Are you getting enough Vitamin D? Why you need the sunshine vitamin.

shutterstock_274532183 woman in sunglasses looking at the sky Aug15Many people know that vitamin D is also called ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because it’s primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. However many people are unaware of why vitamin D is so important to our overall health and also why it’s linked to calcium absorption.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us what we need to know about vitamin D, how it works with calcium, and the all-important ‘low-down’ on why together they’re so crucial to our health.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

VITAMIN D – THE FACTS

Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because it’s primarily produced on the skin in the sun. The Department of Health have acknowledged that a massive 60% of the UK population are deficient in vitamin D, which is putting the nation’s health at risk. shutterstock_397937623 UK map May16Countries located in the Northern Hemisphere which lack sunshine all have populations that are equally deficient. And whilst a sunshine holiday can certainly boost our vitamin D levels, using high factor sun cream can block its absorption plus because the body can’t store it, and we simply don’t get enough throughout the year.

shutterstock_277907438 highlighted bones of woman exercising May16WHAT DOES IT DO?

Vitamin D’s most important function is the metabolism of calcium. This means that both nutrients are vital for the health of bones and teeth. Sunlight on the skin activates a pre-cursor to vitamin D and it is then converted to the most active form of the vitamin – D3.

However, it’s not just the bones and teeth that need vitamin D – it also helps to regulate the body’s immune responses, helping protect us against infections such as colds and flu.

More and more functions of Vitamin D are being discovered; it’s also important for muscle strength, good mood and healthy blood pressure – new research is being carried out all the time. It is so important that the Department of Health recommends that all pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies and young children aged six months to five years and those over 65 years should take a daily vitamin D supplement or a multi-vitamin containing at least 10 µg (micrograms). This also applies to anyone who isn’t exposed to much sunlight.

shutterstock_360639257 vitamin D foods May16WHERE CAN I FIND IT?

The most active form of vitamin D (D3) is the one produced by the sunlight on the skin. However, there are some food sources of vitamin D (D2) which, interestingly, are also foods high in calcium so it’s a double whammy! Plus, both forms of vitamin D are available as a supplement or as part of a multi-vitamin.

Top of the list of foods to eat are oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and pilchards. Egg yolks and butter also contain vitamin D, and milk and cheese contain lots of calcium and a little vitamin D. There is a small amount of vitamin D in green leafy vegetables, and again, they’re a good source of calcium, and mushrooms are also a good vegetarian source of vitamin D.

So, why not try making savoury pancakes with eggs, butter, milk, cheese and mushrooms. Your children will love them (hopefully all the family will as well) and you’ll be getting both vitamin D and calcium to boot!

shutterstock_310287731 woman sun bathing May16WHAT IF I DON’T GET ENOUGH?

Vitamin D deficiency can manifest itself in a number of ways. With 60% of the population reportedly not getting enough Vitamin D, rickets in children is becoming more prevalent, partly because of the use of sun creams with high SPF, which is completely understandable.

However, in order to improve levels of vitamin D within the body, just exposing the body to the sun for 15 minutes a day is sufficient and, generally, would not be long enough to cause any skin damage or burning.

A lack of vitamin D can also result in a loss of bone mineral content, making fractures more likely and also an increase in bone pain and muscle weakness. Osteomalacia or ‘soft bones’ is another condition on the increase in the younger age groups.

shutterstock_352168949 beautiful woman skin May16IS VITAMIN D THE ELIXIR OF YOUTH?

Research carried out in 2010[1] found that vitamin D may hold the key to long-lasting physical function. Of the 2,788 people studied, those with higher levels of vitamin D had much better physical function as they aged, than those with lower levels.

Those with the highest levels of vitamin D were able to lead more active lives, demonstrating that it’s not just the bones that need vitamin D, but it’s needed for muscle strength and the ability to keep physically active. Yet another great reason to start supplementing right now.

So, it’s never too early (or too late) to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D and calcium, and taking adequate steps now can really help to support a healthier and stronger you in the future.

[1] Houston D et al, Better vitamin D status could mean better quality of life for seniors. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology 2010 (April 26).

