As the winter weather drags on, our immune systems take hit after hit from seasonal colds to the annual threat of influenza. Increased time indoors and decreased activity that often accompanies the winter months mean that the risk of getting sick rises. While you may not be able to avoid the gloom of a Northwest winter, you can shore up your immune defenses with these seven effective tips!
1. Shrug off stressStress is the new “norm” of our culture, but our bodies have not evolved to handle the pressures of chronic stress. This is why stress deeply impacts the immune system’s ability to respond to injuries and illness. In fact, higher perceived stress is associated increased pressure on the immune system.
Chronic stress forces the immune system to be switched to the “ON” position all the time instead of fluctuating between on and off. Inflammatory molecules produced by the immune system that are meant to protect in acute situations are elevated when we are stressed. This overworked immune system leads to a depleted state and can cause tissue damage and a decreased ability to fight seasonal infections.
We love the Headspace app, but if you need more, we have great resources for retraining your mind and body to respond to stress more healthily.
2. Clean up your diet
The most basic rules of great immune-boosting nutrition are:
1. Remove anything that causes damage.
2. Flood the body with essential nutrients.
These goals are increasingly challenging for the average American to achieve. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is steeped with pesticides, additives, sugar, and unhealthy fats, while sadly lacking in micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals) crucial for optimal health. It’s essential to clean up your diet to shore up a winning immune system.
We suggest removing refined sugar and increasing vegetable and fruit intake to 8-10 cups per day. This goal may sound challenging, but here are my tried-and-true tips for increasing veggies and fruits.
1. Make a smoothie each day with 2 cups of greens, 1 cup of low-sugar frozen fruit such as berries, a tsp. of gut-healthy inulin, and a Tbsp. of cold-pressed flax oil. Blend with your favorite nut milk.
2. Make your snacks a whole piece of fruit with some nut butter or raw veggie sticks with your favorite dip.
3. Focus on salads or vegetable-based soups for lunch.
4. Add two veggie sides to your dinner.
Before you know it, you’ll hit 8-10 cups and your immune system will thank you!
3. Improve intestinal integrity
Often a poor immune system means a compromised intestinal wall. A healthy gut absorbs digested nutrients while protecting against dangerous bugs and toxins entering the bloodstream. Viruses, stress, toxins and more can cause gaps in the intestinal wall, referred to as leaky gut or intestinal permeability. This causes ongoing inflammation from undigested food and microbes passing into circulation. So, healing the gut is a priority for anyone trying to maximize their immune function.
If you suspect your gut health may be decreasing your immune function, we offer effective diagnostic tests that help us identify imbalances and treatments to restore optimal function.
4. Tackle toxic load
Every day, we inhale, ingest and absorb toxins constantly. Our environment is now saturated with pollution and poisons. Chemicals in water, food, and the air store in the body and irritate the immune system. In fact, air pollution is now considered a leading contributor to chronic disease.
This means we can’t ignore the chemicals that we let into our home via cleaning and personal care products, on our furniture, carpets and the like. We need to reduce pesticides on food and purify our water. Every small choice adds up to less body burden which means a stronger immune system. You can take three important steps today to reduce toxic load.
1. Put a high-quality air purifier in your bedroom and run it each night while you sleep.
2. Drink only well-purified water .
3. Remove toxic home and body products from your house and replace with natural cleaners and safe beauty and body products.
5. Sleep soundly
Rebooting the immune system primarily happens during sleep. In fact, the brain’s immune system performs most of its clean-up duties while we sleep. Chronically poor sleep quality increases inflammatory chemicals and can even switch on genes that lead to disease. Sufficient sleep, on the other hand moves the body into a lower state of inflammation and chronic infection giving the immune system a better chance to respond to cold season.
Jeff has been trying out the oura ring which tracks your sleep quality is easy to wear and use as a tool for identifying how sleep may be getting in the way of your health goals.
6. Supportive supplements
Your body may need extra help boosting the immune system. One of my favorites is Alpha-lipoic acid for calming inflammation while activated B vitamins and Vitamin C are also very helpful. One supplement that has been very successful for many of my clients is a strong formulation from Biotics NW called Bio-Immunozyme. This can not only help you avoid the cold season but can help you get through a cold once you have been hit. I use this from November through March, daily!
7. Enhance exercise
Regular exercise enhances the immune system. Researchers think this happens by reducing stress, lowering inflammation, maintaining the thymus and improving the immune response. If you are particularly worn out, integrating HIIT (High intensity interval training) into your routine 3-4 times per week for even 15 minutes can boost your immune system and keep your energy up.
These seven basic tips will help your body stay resilient not only during the cold and flu season, but year-round. If you want to learn more about your immune function and overall health, we are here to help. From comprehensive exams to identify everything from genetic and biochemical risk factors for disease to treatment plans to optimize your unique biology, Jeff and I are here to guide you!
About Megan Barnett, MS
Megan Barnett is a functional medicine practitioner in Portland, Oregon. In her clinical practice, she helps patients identify the root cause of their health problems, then designs individualized and evidence-based approaches to alleviate symptoms and help their bodies heal. She has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Kansas State University and a Master of Science in Nutrition and Functional Medicine from University of Western States.