The bad news? When the cool weather hits and kids go back to school, most people know that cold and flu season is around the corner. The good news? You can make a conscious effort to boost your immune system, thereby reducing the risk of catching a cold or illness.
When was the last time you really thought about boosting your immunity? Do you find that you get sick at certain times of the year, like the fall or winter? What about when you do certain activities, like ride public transit or travel by plane?
In these situations, germs and viruses are more prevalent and your chance of picking up a cold is increased. Your immune system is also under more stress!
No one likes the sniffles, coughs, fevers and flu. Personally, I do as much as I can to avoid catching a cold! So what can you do to support your immune system and avoid catching a cold this fall and winter season?
Immune System 101: What is it? Where is it? What does it do?
The first thing we need to get clear on, is what IS your immune system?
Our immune system is our body’s biggest defence against infection, viruses, bacteria and illness. It’s a highly complex system, with many participating organs including your skin, your gut, lymph nodes, spleen and more.
Our immune system knows what cells make up our body. Unfamiliar cells or particles can trigger the immune system, which sends out its defences to ideally destroy the target. These defences are often something called “antibodies”, which fight against illnesses that the body comes into contact with.
A healthy immune system means that the body is fighting the right “invaders” quickly, and eliminating them before they can cause us to become ill. However, if our immune system is compromised, it’s possible that our internal defences don’t come to our rescue quick enough, or even at all, and sickness will ensue.
As we age, our immune system’s capability begins to reduce. This can increase our susceptibility to illness, so it’s incredibly important to begin taking care of your immune system now – before it’s already burdened!
5 Ways to Boost your Immune System this Fall
Knowing that our immune system is comprised of many organs, and operates at a cellular level, we can take certain actions that will help to support our immune system and its operations.
1. Eat a diet filled with whole, nutritious foods
Foods in their whole form are highly nutritious and contain more vitamins and minerals than processed foods. Foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, organic protein sources and healthy fats are all important to include in our diet to keep our immune system healthy.
Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals like zinc, vitamin D, B-vitamins and vitamin C can impact our immune system. Be sure that you’re eating as many fresh, whole foods as possible in order to get optimal levels of these vitamins and minerals. When in doubt, supplementing with a high quality greens powder like Pranin Organic A-Z whole food multivitamin, or their vitamin B and vitamin C powders, can deliver an extra boost. If you live in Canada, supplementing with a good vitamin D is super important since we are less exposed to sunshine and often deficient. I really like these vitamin D drops from Genestra.
Emphasize fibre-rich foods and fermented foods for optimal digestion and gut health. Think whole grains and plenty of vegetables for fibre. For fermented foods, enjoy things like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and good quality yogurts.
2. Support the body with immune-boosting herbs
There are many different herbs that have been shown to support the immune system. Most of these herbs work by toning the immune system or supporting our stress response. These herbs can include Echinacea, astragalus, licorice root and more.
One of my favourite blends to include in the fall and winter is St. Francis’ Deep Immune blend (tincture or capsules). I took this blend while my husband and I were on our honeymoon. We flew on four flights, and traveled to three different cities over a 10-day period. Usually I’m susceptible to catching colds on airplanes, but both of us came home 100% healthy and happy. It’s a preventative supplement, so it’s important to begin taking it before you become sick to boost your immune system before exposure to viruses. There’s even a version for kids available!
Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before taking herbs. Some herbs are contraindicated with certain medications, illnesses and even in pregnancy.
3. Take a regular probiotic for gut health
Probiotics have been shown to improve gut health and are a big part of our immune system! Did you know most of our immune tissue is in our gut? Taking care of our interior terrain is such an important part of staying healthy. Yes, eating healthy food can help (like whole foods, nutritious foods and fermented foods), but a good probiotic is a great way to ensure those little gut bacteria help us fight off viruses and other pathogens.
I personally love the Renew Life Ultimate Flora 50 Billion probiotic capsules, because it has a higher dose of Bifidobacterium, a family of bacteria that tends to die off as we age.
4. Get plenty of sleep, rest and relaxation!
This isn’t new, folks. But I have to explain why it’s so important. One of the best things we can do for our body is sleep and relax when it’s necessary.
Stress on the body – whether it’s physical (not sleeping, eating poorly, too much exercise, etc.) or mental (work stress, family stress, money stress, etc.) – can have an impact on our immune system. Long-term, chronic stressors can actually wear down the immune system. Chronic cortisol production (the stress hormone) can increase inflammation in the body, reduce your white blood cell count, and lead to anxiety and depression which can contribute to more inflammation. When your body is busy controlling the inflammation, it’s less primed to fight viruses and other pathogens.
Have you noticed that you are more susceptible to colds and flus when you’re stressed out? There are lots of things we can do to manage stress, including adopting a mindfulness or meditation practice, protecting our energy and giving ourselves permission to pause.
Sleep is also very important – both sleep and the circadian rhythm can have an affect on regulating your immune system. Be sure to get your 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and get to bed by 10pm in order to get the best quality sleep.
5. Exercise regularly
Moderate exercise is important to keep your immune system working at top notch. In fact, regular moderate exercise is important to keep your entire system and wellbeing in tip top shape.
Aim for 30 minutes of movement per day. During the fall and winter time, try grounding practices like yoga. Yoga is a fantastic way to get a workout for the mind and body, but it’s also a great way to calm the sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system. Perfect to balance stress.
Excessive exercise can actually put too much stress on the body and thereby straining your immune system. We want to avoid overexercising so we don’t put too much pressure on ourselves – but your body should know when you hit this point! Rest and recovery is always important and having a regular exercise routine is a must.
Stress Weakens the Immune System. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/research/action/immune.aspx
Sleep and Immune Function. Springer. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/