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National Allergy Awareness Week: how nutrition can help fight allergies

shutterstock_360808592 woman in flower field Apr16It’s National Allergy Awareness Week which reminds us that it’s also the start of the allergy season; tree pollen starts to become problematic around this time of year quickly followed by the grass pollen season. But it’s not just pollen that causes allergic reactions; foods, dust, animals, moulds to name but a few can all cause some nasty symptoms.

The good news is that there is much that can be done nutritionally to help ease some of the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her seven top tips on how to help calm it down!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

DRINK PLENTY OF WATER

It sounds simple but it can really help! When an allergen is present the immune system produces antibodies which trigger the release of histamine. Histamine is released in the body as part of its normal allergic response mechanism, and it is produced in greater amounts when the body is dehydrated. So, make sure you’re always drinking at least 1 ½ litres of water daily.

shutterstock_216668371 water bottle splash Sept15Additionally, there are foods that naturally contain high amounts of histamine including red wine, matured cheeses, spinach, strawberries and chocolate so it therefore makes sense to avoid these foods if you are prone to allergies. Preservatives and food colours also encourage the release of histamine. Therefore, a diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables will really help as well.

shutterstock_277712882 onion family Apr16EAT MORE QUERCETIN (BUT WHAT IS IT?)

Quercetin is a natural compound that helps to manage the release of histamine. It’s found in onions, garlic, spring onions, leeks and green tea, therefore these foods should all be included in your diet on a regular basis. Additionally food containing sulphur, such as eggs, together with onion, leek and garlic also help to prevent the release of histamine.

shutterstock_115649197 vitamin D Aug15GET MORE VITAMIN D!

Certain allergies, and in particular allergy-induced asthma attacks, have been linked back to a lack of vitamin D during pregnancy. If you’re pregnant it’s important to make sure you’re supplementing with vitamin D in any case and supplementation during pregnancy is now a specific recommendation from the Department of Health. It will help prevent vitamin D deficiency in your new-born but it also appears to provide some protection from food allergies as well.

shutterstock_265791974 vit C foods Sept15VITAMIN C IS KEY!

Vitamin C has many amazing health benefits but it’s particularly helpful for keeping the airways clear, which can become constricted during many allergic reactions, causing coughing and wheezing.  It also works really well with quercetin and, interestingly, both are often found together in the same foods, especially apples.

Because your immune system is on ‘alert’ during an allergic response, vitamin C can really help to keep it in check and reduce histamine levels. So, up your intake of fruit and veg – there’s such a wealth of colourful fruits and vegetables around so remember to try to eat a rainbow every day! All the berry fruits, especially strawberries, are high in vitamin C.

shutterstock_221308501 omega 3 foods Apr15CALM DOWN WITH OMEGA 3

The omega 3 essential fats seem to have an amazingly calming effect on allergies and this is partly due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel are great sources, as are nuts and seeds if you’re vegetarian or don’t like fish. Additionally, to obtain the real benefits of these amazing omegas, it’s a good idea to take a daily omega 3 supplement to really help suppress reactions.

shutterstock_137168057 digestion Apr16GET FRIENDLY!

The role played by the beneficial or ‘friendly’ bacteria that happily live in our digestive tracts, is well-documented. They are essential for a smooth-running digestive system but also play a key role in the health of the immune system.

A healthy gut wall lowers the potential of an immune reaction, particularly to food, but also to other potential allergens. Even better, the presence of good bacteria appears to stimulate the production of calming immune cells so, although hay fever is caused by airborne allergens, a strong immune system helps to prevent an immune response.

It’s a really good idea to take a course of probiotics for three months each year during high allergy season to really keep your digestive tract in good shape.

shutterstock_157407788 3 milk glasses Apr16WATCH THE DAIRY

Although dairy foods provide great amounts of protein and calcium, they can also cause an inflammatory response within the body; this can increase the amount of mucous your body produces, which can become problematic.

Dairy can often be a contributory factor in asthma and hay fever, so if you’re suffering from allergies then it might be worth reducing or even avoiding dairy for a couple of months to see if it helps.

