Healthy Habits to Boost Immunity
Winter doesn’t have to mean getting sick with the crud. There are many ways to boost immunity during these chilly months to prevent sickness and enjoy a healthy winter season.
As the sunlight fades and the mercury steadily drops, the chilly season of sniffles and sneezes sets in. Can we blame Jack Frost and the sliding temperatures for this onslaught of cold and flu?
The short answer is no. The long answer is that several factors contribute to these aches and pains. For example, there are a few reasons the cold is so common, such as:
The flu is also a nasty antagonist that attacks about five million people each season (and around a quarter of a million die from it). Part of the reason this virus is so potent is because the influenza strains change and evolve from season to season. This prevents people from being able to maintain immunity from one season to the next.
Simultaneously, there are other factors that place an extra burden on the immune system in winter. We spend more time indoors, in closer proximity to others, where germs circulate. We spend less time outdoors taking getting healthy doses of sunlight and vitamin D. We tend to become less active as the days grow shorter, and our sleep cycles may be impacted, which further reduces the body’s resilience. Meanwhile, the stress of holidays may weigh on us, further posing a challenge to our immune system.
The question that seems to be at the top of everyone’s mind is: “What can I do to boost my immune system?” And the good news is that there is plenty we can do! We can take action to strengthen our immune system and either prevent illness, or shorten its duration and intensity if sickness does strike.
Our immune system acts as a protective barrier to stop germs from attacking and invading our cells. It needs to be nurtured and cared for, kind of like how flowers need to be watered and fertilized to flourish, or a car needs maintenance to run well. Over time, with proper attention, the same approaches that provide your body with a stronger defense also protect you against the health impacts of aging. It is a lasting win!
A healthy lifestyle is the first line of defense in building a strong immune system. Some nutritional tweaks and simple shifts can give an immediate boost to protect health. The following are some simple things you can incorporate:
To maintain good health, you need nutrient-dense foods that are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants stabilize free radicals and reduce inflammation, which helps decrease the risk of illness. A few examples of immune boosting, antioxidant rich foods are:
۞ Berries: While blueberries boast the most antioxidants, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and elderberries are also rich in antioxidants. This is due to their polyphenols, including procyanidin, quercetin, and anthocyanins, which give them their spectacular color.
۞ Hot cacao: Cacao is packed with nearly double the amount of antioxidants found in red wine and up to three times more than those found in tea. Cacao is also high in magnesium, which can help lower anxiety. This powerful food also contains tryptophan, which converts to serotonin, a chemical that can help elevate mood. A calmer state helps ensure that your body’s immune system can do its job more effectively.
۞ Broccoli Sprouts: Cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, spinach, and cauliflower have been shown to be boost immunity. Broccoli sprouts are a particularly good choice because, at the sprouting stage, they contain 50 times more sulforaphane than mature broccoli flowerets. Sulforaphane helps your body with cell repair and the production of energy, hormones, and a master antioxidant called glutathione.
While the cozy months of winter can tempt to fall in to a less healthy pattern, keep in mind that food can impact our energy level and our immune system. Make sure that treats are occasional and healthy foods are still a part of your daily routine.
A few healthy, immune boosting foods are:
۞ Mushrooms: Mushrooms carry helpful nutrients for warding off cold and flu, such as Zinc, vitamin D, and selenium. These small powerhouses also have high levels of something called beta-glucans, which help activate the cells that kill off pathogens.
Add some mushrooms to an omelet, green smoothies, or dishes like salads, soups, and stews. If you’re FODMAP sensitive and mushrooms tend to upset your stomach, try medicinal edible mushrooms like Reishi, which may be better tolerated.
۞ Cruciferous Vegetables: Common examples of cruciferous vegetables are broccoli, brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale, cabbage, cauliflower and radishes. These delicious foods contain beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, folate, and vitamins C, E, and K – talk about an immunity powerhouse! They are also rich in polyphenols, which enhance the body’s defense against pathogens, especially when cooked.
۞ Garlic: The high sulfur content in garlic does more than boost the flavor in food. It has potent antibiotic properties that support your liver in effectively carrying out detoxification. This, in turn, reduces toxins that can contribute to the inflammation that compromises immunity. Garlic is also rich in selenium, an essential mineral which ramps up immunity.
Note: Research shows that garlic can lose some of its sulfuric benefits when cooked, but crushing the garlic and letting it stand for 10 minutes before cooking helps protect the health-boosting enzymes. Add garlic to a salad dressing or a warm (but not hot) cup of water, lemon and honey.
۞Herbal tea: Every time you sip on a cup of tea, your body enjoys a surge of health-giving antioxidants called flavonoids and polyphenols. The antioxidants in tea rank higher than in some fruits and vegetables! These helps protect your body against free radical damage.
