We all know what it’s like to come down with a cold and reluctantly head straight to the covers, armed with Vitamin C. In fact, the average adult gets the common cold two-four times per year, and 5-20% of the population gets the flu each year. But what if you could strengthen your immunity all year round so that the common cold or flu doesn’t stand a chance against you? I’m here to show you how.
In this post, you’ll learn why we get sick in the winter, why immune health should be addressed year-round, and how you can can boost your health with everyday tricks. We’ll cover foods to eat that support immunity, as well as a few bonus tips on recipes you can make that pack an immune-boosting punch. Let’s dig in.
Rather view this post visually? Here is a slide deck adapted from a recent presentation at the Boston Public Market.
Do You Know Why We Get Sick in the Winter?
First things first, let’s break down why we get sick in the winter months (as opposed to the summer) and what you can do about it:
1. We spend more time indoors
From lack of sunlight exposure to breathing in stale air that’s recirculating germs, the winter months take a toll on our bodies and our immune system suffers.
Here’s what you can do:
- Get outside (even if for 5 minutes) everyday for fresh air
- Open the windows on “warmer days” to freshen the indoor air
- Invest in a HEPA air filter
- Use air purifying plants (aloe and snake plant are two of my favorites)
- Keep the house clean so dust and germs aren’t hanging around too long
While it’s healthy to honor this slower time of year, it doesn’t have to be due to a cold. That’s why I encourage you to get creative by following these tips to support your immune system no matter the season.
2. We’re not as active
As the cold months settle in, chances are you’re not running or walking outside as much, but rather cooped up on the couch at night and stuffed up in your office during the day. When we move our bodies less, our lymphatic system suffers. This is the system that helps to clear things (like the cold and flu) from the body. So, if it isn’t activated by regular movement, viruses and bacteria can hang around. As the winter months age on and we become more sedentary, we begin to lose our energy capacity, which weakens our body and immune system.
Here’s what you can do:
- Move every day, even if at home (do jumping jacks, push ups, squats, run up the stairs, or even get a rebounder)
- Invest in a gym membership
- Commit to a regular workout schedule (e.g. 7am 4x/week for 40 minutes)
- Set an alarm on your phone to get up and move every 30 minutes
Just because you can’t run or get active outdoors doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do indoors!
3. We indulge over the holidays
Ah yes, and then there’s the holidays. Between the traveling, the end-of-year and family-related stress, and the never-ending cookies and treats, we put our bodies through a lot this time of year. Not only that, by when you’re traveling or out at a holiday party, chances are there are less leafy greens and antioxidant-rich foods (hello, gluten and sugar!) so your body becomes deprived of the nutrients it needs to keep your immune system strong.
Here’s what you can do:
- Get a healthy dose of greens in everyday (kale, swiss chard, collard greens, etc.)
- Load you plate up with as much colorful fruits and veggies as you can
- Drink more water (½ your weight in ounces)
- Cut down on sweets and other indulgences (I know, I know…)
- Meditate, take a bath, and just breathe!
Of course you should enjoy the holidays, but aim to strike a balance to keep your body healthy.
6 Ways To Boost Your Immune System Year Round
Now that it’s clear why we get sick in the winter, let’s talk about all the ways in which you can boost your immune health year-round (because treating your body well shouldn’t start when you see the first signs of a cold come round…)
1. Eat a Clean Diet (Here’s How)
The food you eat either helps your body defend itself or adds fuel to the fire. Processed and fast foods high in sugar and unhealthy fats lack nutrients to feed your cells and keep the immune system strong. That’s why it’s important to make it a priority to eat whole and organic foods (fruits, vegetables, complex carbs, pasture-raised meat and wild caught fish) year-round.
Here are a few healthy options for boosting immunity:
Strawberries. These are high in the flavonoid fisetin, which help protect the T-regulatory cells of your immune system from damage.
Sweet potatoes. These are high in Vitamin A, which helps to regenerate cells as well as boost neutrophils, macrophages and natural killer cells.
Lentils. These have a high amount of folate, which helps make and repair DNA and has an overall positive effect on immunity.