There are plenty of healthy, dairy-free alternatives – think almond, hazelnut or soya milk – all of which still contain calcium. They are also great sources of protein. Additionally, green leafy vegetables are rich in calcium so you won’t be missing out on essential nutrients and you might just find you’re sneezing a little less!

So, if you’ve been dreading the pollen or you’re already fed up with your allergies, there’s plenty of nutritional help at hand to help see you through the summer months.

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Treat your Mum this Mother’s Day with these 5 nutritious foods

shutterstock_276436994 mother and daughter Feb16With Mother’s Day fast approaching, our thoughts turn to our wonderful Mums and what we can do to treat them on this special day. What could be better than preparing a delicious meal that’s not only a real treat for your Mum but is also full of health-giving nutrients? Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods that could really enhance your Mother’s health whatever her age!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

SALMON

If you’re going to choose a fish that has amazing health benefits, particularly for women, then choose salmon.

shutterstock_219318745 salmon and asparagos Oct15Salmon is especially rich in omega 3 fatty acids which are essential for healthy skin, heart, brain and joints. However, omega 3’s also convert into hormone-like substances called prostaglandins which are essential for keeping hormones in balance. And bearing in mind that hormones play a large role in most women’s health and feelings of wellbeing, it makes sense to ensure that your mum is eating the right nutrients to keep hers well balanced.

shutterstock_281476277 hummus and cracker Feb16CHICKPEAS

These humble legumes really pack a punch in terms of their health benefits in the female diet. Chickpeas are rich in a compound called phytoestrogens. These help to balance oestrogen levels at all ages which is both important for helping to combat symptoms of PMS and those caused by the menopause.

The most common food where chickpeas are found is delicious hummus; it’s a great protein snack, so excellent for balancing blood sugar levels and keeping energy stable throughout the day. Hummus is delicious with oatcakes or rice cakes or can be used as a dip with crudités; chopped carrots, celery, cucumber, broccoli heads – the list is endless – and your mum will also be getting some Vitamin C alongside these hormone-balancing nutrients!

shutterstock_273933668 cranberry cocktail Feb16CRANBERRY JUICE

Many women suffer from cystitis and it can occur at any age. Whilst it’s often called the ‘honeymoon illness’ cystitis can also become troublesome during the menopause.

Cranberries have long been associated with helping to combat urinary tract infections, so it makes sense for women to include them in the daily diet as much as possible. They contain a substance called proanthocyanidins, which help to prevent the E-coli bacteria from attaching themselves to the lining of the bladder.

Therefore, the best way of getting a high concentration of cranberries is to drink unsweetened cranberry juice, which is readily available in supermarkets. Mum’s can drink this everyday if they’re prone to bouts of cystitis. So for Mother’s Day why not make a cranberry-based cocktail for a bit of a treat?

shutterstock_232565083 dark chocolate squares Jun15DARK CHOCOLATE

If you’re thinking of treating your mum to some chocolate this Mother’s Day, then make sure it’s the dark variety. Dark chocolate has many health benefits over milk chocolate but primarily because it’s high in anti-ageing antioxidants.

Antioxidants prevent free radical damage to the skin so eating dark chocolate helps to curb those troublesome wrinkles, plus they can also help in the prevention of some of our more common degenerative diseases.

Dark chocolate is still quite high in calories, but there’s no harm in eating a couple of squares of 70% or 80% organic dark chocolate every day for that sweet treat and a great health kick!

shutterstock_265206914 boiled egg asparagus Feb16EGGS

There’s no better way for your Mum to start her day than by eating some eggs for breakfast!

Eggs provide one of the most complete forms of protein so she’ll be getting all the essential amino acids she needs which help produce hormones as well as the repair and maintenance of good muscle strength. Plus because they have such a good protein content, they’re great for balancing blood sugar levels which means that energy levels will be sustained throughout the day.

shutterstock_227387746 eggs breakfast Apr15Eggs contain a great profile of vitamins and minerals, specifically all the B vitamins which help the body to produce energy, plus Vitamin A which is a great antioxidant, and Vitamin D which is essential for the bones.

A little known fact is that eggs also contain the phospholipid lecithin which is needed for good brain function. So in so many ways, eggs are one of the best all-rounders when it comes to your Mum’s health – why not start the day by making her a delicious plate of poached eggs, asparagus and some wholemeal toast, washed down with that cranberry cocktail!

