Photo by Jess Wandering
Winter officially begins in just a couple of days, but the cold and flu season has been in full swing for a while. That means my clinic schedule is brimming with coughs, colds, sore throats, flus, and just generally crummy feeling folks.
No one likes being sick, but many people are under the assumption that there is not much they can do to prevent colds and flus, and even less they can do to treat them once they happen. I have good news for you: this is not the case!
I usually come in contact with around 40 contagious people each week at my job alone this time of year. Luckily, I’ve found some tried, true, and evidence based ways to support my immune system so well that I very rarely get ill–even with all this exposure. That is, of course, after being sick non-stop the first winter I worked at a clinic without immune supports in place!
These immune boosting tips are so effective that I now share them with all of my clients and patients this time of year. I want everyone to be armed with these pearls of wisdom and evidence based tools to stay well and thrive through the season. I hope they help support you physically, so you can spend your energy doing and being all of those other important things in your life!
Power Up Your Immune System
A good number of these recommendations focus on the foundations of good health. It’s helpful to be reminded that these things are worth the effort. Because they are powerful creators of health–not just long term, but right here and now. Things like sleep, rest, hydration, and quality nutrition can be the difference between an awesome winter and a pretty rough one. So start with the foundations and build up. Keep adding in additional supports as you can. These recommendations are additive, so the more you do, the more they will power up your immune system! And as you robustly support your body, you’ll waste a lot less time and energy dealing with those tiring and impactful wintertime illnesses.
Sweet, sweet sleep. High quality sleep is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful preventative and healing treatments available to us. Studies indicate that getting 7-9 hours of high quality sleep is associated with a stronger immune system (among many other positive health benefits). It’s also been shown that when people don’t get adequate high quality sleep they are more likely to become ill after exposure to a virus, and they can take longer to recover when they do get sick. Read more about the amazing power of sleep here.
2. Rest & De-stress
Winter is a season of renewal. When we follow our natural rhythms, most of us find our bodies want more rest when the days get shorter and the weather turns colder. So give yourself permission to pause. Add in a little more white space throughout your day and week–some genuinely non-productive time. Take a hot bath. Enjoy some quiet reading before bed. Say yes to a few less commitments this time of year to make room for more renewal. Take mini-breaks throughout your day to enjoy a cup of tea or take a little walk. These pauses allow our body to get into the healing state (aka parasympathetic state), which is where our body can restore, heal, and strengthen. Even just a few minutes of a mindfulness practice once or twice a day can help you more effectively manage the stressors in your life, boosts your emotional resilience, and significantly strengthens your immune system. If you are feeling overwhelmed this time of year and need some more tips to support yourself, you are not alone! Read more tips to tame overwhelm here.
3. Drink Plenty of Fluids, Especially Warm Ones
Drinking adequate fluids supports all the important body functions, including your immune system. When we get dehydrated or are inadequately hydrated our body has to work double time. Enjoy plentiful herbal teas, broths, and filtered water. But make sure to keep any sugary drinks (fruit juices and sweetened beverages) to a minimum.
4. Keep Your Body Moving
Mild to moderate exercise (30-45 minutes or so) boosts the immune system. So keeping yourself active this time of year has huge benefits. If you are feeling fatigued or run down, hold off on any activities that could result in overexertion. As this can actually lower your immune defenses. Keep active, but make sure to check in with what your body needs on a regular basis to see how you might best support it. Read more about how to keep yourself moving, and actually enjoying it, all year round.
5. Wash Your Hands
There is robust research showing that regular hand washing is a powerful way to prevent illness. Make sure and wash your hands throughout the day, and first thing when you arrive home. It’s a simple habit with a huge impact on our wintertime wellness.
6. Use a Nasal Rinse A Few Times a Week
Research supports that using a Nasal Saline Rinse (such as a Neti Pot) can reduce the risk of developing an upper respiratory infection, relieve sinus symptoms, and shorten the duration of an illness if it does develop. Keeping our mucous membranes moist protects them from illness causing microbes. Increase this to 1-2 times a day if you feel like you may be starting to get sick or currently have a viral illness.
7. Load up on Immune Supporting Foods
Food is medicine. So this is an important place to start when we want to stay healthy through the winter. Here are the key things to remember when eating for strong immunity.
- Spice it up. Spices are often medicinal foods with immune boosting and antimicrobial activities. So add lots of garlic, onion, ginger, tumeric, cayenne pepper, black pepper, basil, oregano, and more to your meals! Tumeric and ginger are especially powerful immune boosting foods. Here’s a yummy immune boosting beverage you can make at home that includes quite a few of these foods.
- Make sugary foods a rare treat. Sugar actually depresses our immune system for 2-4 hours after we eat it, among other impacts. So it’s important we keep it minimal as a general guideline for wellness, but especially this time of year and while recovering from an illness.
- Eat at least 3-4 servings a day of colorful fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens and cruciferous veggies like cauliflower and brussel sprouts). Try and gets lots of variety in color because the color pigments in foods (phytonutrients) are jam-packed with immune boosting goodness. Blue and purple foods like blueberries are also great for the immune system!
- Eat plenty of high quality protein with your meals and snacks (nuts, beans, grass fed and lean meats, poultry, and fish).
- Eat plenty of high quality fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, etc).
8. Supplement With Immune Strengthening Nutrients
- Multivitamin – A high quality multivitamin is a great foundational support to have in place and can round out your mineral and vitamin needs–especially when it comes to nutrients that are hard to get enough of.
- Vitamin D3 – This is a biggie for our immune system, and it’s nearly impossible to get enough of it this time of year in the northern hemisphere. Taking 2,000 IU daily year round is a great place to start. I highly recommend getting tested by your medical provider to check your levels and see if you need even higher doses than that. Many of us do. But there is such thing as too much Vitamin D. So it’s not recommended to take higher doses without testing your levels first.
- Buffered Vitamin C – Another highly researched and evidence based recommendation. Great for preventing and recovering from illnesses. Take 500-1000 mg 3 times a day with meals and snacks.
- Zinc – This is a great immune boosting nutrient that people rarely get adequate amounts of. Take 15mg a day for prevention and boost it up to 30mg for short periods of time for additional support. You can also increase zinc containing foods in your diet like oysters, pumpkin seeds, and red meat.
- Artic Cod Liver Oil – Research suggests that vitamins A and D may only be effective at preventing colds and flus if we are getting enough of both of them. They work synergistically. Artic cod liver oil is a great way to get both of these nutrients in a highly usable form for your body. Try Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil from Rosita for a high quality source.
9. Add in Immune Enhancing Herbs
- Echinacea – Studies support that this gentle herbal remedy strengthens the immune system, decreases the frequency of upper respiratory infections (coughs, sore throats, and colds), and prevents secondary bacterial infections from forming on top of a viral illnesses. I highly recommend the Super Echinacea tincture from Herb Pharm. Take as directed on the bottle. I love taking this as a part of our Be Well Toddy (recipe here) or mixed in with my tea.
- Elderberry syrup – This is one of the most potent botanicals for preventing colds and flus, and helping us heal up from them when we do get one. Take 1 teaspoon twice daily if you feel like you are starting to become ill. And keep taking it if you do develop an illness.
- There are many others but these two are a great start!
Stay well and have a wonderful winter season!
P.S. We’d love to hear from you in the comments below! What are your tricks for staying healthy through cold and flu season?