As much as you might like a sick day, no one really wants to get sick. Luckily, there are really easy way to prevent getting a cold or flu or to nip it in the bud when it does happen. The body is an amazing machine and your immune system is designed to fight viruses, you just gotta give it a hand.
Here’s my top ten list of natural immune boosters:
- Eat lots of nutritious food: Yes, this seems like a given, but in the rush of life, the first thing we tend to neglect is the food we’re putting in our mouths. Food fuels all the awesome biochemical reactions that make your immune system tick. Fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants. The more colour and variety you can get in, the better.
- Avoid consuming irritants: Things like sugar, trans fats (fried foods, margarine), caffeine and alcohol tax the body. Your body will spend so much of its precious resources trying to clean up that mess of toxins that it won’t have enough strength leftover to fight the cold and flu virus. If you can’t avoid irritants/stimulants all together, cut back a lot.
- Sleep: Getting enough rest is always one of the best things you can do for your health. It’s the time when our bodies perform all sorts of important metabolic reactions: proteins are being released, antibodies and immune cells are replenished and the liver is busy working away at detoxifying. There’s no way around it. Our bodies need sleep. You should be getting between 7-9 hours every night and more if you’re sick. Don’t be afraid to nap when you’re feeling wiped. 20-minute power naps could help you stop that virus in its tracks.
- Drink lots of water: It’s a simple thing, but it’s not easy for some people, I know. If you’re not used to drinking water throughout the day, you should start getting into the habit. I explain how over in my How to Drink more water blog. Point is, proper hydration is essential in fighting off viruses. It lubricates your mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, nose) and helps produce the protective barrier that’s needed to trap viruses and expel them from the body. It helps flush the body out from the inside too. More peeing and pooping helps flush out bugs (aka virus, bacteria, pathogens). Water also helps your lymphatic system run smoothly and that’s key for overall immunity. Water, water, water, people!
- Wash your hands: I’m mildly obsessed with washing my hands because I touch my eyes and mouth a lot. So, I lather with soap and warm water frequently through the day. I talk more about hand washing dos and don’ts in my handwashing blog. It’s pretty obvious we pick up germs from touching surfaces that have germs on them. That alone isn’t too much of a problem, but it’s when we touch our germy hands to our face (mouth, nose, eyes) that it becomes a pathway to illness.
- Don’t touch your mucous membranes: Like I said above, the mucous membranes are our gateway to accessing our insides. So, that a major point of entry for pathogens and viruses. Sometimes, we inhale certain viruses and there’s not much we can do about that unless we want to walk the streets with respiratory masks on. And hey, if that’s your thing, rock it. But we do have more control over keeping our hands away from those areas. How often do you scratch your nose or rub your eyes? Think about it! Every time there’s a chance you’re introducing a virus into your body. If you follow the above steps of hydrating and washing your hands at least you’re giving your body a fighting chance. But, my simple rule of thumb is hands off the orifices when in public.
- Vitamin D: There’s a growing body of evidence that links Vitamin D to increased immune function. Actually, many scientists are calling Vitamin D a hormone that has profound effects on all sorts of biochemical reactions within the body. It’s been found to support the production of anti-microbial peptides and temper inflammation. Unfortunately, it’s not found in a lot of foods besides fish and that’s only in small amounts. The best way to get your Vitamin D is through limited and safe exposure to the sun! But that’s hard (if not impossible) in the winter, which is why people living in northern areas are usually vitamin D deficient. Try to get out in the sun at least 10 minutes a day in the summer months without sunscreen on. And through the winter months, it’s a good idea to supplement with 1 – 2,000 IUs of Vitamin D.
- Probiotics: The good guys. Our bodies have 10 times more bacteria than cells. You could call us walking petri dishes. How awesome! Our microbiome (bacteria inside our bodies) is on the cutting edge of a scientific understanding of the link between our microbiome and overall health. 70-80% of our immunity happens in the gut. So eating foods that have probiotics is key to keeping that system in check. Try sauerkraut, kimchi or kefir (make sure they’re actually fermented and not just pumped with vinegar and sugars). If fermented foods aren’t your thing, try taking live/active multi-strained probiotic capsules that you find in the refrigerated section of health food stores.
- Garlic and onions: No doubt these power foods have strong antimicrobial properties. In an ideal world, they would be eaten raw to provide the most benefit. However, I don’t know very many people who are into chewing on raw garlic or onions. Cooking it will reduce some of the cold-fighting properties, but not all of it. So, I’d suggest you add it to your foods whenever you can. Try adding extra near the end of cooking so it’s not cooked to death and zapped of all its vitamins.
- Move: You don’t need to be a gym rat to get a healthy amount of exercise into your day to stimulate your immune system. The immune system needs good lymphatic flow. And since the lymph system doesn’t have any muscular mechanism to move the fluid around, it requires you to move. A brisk walk even for 20 minutes will do the trick. And you know when you see those awesome yogis doing handstands, there’s a reason for that outside of pure strength and bragging rights. Being upside down is fantastic to get the lymph circulating in the right direction. But, since most of us can’t do that, try putting your legs up a wall for a few minutes each day. It’s fun, it’s relaxing, and will make you feel like a kid again. Trust me.