Whatever you do this weekend, definitely make a fuss of your mum on Mother’s Day – it’s always the thought that counts the most.

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Top tips for boosting your immunity this January!

shutterstock_313931255 woman in winter hat and gloves Jan16The immune system is one of the most important body systems and also one of the most complex. It is vital for protecting us from all kinds of incoming threats such as viruses like the common cold and flu, all of which are flying around right now!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares here top tips on how to boost your immunity this January and hopefully avoid those nasty bugs!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

IMMUNE-BOOSTING DIET

The first thing to do is to clean up your diet. But what does this mean?

Certain foods take their toll on the immune system. For example, eating too much sugar can have a detrimental effect as it appears to prevent white blood cells in the body from attacking invading viruses. So, really look at how much sugar you’re eating. It’s worth keeping a food diary and writing down everything that’s going into your body – honesty is key! It’s only then that you can really see, in black and white, just how much sugar your diet contains.

shutterstock_280752443 less sugar Jan16Alcohol, sugar in tea and coffee, confectionary, biscuits, pastries and cakes, even certain breakfast cereals have a high sugar content. Write it all down and in the next column make some suggestions for alternatives; swap out a sugary cup of tea for fruit teas – they naturally quite sweet without sugar being added. There are numerous high protein snack bars that are sweetened more naturally, or why not try porridge or eggs for breakfast? It’s really worth taking control of your sugar intake – your immune system cannot fully function as it needs to, if your diet is preventing it working optimally.

shutterstock_81302035 vitamin C fruit and veg Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING NUTRIENTS

So you’ve started to clean up your diet which is great! There are also a number of nutrients that are your best friends when it comes to immune support. Good old Vitamin C is so well-known and researched when it comes to providing immune support; it increases white blood cell production needed to fight viruses and reduces the time taken to get over an infection.

Top food choices for Vitamin C are red peppers, dark green leafy vegetables, kiwi fruits, berry fruits and citrus fruits – it’s not all about oranges, so try to include a variety of these foods in your diet.

The mineral, zinc, is another important nutrient within the immune system. Oysters contain the most Zinc of all foods but they are an acquired taste! So why not try beef, other sea foods such as crab and lobster, whole grains and eggs – these are all good sources.

Vitamin D, our sunshine vitamin, is also key for immunity. Obviously, we get very little from the sun during the winter months, especially in the UK, and since the sun is the best source it’s advisable for everyone to take a supplement containing Vitamin D throughout the winter.

Foods that contain vitamin D include oily fish, liver, cheese and eggs. Additionally, Vitamin B6 is key in providing immune support; think foods such as chicken, turkey, fish, wholegrain foods including wholemeal bread, green leafy vegetables and eggs. In fact, all foods that you should be including in a healthy eating plan will help boost your immunity!

shutterstock_300746891 echinacia Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING HERBS

There are two specific herbs that really support the immune system: Pelargonium and Echinacea.

Pelargonium exerts some amazing anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects and is particularly effective in fighting colds and upper respiratory tract infections. For best results you need to take it at the very first sign that you’re getting a cold.

Echinacea, on the other hand, is best taken preventatively, especially if you’ve been around people who are already infected. Echinacea helps to increase white blood cell activity and is really effective if taken for around two weeks at a time during ‘the season’.

shutterstock_329275235 woman sleeping in bed Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING SLEEP

Achieving restful and restorative sleep can often be difficult to achieve. We tend to lead busy and stressful lives and this can disturb sleep patterns, plus we should be devoting eight hours out of our day to actually sleep.

A lack of sleep will reduce the functioning of the immune system, so if you’re struggling at night, is there any way you can take a power nap during the day? These are amazingly effective if you are able to fall asleep quickly and get the restorative benefits from a quick 40 winks.

Additionally, if your brain is busy and overloaded, make a ‘to-do’ list of all your jobs for the next day so you won’t be making lists in your head all night.

