As the leaves and temperatures start to fall, colds and flu are never far behind. While it may seem like getting sick sometime between now and April is a forgone conclusion, it doesn’t have to be. Yes, I’m saying you don’t have to get sick this year, that is, as long as you start fortifying your body now. Work on these immunity-boosting habits, smart food choices, and everyday precautions and you’ll have just about everything you need to fend off the viral invaders. And, if despite your best efforts, you do wind up under the weather, your strengthened defenses will make your body a very inhospitable place for bugs to linger, so you’ll bounce back that much faster.
So, where to start? Here are a few of my favorite tips to keep you in top form until it’s time to put the snow boots away:
1.) Show sugar the door
If you do nothing else this winter, dump sugar – it’s the most important thing you can do to help yourself stay well. Sugar decreases your immune function by starving the beneficial bacteria and feeding the bad bacteria in your gut. It’s weakening your immune system at the time of year when you need it working overtime.
2.) Dig into fermented foods
As it houses roughly 70% of your immune system, a happy, healthy gut will be less vulnerable to every wave of cooties that sweep through your office. How to feed it well? Add fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir and raw, organic apple cider vinegar to your menu. Just a scoop or two, a few times a week should do the trick. Fermented foods are a simple but excellent way to feed your gut the probiotics (aka friendly bacteria) that help keep the microbiome balanced and immunity high.
3.) Gobble up greens
A good winter-time rule of thumb: dark leafy greens at every meal. Put a pile of spinach under your morning eggs; add a fistful of kale to your lunch-time soup; put more greens into dinnertime salads and stews. In other words, think of every meal as an opportunity to get more greenery into your belly. Doing so will deliver the phytonutrients and fiber that make your good belly bacteria thrive – and keep your immune system defenses strong enough to fight off opportunistic bugs.
4.) Stock up on garlic and onions – and use liberally
No matter how you slice it, garlic is a tasty way to fight off the bugs of winter. Garlic is packed with anti-viral, antibacterial and antifungal compounds that help repel the bad guys and onions are especially strong in the antibacterial department. Better yet, onions provide a nice dose of fiber and prebiotics, essential for keeping your gut – and ultimately your immunity – functioning optimally.
5.) Give your body some extra TLC
Just as important as eating well to fortify immunity is being extra kind to your body during the winter months. And treating it to a variety of health-supportive activities will make the long chilly nights pass a bit more quickly, keeping those winter blues at bay. Topping the to-do list:
- Don’t skimp on sleep – Sleep is the time when your body restores and repairs itself, so give it the time it needs — shoot for 7 – 8 hours a night.
- Drink a lot – Of water that is, not alcohol. All those wintertime hours spent indoors dries out noses, mouths and lips, which can crack and provide entry points for viruses and germs. So stay well-hydrated! At both home and office, moisturize your surroundings by setting pans of water on top of radiators. At home, keep nasal passages moist with frequent saline spray treatments.
- Keep moving – Exercise helps keep your immune system robust so keep doing your usual routine throughout the winter – don’t stay on the sidelines till spring! Staying in a fitness groove will keep extra weight off, spirits up and your immune system humming.
- Unwind more often – Stress is another one of the great immunity underminers, so if you want to stay well this winter, you need to make time for pleasurable de-stressors like meditation, restorative yoga, massage, or a few relaxing sauna sessions.
- Take a wintertime sunbath – On sunny days, bundle up, and soak up some sunshine to help regulate your sleep/wake cycle, stimulate vitamin D production, and lift mood. It all helps boost immunity.
6) Send in the supplement cavalry.
To make sure those wintertime ills don’t have a fighting chance, stack the deck some more in your favor. In addition to eating and treating your body well, add a few supplements to the mix. Among my favorites to support wintertime immunity:
- NAC (N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine): Supports bronchial and respiratory health and is a precursor to glutathione, which is a powerful immunity-boosting antioxidant. And though the body produces glutathione, as we age, we produce less of it, thus the need to take some NAC to top off your tank especially in the winter months.
- Probiotics: Look for one that contains at least 20 billion viable organisms, and several types of good bacteria, including lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, two of the most well-researched and commonly used strains.
- Vitamin C: A daily dose of 1 – 2 grams can help protect against infection, act as an antihistamine, and speed your body’s ability to heal.
- Vitamin D3: First, have your doctor check your levels – which should be between 50 and 70mg/ml – and work with them to determine an appropriate supplementation program for your needs. For most people this usually means a maintenance dose of at least 5,000 IU a day, much more than what your Doctor has recommended.
- Antiviral Herbs: Harness the power of immunity-boosting antiviral herbs like andrographis, olive leaf extract, grapefruit seed extract, oil of oregano and elderberry extract
- Myer’s cocktail: The liquid vitamin and nutrient therapy drip known as the Myer’s cocktail that’s loaded with micronutirents, B and C vitamins as well as glutathione (usually). It’s an excellent immune boost for people who travel a lot, parents of young children or anyone who is regularly exposed to large numbers of people – and viruses. In my experience it’s one of the best remedies for anyone who has just come down with a “bug”.