Keeping Healthy as the seasons change

The long days of summer are coming to an end and we need to look forward to the colder months with a positive attitude and keep as healthy as we can.

Colds and flu are the most prevalent autumn and winter illnesses and the herb echinacea has been shown to help improve our immunity. This can be taken at the onset of symptoms, or daily in a smaller dose during the colder seasons. Omega 3 fish oils, vitamin C and zinc are the best supplements to take.

You may be eligible for a free flu vaccination from your GP or certain pharmacies, especially if you are over 65 or pregnant. People with chronic illness, particularly heart or respiratory problems can also receive a free vaccine. It is important that this is done annually as the flu virus changes all the time and the formula for the flu jab is altered to allow for this. Children under 18 can also be vaccinated in the form of a nasal spray if deemed necessary.

The other vaccine available for people over 65 or people with certain long-term illnesses is the pneumococcal jab. Also known as the pneumo jab, the vaccine protects against pneumococcal infections such as bronchitis, pneumonia and meningitis and can protect you for throughout your lifetime.

These are positive precautionary measures available free of charge from your GP or participating pharmacies. The vaccination program is available from September, but we can take other steps to improve our health over the colder months.

As the days shorten, the lack of daylight can affect people by causing a seasonal depression called SAD. The symptoms of this are low mood and energy, overeating, anxiety, tearfulness, lowered immunity and sleepiness. It may start in September and peak around Christmas and your GP may prescribe you with anti-depressants. But you can also help yourself by getting outside where possible for some exercise and try the herb St John’s Wort in liquid or tablet form which helps relieve low mood and anxiety. Be sure to check with your pharmacist first as it may interfere with your other medication.

Light boxes are a good alternative remedy. This therapy involves sitting in front of a special box for an hour or two each day, during this time jobs such as paper work, reading, sewing etc can be done. A similar product is a dawn simulator light which wakes you up gradually with a dawn mimicking light for up to two hours before you want to get up.

Our bodies manufacture vitamin D from sunlight, which is essential for keeping our bones strong and healthy. However, our bodies cannot create vitamin D in the winter sun as the UVB radiation is not strong enough; so it is best to top up our bodily reserves with the help of oily fish, meat and eggs. A supplement is also available in tablet or liquid form from pharmacies and should be taken be people who are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women, children under five and people aged 65 and over.

It is also important to keep on top of our general health as the winter months approach. So be sure to get sufficient sleep, keep a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, avoid smoking and stress, and be get plenty of fresh air and exercise.

If you have any questions about supplements, for example if they are suitable to take with your prescribed medication, please ask you pharmacist.