The herbs Passionflower and Valerian can also really aid sleep; Passionflower provides relaxation and Valerian helps you to actually stay asleep without feeling ‘groggy’ the next day.

shutterstock_37965340 woman walking in autumn park Jan16IMMUNE-BOOSTING EXERCISE

Moderate exercise is known to boost white blood cell production. Even a daily brisk walk for around 30-40 minutes can really help – try to go for a walk every day in your lunch break – the most important thing is get moving. This really helps the lymph (your body’s infection-fighting fluid) move through the body which delivers immune-protecting cells to where they’re most needed. Plus you’ll feel more energised and positive as a result!

However, if you’re marathon training, and many people are really ramping up the miles at this time of year in preparation, heavy exercise depletes your immunity for around 12 hours afterwards, so a supportive diet, good sleep and the right nutrients all need to be in place.

So, with some mindful changes to your lifestyle, catching a cold or flu this winter doesn’t have to be a ‘given’ – fight them off with diet and exercise this winter!

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There’s a lot of life in these Multi-Vitamins! Find out about new Soft Jells!

shutterstock_242759494 multi generational family Oct15We are very excited to tell you that this week we have launched our new range of Multi-Vitamins – Alive! Soft Jells! We have listened to you, our customers, and created a range of delicious, fruity soft jells which are packed full of key nutrients for you and your family. Consultant Suzie Sawyer, who was involved in the development of these products, tells us why she wanted to get involved and why she supports the Alive! brand.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Following on from the success of the Alive! tablet range of multi-vitamins and minerals, it’s been a great pleasure for me to be at the forefront of the complex formulation process for the Alive! Soft Jell Multi-Vitamins and Minerals range – the exciting and latest addition to the brand in the UK.

Following on from the success of the Alive! tablet range of multi-vitamins and minerals, it’s been a great pleasure for me to be at the forefront of the complex formulation process for the Alive! Soft Jell Multi-Vitamins and Minerals range – the exciting and latest addition to the brand in the UK.

FullRangePerspectiveShot_wgummiesThere’s something for everyone with products for all the family at every life stage, plus a specialist immune formulation which is suitable for both adults and children aged 3 years and over.

As a Consultant Nutritionist, my challenge was to develop a range of multi-vitamins with meaningful levels of a broad spectrum of nutrients, but within a great-tasting Soft Jell format. The other challenge was to create a range of products that were the best in class; we wanted to create optimised formulations that provide great health benefits and could stand up against less efficacious formulations already in the market.

But why should we take a multi-vitamin?

  • Taking additional nutrients will help energy levels, encourage vitality and support optimal wellness – who wouldn’t want some of that?!
  • The body needs around 50 different nutrients on a daily basis – it’s almost impossible to achieve anywhere near that in most households, even with the best of dietary intentions
  • Stress, the scourge of modern-day living, depletes the body of many nutrients, particularly the B vitamins
  • Many prescription medicines frequently deplete the body of essential nutrients
  • Modern farming methods optimise the use of agriculture land, but exhaust it of vital nutrients, particularly trace minerals, such as selenium
  • The typical Western diet is high in sugar and ‘white’ refined foods: these are low in vitamins and minerals and also deplete the body of essential nutrients

So having established why we need to take a multi-vitamin, why try Alive! Soft Jells?

Womens Energy_wgummiesEach Alive! Soft Jell formulation contains optimised levels of the most important vitamins and minerals. With this unique Soft Jell format, taste is absolutely key, as is the mouth texture – in other words how it feels when you chew it. Immune_wgummiesOn both counts I really feel like we have achieved top marks: we have created delicious orange and berry natural fruit flavours and by using a pectin-based formulation we’ve achieved a great melt-in-the-mouth feel.

Womens 50_wgummiesPlus the Soft Jell format is a completely vegetarian formulation – it is free from gelatine.

So, with perfectly balanced nutritional solutions for all the family, what’s special about each specific product in the Soft Jell range?

Mens_wgummiesThe Alive! brand is all about ‘feeling alive!’ and represents vitality, inspiration and healthy living. We encourage everyone to eat a rainbow diet which includes as many fruits and vegetables as possible but we also advocate topping up the daily diet with Alive! Childrens_wgummiesEach Soft Jell contains our unique dried blend of 26 fruits and vegetables – something no other range can boast.

