It is that time of year again – the dreaded cold and flu season. The good news is there are ways we can keep our immune systems strong and balanced during these winter months. It is important to remember that our immune system is complex. Drinking plenty of fluids for example, will help but we need to take a holistic approach here. Unfortunately we might do everything “right” and still catch a cold but it is likely it will not be as bad or prolonged if we follow some simple suggestions.
Anytime I feel the slightest bit under the weather there are very specific things that I do (all of which are on my list) and I have not experienced a full on horrific flu in over two years. Before I changed my eating habits and starting taking really good care of myself I would get at least one major cold or flu a year, usually 2-3, not to mention the 3-5 yearly sinus infections I always had. While some people argue that it is good to get sick every year I am not sure I believe that. I like to be as healthy as possible all year and below are the steps I take during the fall/winter to provide my body what it needs to fight infection and thrive.
Here are 10 tips for sick-season wellness:
- Minimize Stress: Easier said than done for sure. It is widely known that stress wrecks havoc on our entire body and depletes our immune system. For many folks this time of year is the most stressful. There is often so much going on that it is easy to let our self-care fall by the wayside. Be sure you keep up with activities that help you to de-stress as this will be a key factor in your overall health.
Suggestions: meditation, yoga, massage, sauna, breathing techniques.
- Get Plenty of Rest: Our bodies have a difficult time functioning properly if we are not getting enough sleep. Too many days of inadequate sleep in a row impair our ability to think clearly and make positive choices for ourselves. Suddenly junk food looks appealing, we skip our workout because we are too tired – you get the point. You are a grown up! Act like one and get to bed at a reasonable hour!
Suggestions: turn off the tv/computer/iphone/ipad at least an hour before bed to help you unwind, drink an calming herbal tea like chamomile or warm dairy-free milk to help you relax in the evening, allow yourself to sleep in on occasion – everything you have to do will get done ;)
- Keep Exercising: Regular exercise is crucial for lasting health and wellness. Don’t cut out your routines because you are too busy. Schedule your sessions in your calendar and stick to them. It is so easy to fall off the exercise bandwagon this time of year. Bad idea. Our bodies need to move in order to have good blood circulation which helps our immune system to do its job of keeping you from getting sick.
Suggestions: make exercise dates with friends that live nearby, join an online fitness challenge and post often about your progress, switch up your normal routine so you don’t get bored, try going for evening walks after dinner.
- Eat Fruits and Vegetables: As the temperatures drop it is normal for our bodies to want heavier, warmer foods. For many of us that can mean eating too many refined carbs and unhealthy fats. While these foods might fill us up they do not provide adequate nutrition. Ditch refined anything and add seasonal fruits and veggies such as apples, dark leafy greens and squash to your diet. Be sure to load up on dark leafy greens as they are very nutrient dense and will greatly support immune function. Try to eat as much unprocessed, whole food as possible. This will provide the body with the building blocks it needs to protect you.
Suggestions: check out your local farmers market and load up on inexpensive squashes like butternut or kabocha and make simple hearty soups, allow yourself to have healthy sweet treats like a baked apple with cinnamon, if going to a holiday gathering bring your own yummy dish to share with everyone.
- Stay Hydrated: Water is essential for many functions in the body. Drink at minimum 8-10 glasses of pure water each day. If you exercise a great deal or consume caffeine which dehydrates the body you need to drink even more than that. Water aids in digestion and nutrient absorption, improves colon health and keeps our brains running optimally. Did you know our brains are 85% water?! If you are thirsty you are already mildly dehydrated so stay on top of drinking enough water.
Suggestions: drink room temperature water, squeeze a little lemon/lime into your water, drink herbal caffeine free teas, keep a water bottle with you so it is handy and you remember to drink it ;)
- Vitamin D: It is well researched that vitamin D plays a key role in our immune system and well as many other systems in our bodies. Unfortunately there are not substantial food sources of vitamin D as most of what we get comes from direct sunlight. I have supplemented with D2 and D3 and have had the best results with D3. It is not technically vegan but my body absorbs it and that is what matters to me most. It is estimated that many Americans are deficient in Vitamin D and this can lead to a host of health issues if not treated.
Suggestions: in order to find out how much vitamin D you need to supplement I would suggest getting a 25 hydroxy test vitamin D test administered by your doctor. If that is too expensive and your insurance won’t cover it research testing labs in your area. Your levels should be 50-70ng/ml. I have been taking vitamin D3 supplements for over a year as my levels tested below 25ng/ml when I moved from the pacific north west – super low!
- Consider Taking Probiotics: Our immune system needs a healthy gut to operate well. Probiotics or “good bacteria” keep our gut in check by ensuring there are plenty of this good bacteria hanging out in there. Researchers at Harvard Medical school showed evidence supporting the relationship between probiotics and a healthy gut.
Suggestions: take one dose daily 1-2 hours after a meal, choose one that has at least 20 million organisms, test it to be sure it is alive! Click this link to read up on the importance of probiotics and how to test them thank you Dr. Klaper.
*Side not,e I had a consultation with Dr. Klaper about a year ago and he is truly an incredible doctor and healer.
- Eat Garlic: Garlic has been used for centuries for it’s medicinal properties. It is a great source of antioxidants and sulfuric compounds which help to ward of bacteria and infection and even demons. Some research suggests it is most beneficial to consume garlic raw because heat and water can reduce its healing properties.
Suggestions: slice 1-2 garlic cloves very thin, place between slices of apples and eat, use raw garlic in a salad dressing, make a potent tea by adding sliced garlic to 2 cups of boiling water, let steep 10 minutes and sip.
- Include Antiviral Herbs In Your Daily Regimen: There are a number of excellent antiviral herbs you can take to give your immune system a boost this time of year. These herbs contain a wide range of compounds that are powerful yet do not typically cause any side effects like many medications do. Another plus is that they do not cause virus resistance. Some of my favorite extracts for fall/winter are astragalus, elderberry, grapefruit seed, olive oil, and oregano.
Suggestions: add two antiviral herbs, take at least one of these extracts daily in tea or with water, if you are going to be traveling or in busy areas with lots of people double up as a preventative measure. It is important to remember we are all different and some herbs will work better for you than others.
- Laugh As Much As Possible: This might be my favorite suggestion ;) Laughter really is powerful medicine. Not only does it boost our immune system it releases endorphins which promote wellbeing and pain relief. Having some good laughs will greatly improve your outlook on life, make you attractive, relax muscles and relieve stress. Laughter comes in very handy this time of year with so many people sick and stressed out – don’t be that person. Breathe, smile and take good care of yourself – we are meant to laugh and experience joy!
Suggestions: do something silly, watch a funny movie/tv show, hang out with a friend that always makes you laugh, participate in a fun activity, play with kids, go to a comedy club.
I hope that you find these tips useful and relatively easy to incorporate into your life. Here is to taking the best care we can during the cold and flu season to not only prevent getting sick but enjoy ourselves along the way.