Note: Within 20 minutes of drinking a cup of tea, there is a measurable increase in the level of antioxidants in your blood, as well as a drop in cortisol (the stress hormone). When feeling tense or stressed out, it might be a great time to pause and breathe over a cup of calming tea.
This calming effect is in part due to L-theanine, a soothing compound found in tea. In your liver, this is further broken down into a molecule that helps your immune system deal with bacteria, viral, fungal and parasitic infections. Tea drinkers also have up to five times more of a particular type of protein made by your body’s white blood cells that help fight everything from viruses to disease.
Some ways to enjoy tea are:
Calming teas: These include chamomile, valerian, and ashwagandha, as well as teas that combine ingredients like lemon balm, skullcap, and passionflower. These promote feelings of calm, which allows your body to direct more energy into keeping your immune system strong.
During this time of year we may need to consider supplementation in addition to healthy food. While I can’t recommend particular supplementation, I can share some examples that studies have shown to be helpful to immunity:
۞ Zinc: Zinc is so important that it is found in every cell. It is critical for healthy cell development and function. Zinc interacts with thousands of proteins in your body and is involved in about 300 different enzyme processes. Zinc also works as a powerful antioxidant. When zinc is deficient (which is common) there is reduced function in your T cells, which act as guardians for your immune system.
Some foods rich in zinc include:
Note: Recent research shows Zinc lozenges may reduce the duration of a cold. It may even circumvent a cold if taken within the first 24 hours of symptoms. Make sure you don’t overdo your zinc intake though, as too much can lead to a copper deficiency, which can cause anemia.
۞Turmeric: This warming spice triggers an increase in an important protein that helps your immune system fight off fungus, viruses and bacteria. It is also packed full of antioxidants and is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Turmeric can be added to vegetable dishes, soups, stew, and dips, such as hummus.
۞ Echinacea: Also known as the purple coneflower, echinacea is thought to activate certain immune cells that devour harmful viruses and bacteria. A recent study by the University of Connecticut showed that echinacea can reduce the chance of catching a cold by 58 percent!
When the temperature drops, it can be hard to stay active and get the proper amount of exercise. But lack of exercise during these months can greatly contribute to a drop in the efficacy of our immune system. Exercise boosts many helpful chemicals and hormones in our bodies, and it helps to move toxins out of the body. Make time for your usual exercise routine, no matter how busy you are.
What about activity in that chilly air? Winter fresh air is good for everyone! Outdoor winter play has long been blamed for colds and the flu. Our parents told us to “bundle up or you’ll catch a cold,” and their parents probably told them the same thing. But winter play gets a bad rap. Although going outside unprepared for the elements is unwise, viruses that are spread by other human beings are indoors. All of the bacteria, dirt, dander, and other germs simply get recycled through the air vents over and over. The more time you spend inside, the more you are exposed. Nothing is more exhilarating than that first deep breath of cold, winter air before starting some fun in the outdoors!
Outdoor activity is a great way to get both exercise and a dose of vitamin D. This vitamin is mostly synthesized from sunshine through your skin, and is important to bodily processes likes boosting immune function and even shutting down cancer cells. Lack of vitamin D has also been linked to a higher risk of coming down with influenza.
Some foods that provide vitamin D include:
(Note: Three ounces of cooked salmon has about 570 international units (IU) of vitamin D.)
Your body repairs and renews cells during sleep, which may be why skimping on sleep increases the risk of catching a cold. A recent study found that people who sleep eight hours a night develop better antibody response when exposed to a cold virus.
Some helpful tips for great sleep:
Regardless of the season, make sleep a priority. When your sleep is dialed in you will have a better chance of staying well and for having the energy to enjoy the holidays!
The more stressed you are the less effective your natural killer immune cells are, and the less primed your immune system is to do its job. If you live a super busy life and are juggling too many responsibilities, the chronic stress can actually rewire your brain so that the parts of the brain that register stress and fear actually grow. This means you become more likely to react to small triggers with higher stress response. Thankfully, those changes can be reversed. Encouraging studies show that when the stress is alleviated through practices like mindfulness, within weeks to months the brain starts to change back to a healthier configuration.
Tips to de-stress:
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, famously said “All disease begins in the gut.” Now science is filling in the rest of that story. Research shows that when your levels of bad bacteria outweigh the good bacteria, your immune system is weakened. Your gut can also undermine your immunity if you have chronic digestive issues.
To boost gut health, include:
Best wishes to you for a healthy and happy winter! If you’d like to download a guide to further boost your immune system, download my free e-guide: The Ultimate Immune Boosting Guide
Cindi Broda is a Board Certified Master Health Coach who works with clients individually. She will have group programs available in 2023. She is the owner of Dynamic Wellness, LLC and can be contacted through her webpage at www.DynamicWellness.life
*Always Consult with your Doctor first before starting any new practice-The Mezza, LLC is not held responsible for reaction to any products or supplements taken.