Do you find yourself getting sick during the winter months? Check out these 10 tips to keep your immune system strong and healthy.
- Ensure adequate Vitamin D levels
Although vitamin D is known as the Sunshine Vitamin, it’s not really a vitamin at all – more and more research is showing that vitamin D behaves much more like a hormone than like a vitamin in the body. Every single one of our body’s cells uses vitamin D to function (there’s only one other substance that every cell uses, and that’s the thyroid Hormone known as T3, but that’s a whole other story), and that of course includes the immune system. Studies have also shown that a deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity (when the body attacks itself) as well as an increased susceptibility to infection.
To boost your vitamin D, try to spend at least 30 minutes per week in the sunshine during the winter months. If you have insufficient levels of vitamin D (most Doctors can perform a simple blood test for this – optimal is greater than 130 nmol/L), supplements are available to help restore your body’s natural levels. Vitamin D supplements are best absorbed into the body in oral liquid or spray form, and should also contain some vitamin K2. Foods that are high in vitamin D include fatty fish (like tuna and salmon), fortified dairy products, and eggs (the yolk).
- Get enough Vitamin C
The obvious – of course vitamin C is on the list! Several types of immune cells require vitamin C to do their jobs, including the cells that kill invaders, the cells that coordinate those attacks, and even the production of antibodies that fight known infections. Studies show that having adequate vitamin C in the body BEFORE you get sick will reduce the length of your illness.
A weakened immune system caused by low vitamin C levels can make any infection more serious. This danger becomes more ominous in older adults, in whom the phenomenon of immunosenescence (the aging of the immune system) already heightens risk.
The best way to ensure optimal vitamin C levels is to eat fruits and veggies throughout the day, as only a small amount of vitamin C is absorbed through the gut at one time. My favourite way to supplement vitamin C is in a “liposomal” form, which allows the vitamin C to be absorbed via the cells in the mouth, bypassing the gut entirely.
And buyers beware: most vitamin C supplements on the market are notorious for containing lots of toxins and sugar, something that you don’t want – especially when you’re sick.
The best test for vitamin C levels in the body is the Lingual Ascorbic Acid Test, performed only by some Doctors. There is no adequate blood test to measure vitamin C tissue stores in the body.
- Reach for some powerful Immune boosting herbs – Echinacea & Elderberry
These two herbs tonify and boost the immune system. There are TONS of other great herbs that do this too, such as Astragalus, Glycyrrhiza and Eupatorium, but more on those at another time.
Echinacea, a species of plant that grows in North America, has been used for centuries for its medicinal healing properties by Native tribes. It works partially by increasing the white blood cells in the body – which are the major cells responsible for fighting infections. Studies show that Echinacea reduces the chances of catching a cold by more than 50% and will also shorten the duration of the cold by an average of 1.5 days.
Elderberry is a flowering plant that grows widely in the Northern hemisphere. With an affinity for the respiratory and digestive tracts, it has the ability to help clear even the nastiest flu bugs. It has specific anti-viral properties, which directly target the common cold. Bonus: it’s a major anti-oxidant.
Both of these powerful immune-boosting herbs are widely available at health food stores. Although there are many forms of delivery (capsule, tincture, etc.), my favourite way to recommend these herbs during an acute illness is in a tea. Additionally, a delicious-tasting natural cough syrup can be easily made from Elderberry – click here for the recipe: Homemade Elderberry Syrup
As always, when it comes to herbal medicine, consult your health care practitioner (preferably one qualified in herbal medicine, such as a Naturopathic Doctor), before taking any herbs.
- Keep your body populated with friendly bacteria
Probiotics, which literally means “for life”, are essential for good immune function. They act to fight the invading illness directly, guide your immune system to target and kill the right bugs, and make the terrain of your body less favourable to nasty organisms that would otherwise invade your system. It’s estimated that 80% or more of our immune system is located in our gut, so our friendly flora have the ability to influence its function immensely.
Probiotics can be supplemented in capsule or powder form, or can be eaten in fermented foods such as yoghurt, miso, and sauerkraut, to name a few.
In recent studies, participants taking a probiotic supplement combined with taking extra vitamins and minerals during an illness were found to have:
- reduced duration of common cold and flu episodes by almost two days
- reduced severity of common cold symptoms by 19%
- half the number of days spent with a fever
- 14% less likely to develop a cold or flu to begin with
Probiotics are a developing scientific field of study, with more research being done all the time on specific strains and their effects, which strains are best for which health conditions, and the best ways to ensure that probiotics are reaching their target destinations (usually the Large Intestine, which is the last stop along the digestive tract). Consult your Doctor about which strains would be best for you to take – not all probiotics are created equal, and they don’t all have the same effects.
- Hydrotherapy – the Wet Socks Treatment
Hydrotherapy is the use of water as a method of healing. There are many different treatments which fall under the Hydrotherapy umbrella – from steam baths to dry skin brushing to colonics! Wet Socks are one such treatment.
Although it sounds unpleasant, this treatment is a refreshing experience. Briefly, it involves putting on cold, damp cotton socks on with warm, wool socks overtop, before bed. It’s highly effective at clearing any congestion out of the head and providing a restful sleep. It also has some minor immune-boosting effects.
Read more about the wet sock treatment here: Wet Socks Treatment for Congestion
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