By Danette May
As we move into winter, we also move into the heart of the dreaded cold and flu season. But there’s no reason to resign yourself to living off cold medicine and cough drops for the next few months. There are plenty of natural remedies to help you boost your immune system and stay healthy all winter long.
But before we dive in, let me clear up a major misconception about why more people get sick in the winter compared to warmer times of the year: There is no such thing as “catching a cold” from cold. In fact, there are multiple studies that show that exposure to cold actually increases your immunity!
So then why do more people get sick in the winter? There’s no crystal clear answer. Some scientists think it’s because we tend to stay inside more, giving us more opportunity to expose each other to germs and viruses. Others think it could be tied to the strength of the sun’s rays, and how this affects your health. Whatever the reason, it’s nothing you can’t beat with a little healthy advice and prevention!
So without further ado, here are seven ways to boost your immune system this winter:
1. Focus on vitamin D (but NOT in “fortified” foods or synthetic forms like pills)
You might be surprised to know that most people have low vitamin D levels (especially in the winter). Even dangerously low. Some people I know who thought they were reasonably healthy actually had levels below 20 ng/ml, a range that could severely limit your immune system and hormone balance.
It’s best to get your vitamin D from the sun if you can. The sun is the absolute best source of vitamin D, and it contributes to a powerful strengthening of your immune system when your body can naturally produce vitamin D from moderate sun exposure. When the UVB rays (not UVA rays) from midday sun hit your skin, they react with oils in your skin to produce vitamin D that is slowly absorbed by your body. Note that sunscreens block the ability of your body to produce vitamin D, and most sunscreens also contain carcinogenic chemicals that absorb into your bloodstream.
If you work in an office from 9 to 5 most days of the week, then most likely you need a supplement of vitamin D. But when it comes to vitamin D, you need to be careful about the artificial forms of it in many supplements, as artificial vitamin forms are almost always either ineffective or even potentially detrimental compared to natural forms. Vitamin D2 is the most common artificial version in multivitamins, although natural D2 does exist in some foods like mushrooms. Natural vitamin D, from either cod liver oil or an oil-based D3 supplement is the best option for supplementing your vitamin D.
The best food sources of natural vitamin D are egg yolks, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, organ meats, and some mushrooms. However, keep in mind that it’s tough to get enough vitamin D in the winter from food sources alone.
2. Eat more garlic
Garlic is one of the most potent of all superfoods! Not only does it go back thousands of years for treatment of sickness, but recent studies back up the legendary claims for garlic boosting your immune system.
Start including garlic powder or fresh chopped garlic in meals, and take a garlic capsule or two each day.
3. Get your probiotics
Kombucha tea is a fermented tea that contains billions of friendly gut organisms (probiotics) that help to strengthen your immune system by bolstering the levels of good organisms in your gut, which provides a first level of defense against pathogens from things you ingest.
Seventy percent of your immune system lies in your gut flora and the health of the friendly organisms in there to protect you against pathogens and sickness.
You can find bottles of Kombucha tea or other probiotic drinks at health food stores like Whole Foods.
Kefir is a cultured/fermented dairy drink that’s been used for thousands of years as a health elixir. Kefir is an even better source of probiotics than Kombucha tea, but variety is best when it comes to probiotics, so use various sources for the optimal benefits to your digestive system and immune system. Kefir is also the easiest form of dairy to digest, and it is generally 99 percent lactose free.
4. Drink green tea, chamomile tea, and other teas
There is evidence that green tea and chamomile tea can help strengthen the immune system. Even if the effect is minimal, you can’t go wrong, since both are loaded with powerful antioxidants unique to each tea.
For that reason, I try to drink a couple cups of green tea with a small bit of raw honey early in the day, and then at night, I have a couple cups of chamomile or mint tea.
5. Take krill oil
Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring algae found deep in the ocean. Krill, which is rapidly becoming the best source of Omega-3 fatty acids, feeds on Astaxanthin, as do crabs, lobster, salmon, and other marine life. This algae is a very potent antioxidant, which is able to help the body’s defense system, adding a second layer of defense and helping the body decrease inflammation that causes disease.
Astaxanthin has been shown to be 10 times more capable of destroying free radicals than any other carotenoids. The ability of Astaxanthin to take in free radicals, and to allow another antioxidants to destroy them, allows the body to conserve its own defense system for other problems, hence boosting your immunity.
6. Do some easy exercise
When you feel sickness coming on, a super-high-intensity workout isn’t a good idea, as hard training forces the body to do a lot of recovery at a time when your body needs all of its energy to try and fight off the oncoming sickness. For this reason, if you think you may be getting sick, switch to light-intensity exercise.
I like to get outside for some fresh air and go for a hike or go snowshoeing in the winter. These activities aren’t very strenuous for me, so they won’t force my body to do a lot of recovery. By just going outside, I feel my body recovering!
If it’s too cold to get outside, you can also try doing some healing yoga.
7. Avoid ALL processed foods and sweetened soft drinks
This is no time to bombard your body with processed foods, inflammatory omega-6 oils (soybean oil, corn oil, etc), fried foods, high-fructose corn syrup, refined sugars or chemical additives.
These toxic “treats” force your body to do extra work to expel all this junk and repair the internal inflammation that they cause in your body. Also, grain-based foods like bread, cereal, muffins, pasta and bagels are major culprits in causing internal inflammation and disrupting normal gut function, so avoid grains as much as possible.
These seven natural remedies will go a long way toward helping you boost your immune system and ward off seasonal sickness.