosal tissue of the respiratory tract. Winter vegetables such as pumpkin can make a lovely carotene (vitamin A precursor) rich soup, and carrots and beetroot are other great vegetable sources.

There are a number of excellent herbs that can increase the resistance of your own body’s immunity as well as act like antimicrobial agents. Two well known herbs for immunity are Echinacea and Astragalus. Both of these are important if you have been debilitated by illness or cancer treatments, or if you feel prone to colds and flu.

Good quality Echinacea (augustifolia) is known for its effect in acute illness, but traditionally it has been used for convalescence as well. Indeed, there is now some clinical evidence of its benefit in prevention of acute respiratory infections. Usually this means taking it before and during winter, but it can also be used at the onset of an acute illness.

Astragalus is of particular interest since there is clinical trial evidence of its positive use in people with cancer. It can boost our immune system in a number of ways including elevating lowered white blood cell counts.
It is also used as a general tonic and is being investigated for its anti ageing effects! Astragalus is best used for prevention of acute winter illness.

Andrographis is a real clinical favourite of mine. It has been used extensively on the Indian subcontinent and now has clinical evidence for its positive effect on upper respiratory tract infections, colds and influenza. It is thought to be antimicrobial, but has other immune, liver protective and anti inflammatory effects. I have also found it very good for prevention of winter colds, especially in vulnerable people. Start in May and take it all the way through winter.

Another herb that deserves mention is the humble Thyme. Originally used as a lung tonic for chronic lung conditions, it was also used in the war as an antiseptic in hospitals. These days it’s a favourite in my clinic in cough, lung and antiviral formulas since it’s so valuable as a gargle for sore throats, and for the relief of tight and mucous coughs.

There are herbal formulas that combine Astragalus, Andrographis and Echinacea. To ensure you are taking a quality product, herbs are best sourced through your Naturopath or other Healthcare practitioner.

So engage yourself in a preventative regime, enjoy some winter sunshine and hearty soups, and meanwhile, here is an old and very palatable home cough remedy that many of my clients swear by …..

The cold comforter

Clear Apple juice 250ml dilute with 250ml water
Small handful fresh thyme
1 dsp honey
Half stick cinnamon
1-2 slices ginger
Simmer 10-15 mins in covered pan, drink hot 200mls 3 x day

Remember that if you are actively undergoing cancer treatments please consult with your health practitioner about the supplements that best suit you circumstances.

Shauna Ashewood is a Naturopath with 25 years of clinical experience. She has Bachelor & Master’s degree qualifications and special interest in cancer and women’s health. She has a clinic in the city at Therapia and at Semaphore.