Parsley. Rich in the flavonoid apigenin, which is detoxifying and anti-inflammatory, parsley is an herb you don’t want to miss out on!
Leafy greens. Rich in a broad range of nutrients and minerals, you need to get these into every meal. Whether by eating a salad or sauteing them as a side dish, make leafy greens a non-negotiable in your meal planning.
Pasture-raised, grass-fed meat. Free from hormones, antibiotics and soy or grain feed, these are the purest source of protein, a building block of the body that even your immune system needs in order to stay strong.
2. Eat Seasonally
Eating foods that are in season guarantees freshness and helps your body adapt to the changing climate. Thinking back to our ancestors thousands of years ago, this is how they ate, and our bodies are still primed to eat and thrive in this way.
In the winter, depending on where you’re located in the world, find out what foods grow fresh and where you can get them. Buying direct from farms near you is an easy and smart way to do this.
3. Optimize Digestive Health
Good gut health is the foundation of good overall health. This is especially true when it comes to our immune system because 70% of immune cells are located in the digestive tract. This means you need a healthy gut with adequate levels of good bacteria to regulate immune and digestive function and to fend off invaders.
You can feed and populate your beneficial flora by having:
- A high quality probiotic (here are my favorite brands)
- Probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir
- Bone broth to support the integrity of your digestive tract and maintain the health of the immune system inside
- Less stress so as not to over-exert energy on the small things, and reserve energy for fighting bacteria and viruses
4. Get Enough Sleep
Did you know that 30% of our population has insomnia? And just ONE night without proper rest can quadruple your risk of catching a cold.That’s because when you sleep, your body repairs, rejuvenates and detoxifies itself. To enable it to do this, aim to get to bed by 10pm and get a full 8 hours of sleep per night.
If sleep isn’t easy for you, work with your healthcare professional (or myself) to find out why you’re not sleeping and how to fix it. One of the first things you can do is
establish a nighttime routine to wind down as this signal to the body it’s time for sleep. See this post for a few things you can start doing right away.
5. Stay Hydrated
Fluids help to flush out toxins, keeping cells hydrated and strong. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you want to drink 75 ounces per day of water.
Two easy ways to remind yourself of this are:
- Keep a water bottle with you at all times
- Set an alert on your phone every hour to remind yourself to drink water
6. Get Enough Vitamin D
Research shows that low vitamin D levels are linked to higher rates of cold, flu and respiratory infections, yet the majority of the US population is suffering from chronic, low levels of Vitamin D. This is troublesome because Vitamin D regulates the expression of over 2,000 genes, including those of the immune system. Vitamin D is produced in the body by sunlight, so in the winter months when we don’t get enough exposure to the sun, you can guess why our levels drop and our immune system suffers.
200-400 units/day used to be the daily recommended supplementation dose of Vitamin D per day, but now, many physicians belief that amount is far too low, and we actually need closer to 2,000 units/day*. Especially if you’re coming down with a cold, taking up to 2,000 units of Vitamin D3 per kilogram of body weight once a day for three days may do the trick. *NOTE: Be sure to check with your healthcare practitioner about what dosage is right for you, and even run a blood test to find out where your levels are so you can supplement accurately.
7. Take an Echinacea “Booster Shot”
Echinacea is one of my favorite herbs for immune health because it packs a punch. That’s because it is anti-inflammatory and can help reduce bronchial symptoms as well as fight off infections. In fact, in a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial in 2013, researchers found that echinacea effectively treated respiratory tract infections in the short- and long-term, and didn’t cause the same resistance as a popular flu medication, oseltamivir, often causes.
Best taken at the first sign of illness, 1,000 mg* of Echinacea root tincture 2-3x/daily can help your immune system strengthen and fight against infections. If tinctures aren’t your thing, or you prefer the soothing effects of tea, drink five to six cups of echinacea tea on the first day of symptoms, and then 1 cup a day thereafter. *NOTE: check with your healthcare practitioner about the amount you need first.