Here’s a quick fire guide to each of the products – you can find out much more on the Alive! website http://www.feelaliveuk.com

shutterstock_49925380 group of women sitting Oct15Women’s Energy Soft Jells

  • Specially optimised for women of all ages to maximise energy production
  • Specific nutrients to help hormone balance including iodine and Vitamin B6
  • 400% NRV of Vitamin D for bone and immune support
  • With biotin, which is needed for luxuriant hair, together with healthy skin and nails

shutterstock_46989997 family in the snow Oct15Immune Support Soft Jells

  • A great all-round immune support with black elderberry being the key nutrient
  • It includes the combined immune-supporting nutrients of Vitamins A, C, D, B6 and Zinc
  • Perfect for the whole family starting from three years and upwards
  • A great product to take ahead of, and throughout, the winter months and beyond

shutterstock_150359354 group of women over fifty Oct15Women’s 50+ Soft Jells

  • Specially balanced for women over 50 years of age and includes all key supportive nutrients for this age group
  • With Vitamins B12 and Biotin for great energy production and Vitamin B6 to help maintain hormone balance
  • Contains 400% NRV of Vitamin D for bone health
  • Plus there’s the complete family of B Vitamins to provide great energy

shutterstock_72617749 men father and son Oct15Men’s Energy Soft Jells

  • Formulated for men of all ages to optimise health and vitality
  • Providing enhanced levels of Zinc and selenium, essential for fertility and reproduction
  • With Vitamins C, B5, B6 and Thiamin specifically for energy production
  • Also containing Vitamins A and B2 for normal vision

shutterstock_289525484 children group Oct15Children’s Soft Jells

  • Specially formulated for all children from 3 years
  • With 200% NRV of vitamin D for bone health – crucial in growing children
  • Also providing optimal levels of Vitamin C and zinc for immune support
  • Including Iodine needed for normal growth in children
  • Superb tasting orange and berry fruits flavours your children will love!

So, with something for everyone, we’ve worked really hard to ensure that the body’s nutritional needs are fully supported and enhanced, and that you’ll actually enjoying taking your daily top-up!

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Beat the bugs with good nutrition: how to support your child’s immunity

shutterstock_269417912 mother and child Sept15It’s back to school and back to basics in terms of protecting your children from the vast array of bugs which will come back into school from all their friends after the summer holidays. With the new term now fully underway, the usual round of ‘bugs’ may have already started to commence their march into your home. Helping your children to be as ‘immune’ as possible is key to avoiding as many nasty bugs as you can. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives you some useful insights into preventing or at least lessening the impact of bugs this season.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

The Immune system is a complex one, made up in part by white blood cells that contain natural killer cells, antibodies and T cells – all of which help to protect the body against invading viruses and bacteria.

shutterstock_168036977 immune system Sept15The immune system should always be ‘on guard’ rather than be ‘switched on’. The uncomfortable feelings you might experience when you have picked up an infection, such as a high temperature or aches and pains, are mainly down to your immune response: a high temperature is actually needed to kill off a virus or bacteria, so it is a good thing even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time!

So, what can you do to support your child’s immune system?

Here are some really easy ways you can contribute to your child’s immunity this season:

shutterstock_308484509 no sugar Sept15AVOID SUGAR

Sugar in all its forms is an immune suppressant, meaning if you have too much your immune system won’t work as effectively as it should. Sugar means everything from table sugar, honey (other than Manuka honey), fizzy drinks and biscuits.

Sugar appears to block the beneficial effects of white blood cell activity. For example, it has been found that drinking two average-sized fizzy drinks can suppress the immune system for at least two hours afterwards, and maybe for as long as five hours. So, if you consider all the potential sources of sugar that may be in your children’s diet, you can see that the immune system may not be fully functioning as it should.

Drinking good old plain water needs to be encouraged, plus making homemade snacks such as muesli bars or flapjacks using natural sweeteners such as xylitol or stevia: these won’t suppress the immune system and will also be kind to their teeth too!

