It’s that time of year again! The dreaded cold and flu season! With such a warm fall (I still have summer flowers blooming beautifully in my pots!), it kind of snuck up on us this year. I’ve heard of several people who spent this past weekend under the weather, so it’s clear that cold and flu season is upon us. Rats! I have to say though, we’re usually pretty lucky when the viruses start flying around – we don’t catch much and if we do catch something, it’s gone pretty quickly. (I’m knocking on wood now, just in case!). I’m 100% convinced that’s a direct result of our daily routines and specific things we do to boost our immune systems.
As we all know, the immune system is the body’s defender against anything that might harm it and the viruses that cause colds and flu fall into that category. Keeping your immune system in tip-top shape should be a focus for everyone all year round, but particularly at this time of year when germs are multiplying. It’s pretty near impossible to avoid coming in contact with something during the course of the winter, but we do have some control over if we get sick, and/or how long before we get over it. In addition to getting a flu shot, there are ways to support and strengthen your immune system every day that will help avoid getting sick in the winter.
As always, I’m all about using food and supplements to heal the body as much as possible. I’m still amazed at the body’s ability (and desire) to heal and how effectively food can support that healing – I’m living proof of it! It’s not always possible, but I do try to avoid using medications if we don’t have to and when it comes to giving your immune system a boost, there are lots of things we can do besides grabbing an Advil! Here are the things we do in our house to keep us healthy:
1. Eat Immune Boosting Foods:
- Bone broth– Drinking bone broth is one of the best ways you can support gut health. Stocked full of gelatin, amino acids, and minerals, it strengthens the intestinal lining and helps to lower inflammation in the digestive tract. With over 70% of our immune system in our gut, anything that supports gut health will strengthen your immune system. It’s great to sip on mid-afternoon or evening.
- Berries – Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries are powerhouses filled with immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory compounds. They’re out of season right now, but frozen berries offer everything you get in local fresh berries with the added bonus that they won’t go bad! We make sure to get our fill by adding them all to a smoothie every morning.
- Citrus fruit – Oranges, grapefruit, lemons, tangerines, and limes are excellent sources of Vitamin C and also rich in plant compounds with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. We can’t make vitamin C ourselves and we don’t store it in the body, but it’s a key nutrient for our immune system. Vitamin C increases the white blood cell count in the body – the body’s key defenders against infections. Have an orange or grapefruit as a mid-morning snack, or squeeze some lemon in warm water before your morning coffee.
2. Back Up Your Diet with Supplements and Herbs that strengthen the immune system:
- Vitamin C – As I mentioned, we can’t make or store vitamin C in the body, so getting enough is critical for immune support. We’re all busy and often don’t get enough of the nutrients we need from diet alone…taking a vitamin C supplement is an easy way to get in more of this immune-boosting powerhouse to help fend off a cold and/or heal faster. Interesting to note – we deplete our stores of vitamin C in 4 hours, so it’s important to take it throughout the day. And don’t worry, your body will get rid of what it doesn’t need.
- Vitamin D – I was shocked to learn most people have sub-optimal levels of vitamin D. I even read about a marathon runner in California who was vitamin D deficient…if someone in Cali isn’t getting enough vitamin D from all that glorious sunshine, there’s no chance we’re getting enough way over here in the north east! Vitamin D strengthens the immune system and activates an antimicrobial response in the body, allowing it to better fight off the bad stuff. Get your vitamin D levels checked and start a supplement if you’re low.
- Zinc – Zinc works with vitamin C to boost white blood cell count and support their function in the body. Take zinc at the first sign of a cold to help shorten its duration and/or suck on a lozenge several times throughout the day, particularly to help soothe a sore throat.
- Elderberry syrup – We’ve just started using this dandy little treatment and love it. Elderberry syrup is full of immune boosting compounds (phytonutrients) that help fight off infections, keeping colds and the flu at bay. This study found that elderberry neutralizes the enzyme used by viruses to penetrate cells in the lining of the nose and throat to prevent infection. And if you take it when you’re already infected, elderberry syrup can help you heal faster by preventing further spreading of the virus.How cool is that?? This is the product we’ve started using – it’s not cheap, but it works! You can also easily make your own for a much lower cost and then you know exactly what’s in it.
- Astragalus -Astragalus is an herb with significant immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties. It stimulates the immune system and is also an antioxidant the helps to protect the body from free radical damage. The holistic community can’t say enough about using this herb to support the immune system! We use a tincture and put 2-3 ml in a little water (less for kids), twice a day on an empty stomach. Keep it going all winter and you’ll be glad you did!
I seriously can’t stress this enough. When you’re sick with a cold or the flu, rest! Your body can’t repair itself efficiently when it’s tired (or stressed, or not being nourished properly). When you don’t get enough sleep or are in stress overload, your body increases cortisol levels which suppresses immune function. Not gonna help you get better. Boost your immune system so it can fight off all the viruses going around this winter by getting enough sleep before you get sick…7.5-8 hrs is ideal. And if you end up catching something, take a break from all the things and get enough rest so your body can fight it off.