What To Do When You Get Sick: Cold & Flu Busting Remedies
Okay, but what if you’re already sick or you forget to do some of these things year-round (you’re busy, I get it!) and you need some help now? Here are a few ways to kick out the cold or flu by supporting your immune system quickly and naturally.
1. Increase your Vitamin C intake
As you know, Vitamin C is crucial to our immune health. To ward off a cold or the flu, take 1,000* milligrams of vitamin C daily and up to 4,000* milligrams daily if you come down with a cold or the flu. Also try to eat as many whole fruits and vegetables as you can – especially those that are in season. *NOTE: check with your healthcare practitioner what dosage is right for you.
2. Drink Hot Liquids
Mix hot water with lemon, honey, and cinnamon. Honey and cinnamon help prevent mucus buildup and keeps you hydrated, while lemon detoxifies. You could also make ginger tea and add raw honey for its antibacterial benefits.
3. Increase Your Probiotics
As we talked about earlier, your gut houses most of your immune system, so it needs to be supported in order to stop a cold in its tracks. I recommend doubling up on your probiotic and loading up on gut-friendly fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut.
4. Use Oregano Oil
Oregano oil is a potent natural antibiotic and antiviral and I use it often when treating client with all sorts of infections. You can diffuse it in the air as needed during illness or dab a tiny amount (diluted 1 part oregano to 4 parts carrier oil) on the feet for fast absorption.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar Gargle and Drink
Apple cider vinegar (or ACV) has hundreds of benefits to the body, one of which is helping the remove bacteria and viruses from the body by alkalizing the body. At the onset of a cold, mix 1 tablespoon of raw ACV in water and repeat hourly until symptoms disappear.
6. Remove white foods
At the first sign of illness, completely remove all white foods from the diet. This includes:
- Sugars & sweeteners
- Cheese & dairy
Often highly processed, these foods can suppress immune function and slow the body’s healing ability. Instead, eat homemade chicken soup, broth, or drink hot liquids to keep your strength up.
7. Load up on immune-boosting foods
Below is a list of the most potent immune-boosting foods that you can eat:
- Garlic (antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal)
- Ginger (warming food, it can prevent a cold from coming on in the first place)
- Blueberries (a huge antioxidant)
- Red bell peppers (ounce for ounce, these peppers have twice as much vitamin C as any other source!)
- Broccoli (not only has vitamin C, but A and E plus antioxidants, vitamins and minerals)
- Probiotic-rich foods (organic yogurt, fermented veggies, kefir)
- Honey (reduces mucus secretions and coughs)
- Citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, lemons)
Immune Boosting Recipes
There are two recipes in particular I want to share with you that combine many of the ingredients we’ve talked about in this post that can help kick a cold out of you or prevent it from getting the best of your immune system.
1 ½ cups almond or coconut milk
1 cup organic kale
½ cup fresh parsley
½ red pepper
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger root
1 teaspoon raw honey
1 scoop maca powder (optional, but gives an extra immune boost!)
“Flu Shot” Drink
Drink preventatively ½ cup 1x/day and if you do come down with a cold or flu, 2-3x/day.
1 minced garlic clove
¼ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp ginger powder
⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
1 ½ cups organic pineapple juice
1 tbsp raw honey
Blend together and store in a sealable jar. Drink ½ cup a day during flu season or if you’re already getting sick, have it up to 3 times a day.
Your Immune-Boosting Plan
By now, you should be feeling much more confident to not only avoid the seasonal cold and flu, but inspired to take care of your body all year round! Implementing the tips covered in this post, you not only can prevent unnecessary illness, you’ll likely feel even more vibrant and energized, too!
If you feel gut health is at the root of a lot of your immune health issues (it was for me and is for many of my clients), then to effectively address it, you need to first look at what’s going on inside your digestive tract.
- Is there a chronic infection present?
- Constant inflammation?
- Foods that don’t agree with you?
Working with me, you can run the most advanced stool pathology and food sensitivity lab tests to uncover these hidden triggers and learn natural ways to address them so that not only will your gut health improve, but your immune health and overall health will, too.