NUTRIENTS ARE KEY

Having a well-balanced and colourful diet is key to building a healthy body and supportive immune system. However, there are a few key nutrients that specifically support strong immunity so it makes sense to ensure you and your family are including these in your diet on a daily basis.

shutterstock_265791974 vit C foods Sept15Vitamin C, found in all fruits and vegetables, helps increase white blood cell production when needed. It is also a key antioxidant, protecting the body against free radicals which can attack the immune system.

shutterstock_262776005 vit D foods Sept15

Vitamin D, primarily made on the skin in the presence of sunshine but also found in egg yolks, fatty fish, liver and cheese, is also key in immune system functioning. Because we are so sunlight deficient during the winter months, a supplement containing good levels of vitamin D is recommended for all sectors of the population; indeed Government guidelines recommend vitamin D supplementation for all children under five and this may well be extended to other age ranges in the near future.

shutterstock_161393798 zinc collage Sept15The mineral Zinc, is another well-known workhorse of the immune system. It’s found in seafood, wholegrains and eggs which may be a reason why children are sometimes deficient as these are not often well liked by our offspring. Again, a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement specifically for children is recommended alongside a healthy diet.

shutterstock_190220546 mother and sleeping child Sept15SLEEP SOUNDLY

Lack of sleep adversely affects the immune system. Part of the reason for this is that during sleep, the body releases proteins called cytokines which are part of the immune system. These are needed in greater numbers to fight infections, and therefore a lack of sleep will increase the body’s susceptibility to infection.

It’s quite by design that we always sleep more when we are unwell: it’s the body’s way of fighting infection. It can often be difficult getting your little ones off to bed in order for them to get sufficient ‘shut-eye’. However, there really is no substitute for a good old fashioned bed-time routine: a real wind-down, which maybe includes a bath, a story and a warm milky drink. Goat’s milk in particular contains high levels of serotonin which in turn makes melatonin – the hormone that helps us to sleep.

shutterstock_239276539 pelargonium sept15PELARGONIUM

Pelargonium is the most widely researched herbal medicine used for fighting coughs, colds and upper respiratory tract infections. Whilst people will often reach for the herb Echinacea to help prevent colds and flu, it’s not really suitable for children under 12 years of age whereas pelargonium can be used in children as young as six years.

Pelargonium can be taken if your child has come into contact with other children with infections or at the first signs that they are coming down with a nasty cold. Pelargonium can be taken for up to two weeks at a time – one to certainly keep on hand in the medicine cabinet.

So as we approach the ‘bug’ season, try these simple but effective measures to support your child’s immunity and keep you and your family fighting fit during the winter months.

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[1] Zinc for the treatment of the common cold; a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Science M et al. CMAJ 2012 Jul 10;184 (10): E551-E561

Vitamin D: why we all need more sunshine in our lives

shutterstock_177395282 woman in sun by pool Aug15We all know that the UK is not famous for its sunny weather. Only this week, The Guardian featured an article highlighting that we do not get enough sun in the UK for healthy Vitamin D levels. So why is it important and what can we do about it? Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at the many functions of Vitamin D in the body and what we can do to keep our levels topped up.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Hardly a day goes by without a news story being released about Vitamin D, and for good reason; it fulfils a number of very important health functions. It is known as ‘The Sunshine Vitamin’ because it’s primarily made on the skin in sunlight, but unfortunately many people living in the Northern Hemisphere can often suffer from a deficiency, particularly during the dark winter months, but more worryingly throughout the year in these less sunny countries. And this includes the UK.

shutterstock_115649197 vitamin D Aug15WHAT DOES VITAMIN D DO?

Vitamin D actually functions as more of a hormone than a vitamin because of its action on the skin.  Other than sunlight, it’s found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, eggs, butter, milk and sprouted seeds.

There are actually two forms of Vitamin D: Vitamin D2 is produced by plants but is not as effective at raising blood levels as Vitamin D3, which is synthesised by the sun or obtained from the animal sources listed above.

Vitamin D’s main ‘claim to fame’ is its ability to facilitate calcium absorption and regulation, thereby building and maintaining strong bones and teeth.  It also plays a key role in the regulation of the body’s immune responses, helping to fight off infections all-year round.

