It’s that time of year again… the time of year when everyone seems to be coughing or blowing their nose. While an occasional cold or flu is an inevitable part of winter, you shouldn’t be chronically sick.
Whether you want to fight off a cold or avoid getting one, here are ten simple ways to boost your immune system.
- Vitamin C: We all know that citrus is good for fighting a cold. You can also get your daily dose of vitamin C from bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and many other fresh fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C is water-soluble, so a small dose every day is better than a single large serving. And it’s better to get your vitamin C from vegetables than to take it as a pill.
- Vitamin D: We get most of our vitamin D when we are out enjoying the summer sunshine. However, from September to March the angle of the sun is too low in the sky for people living in the northern latitudes to absorb vitamin D. So for anyone living north of the Canadian border, I recommend taking a liquid vitamin D supplement throughout the winter months.
- Zinc: Zinc is great at helping fight off illnesses. Red meats and shellfish are great sources of zinc (with liver and oysters being the ultimate superfoods.) The best non-meat sources of zinc are dried beans and pumpkin seeds, which should definitely be eaten with a source of vitamin C to improve absorption. So slices of red pepper with a handful of pumpkin seeds are a great cold-fighting snack!
- Iron and B vitamins: If you are chronically sick, I recommend having your iron, ferritin and B-vitamin levels checked. If you are vegan or vegetarian then it is even more important to have your iron checked. However, even carnivores can be low in iron, which will affect immune system functioning.
- Eating probiotic foods can help prevent bacteria and viruses from getting into your system. A healthy flora is your immune system’s first level of defence. Here’s what you can do to build up a healthy flora:
- Avoid refined sugars and eat lots of fibre as this will feed the right strains of yeast and bacteria.
- Try to eat something fermented every day because it’s more effective than buying probiotic supplements.
- Here are some ideas for getting quality probiotics when you don’t have time to make homemade fermented foods.
Immune Boosting Supplements
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research to support the use of supplements for immunity (beyond vitamin D). However, everyone has their favourite cure, whether it is garlic, ginger, echinacea or elderberry. My rule of thumb is if it can’t harm you and it’s not too expensive then why not try it? There is a lot of evidence for the placebo effect, and that’s something I’m always willing to gamble on!
- Make homemade immune-boosting drinks like a fermented health tonic or an immune-boosting kvass. They are both full of antioxidants, vitamin C and probiotics. Drink them with a handful of pumpkin seeds, and you’re on your way to the best immune-boosting supplement available. Alternatively, make a potent antiviral remedy from elderberries or a bowl of soothing immune-boosting chicken soup.
Lifestyle changes are probably the hardest, yet most effective way to improve your immune system. Here are the top four lifestyle changes that will boost your immune system.
- Reduce Stress: Long term stress is really hard on the immune system. And I know how hard it is to get away from stress. Between work, family and other obligations it’s hard for me to manage my stress levels.
I try to do a 10-minute mindful meditation during stressful times. Even if I don’t have 10 minutes of free time, I still try to take that break before bed. I’m the first to admit that I am not great at focusing on nothing, but just taking that time to sit without any distractions is a great way to reduce stress (even if the stressors are still there).
I help my children cope with stress by using a worry box. Whenever they have a worry that they can’t stop thinking about, we write it down on a piece of paper and put it in the worry box. I do this for myself too… but I call it a To-Do list!
- Get More Exercise: Exercise helps to reduce stress levels and boost immunity. Even if you don’t have time to get a full workout in, doing 1 minute of jumping jacks will get your blood pumping. Try building exercise into your routines by choosing to take the stairs, walk to local destinations or stand during meetings.
- Sleep Longer: If you work on reducing your stress and exercising, then you will also improve your sleep! Follow good sleep hygiene.
- Don’t use screens within 1 hour of bedtime. I know it’s hard, but it really helps. Try reading an old-fashioned book instead.
- Avoid thinking and talking about stressful subjects within 1 hour of bedtime.
- Don’t have any caffeine after 2 pm (including green tea or chocolate).
- Keep regular sleeping and waking times.
- Avoid Toxins: Our world is full of toxins. There are the ones we choose to consume, including cigarettes, caffeine and alcohol. There are the ones we inadvertently consume when we spray scented air-freshener into the bathroom. And there are also the toxins that we can’t avoid since they are a byproduct of living in a city (mainly air pollution).
Eating healthy foods and drinking lots of water will help your body eliminate toxins. However, it’s also important to try to avoid toxins as much as possible.
Simple changes include:
- Avoid using scented products
- Clean with baking soda and vinegar instead of commercial cleaners
- Drink filtered water
- Quit smoking
- Reduce your caffeine and alcohol consumption (a little is good for you, a lot is not).