Although it is made by sunlight, conversely it’s unstable to light and, therefore, is lost during any processing. So foods in their natural states are much more effective at raising blood levels of Vitamin D than processed equivalents.

shutterstock_271645694 jogger with bones higlighted in leg Aug15VITAMIN D AND BONES

Vitamin D is crucial for healthy bones.  Recent research, presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s Experimental Biology conference, indicated that Vitamin D may also hold the key to long-lasting physical function.  It seems that higher levels are needed for the preservation of muscle strength, good bone health and greater mobility as people age.

It may surprise you to hear that peak bone mass is generally achieved around 18 years of age, after which time there will be a very gradual decline. This decline can accelerate with age when there is insufficient Vitamin D in the body and, indeed insufficient calcium (found in dairy foods and green leafy vegetables).  It’s no wonder then, that there’s so much emphasis on getting sufficient amounts of Vitamin D from the very early stages of life.

shutterstock_200010890 smiling woman in sunshine Aug15VITAMIN D AND MOOD

We know that being in the sunshine generally makes us feel happier, but this may also be attributable to having higher levels of Vitamin D.

A Finnish research study[1] has shown that people with higher blood levels of Vitamin D have a lower risk of depression.  This large study involving over 5000 individuals aged 30-79 were found to have a lower incidence of depression; this was particularly noticeable in those making better lifestyle choices, confirming that both aspects were important in improving people’s mood.  Those with higher levels of Vitamin D also had better metabolic health in terms of blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels, suggesting that this group generally ate better, and included Vitamin D either within their diet or by taking supplementation.

 shutterstock_244939462 hands making a heart around sunshine Aug15VITAMIN D AND THE HEART

There have been many research studies evaluating the importance of Vitamin D and the prevention of a number of heart-related conditions.[2]  The results have, generally, been very positive in support of higher levels of the vitamin being protective, although there is still a bit more clarity needed around the various mechanisms responsible.

For example, Vitamin D appears to be involved in blood sugar control and the prevention of metabolic syndrome; the correction of markers that cause inflammation; keeping arteries free-flowing, thereby reducing blood pressure. The impact of Vitamin D levels in the body suggest that it is indeed involved in many functions with regards to keeping the heart healthy.

shutterstock_19511227 woman blowing nose with lake background Aug15VITAMIN D AND IMMUNITY

It is now well accepted that vitamin D is an important immune system regulator.  The active form of Vitamin D known as ‘D3’, plays a crucial role in a number of aspects of immune function, but specifically supports increasing the body’s T cells that help to fight unwanted bacteria and viruses.

These cells rely on Vitamin D to activate them and are actually ‘dormant’ when there is insufficient Vitamin D in the blood.  The link between immunity and Vitamin D is so conclusive that the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) have approved a nutritional claim linking the two; you’ll often see this now on foods and, specifically, food supplements. ‘Vitamin D contributes to the normal function of the immune system’

shutterstock_167633765 bottle of capsules Aug15VITAMIN D AND SUPPLEMENTATION

The UK Department of Health issued specific guidelines for those population groups requiring supplementation; children up to the age of five, pregnant and breast-feeding women, those 65 years or over and dark-skinned people who don’t produce as much Vitamin D on the skin.

However, a recent report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), an independent advisory body to the government, has formulated draft proposals that supplementation is advisable for the entire population in the UK.

SACN have apparently recognised that we can’t rely on sunshine in the UK to meet the Vitamin D requirements.  The proposals are only currently in draft stage, but with more than one in five people having low levels of Vitamin D, and bearing in mind its importance in so many health conditions, it seems likely and, indeed, prudent, that these recommendations are adopted.

You only need to spend 15-20 minutes per day in the sun with the skin unprotected (i.e, without sun cream) to make sufficient Vitamin D, so enjoy the sunshine whilst you can and boost your body’s health at the same time.

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[1] T Jaaskelainen et al.  Higher serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations are related to a reduced risk of depression.  British Journal of Nutrition.  Published online doi:10.1017/S0007114515000689

[2] S Judd et al.  Vitamin D Deficiency and Risk for Cardiovascular Disease.  Am J Med Sci 2009 Jul:338(1):40-44