By Sophia Power, BA Media, BHScNutMed
So, you’ve already armed yourself with a bottle of vitamin C - but is there more you could be doing to support your immune system through cold and flu season?
Taking a holistic approach to support your immune system is easier than you might think. Since the immune system includes other body systems, you might even already be doing some of the things on the list.
Keep reading to learn how to give your immune system the love it deserves to keep you fit and healthy through winter and beyond.
1. Keep hot drinks on hand
Not a tough ask in the winter! Hot drinks not only help to keep you warm, but they also boost hydration, relieve congestion and support detoxification - helping to keep your immune system healthy.
My favourite hot drinks for winter are immune-boosting bone broths like this one and a combination of lemon, honey and ginger tea.
2. Prevention is better than cure
As the old saying goes, one ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Rather than rushing to get your hands on immunity products when illness hits, keep a wholefood-based superfood formula such as Frank Simple Immunity Powder in your daily rotation.
Why? Formulas like this one are packed full of antioxidants, fibre, digestive enzymes and the immune-loving nutrients that support your overall health. When cold and flu season comes around, you’ll have a head-start in staying healthy.
3. Keep dry July going indefinitely
The impact alcohol has on immune function is quite staggering! Studies show that alcohol consumption increases the risk for respiratory infections and impairs immune cell function. If you’re already doing Dry July your immune system will thank you for it.1
For extra points, replace your usual alcoholic beverages with low-sugar kombucha, mineral water with some lime or green juice.
4. Be targeted
While some of us are prone to catching every cold and flu, others might be more likely to come down with a dreaded stomach bug. Just as some people sniffle through the winter, others come down with a chest infection - you get the idea!
There are some safe bets, such as vitamin C, echinacea and zinc for general immune support. However, if you’re prone to chest infections, consider vitamin A, garlic and elderberry. If you’re feeling run down, tired and stressed, B vitamins and the Chinese herb astragalus can boost your energy and immunity. For anyone who tends towards stomach bugs in the winter, make sure you have an immune probiotic on hand. Suffering from constant sniffles and allergies through winter? Try vitamin C with bioflavanoids to aid in reducing allergic-type symptoms.
5. Soak it up
Baths aren’t just for self-care Sundays, they’re a relaxing way to boost your immune system’s defences. Adding magnesium salts to your bath also helps to relieve inflammation and muscle tension while supporting detoxification.
Ancient Minerals Magnesium Bath Flakes are an essential addition to your bath or foot soak.
6. Go with your gut
Research shows that the majority of the immune system is actually in the gut.2 Low bacterial diversity (often caused by recent antibiotic use, high alcohol consumption or low fruit and vegetable intake) is a major culprit of poor gut health.
Boost gut health by eating a range of pre- and pro-biotic foods such as oats, flaxseed, beans, lentils, sauerkraut, pickles, and yoghurt.
To boost gut and immune health through the winter, try a combination probiotic and vitamin C such as NutraLife Ester C Probiotics.
7. Mindfulness for immunity
That’s right, mindfulness meditation has yet another benefit - boosting your immune system.
If you have never gotten into a meditation practice before, try using a guided meditation app or check out your local yoga and meditation studio for classes.
8. Include plenty of plant foods
Plant foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs and spices) contain a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants - as well as fibre - to keep every system of your body in top condition.
Try to challenge your mealtime routine by introducing new plant foods and recipes into your diet. This ensures that you keep things interesting for your palette and your gut! Microbes love to feed on new and interesting plant foods. Plus, a steady rotation of different fruit and veg gives a boost to your nutrient intake.
9. Don’t forget your lymphatic system
The lymphatic system is a very important but often overlooked system when it comes to immune health. In actual fact, the lymphatic system is part of the immune system.
The lymphatic system moves fluid called lymph through the body and back into the bloodstream. Its job is to deliver nutrients around the body while taking waste products from all of the body’s organs and tissues. The other important role of the lymphatic system is to produce white blood cells called lymphocytes, along with other immune cells that work to protect the body against pathogens such as cold and flu viruses.
Some of the best ways to support the lymphatic system include:
- Regular massage, even self-massage works well!
- Daily exercise - cardio and strength training are both great for moving lymphatic fluid
- Regular use of infrared saunas
- Working up a sweat
- Dry brushing before showers.
10. Add mushrooms
Mushrooms such as shiitake and reishi help to stimulate the immune system and have been shown to support the two main branches of the immune system - innate and adaptive immunity.4
My favourite way to get the benefits of medicinal mushrooms is by adding a mushroom powder such as this one into my coffee or this hot chocolate recipe.
Your vitamin C might still be your not-so-secret weapon for keeping illness at bay, but with any luck, you’ll be ready to try some of these tips for optimal immunity throughout the seasons.
- Sarkar, D., Jung, M.K. & Wang, H.J. (2015). Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Res, 37(2):153-155.
- Wiertsema, S.P., van Bergenhenegouwen, J., Garssen, J. & Knippels, L.M.J. (2021). The interplay between the gut microbiome and the immune system in the context of infectious diseases throughout life and the role of nutrition in optimizing treatment strategies. Nutrients, 13(3):886.
- Black, D.S. & Slavich, G.M. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci, 1373(1):13-24.
Venturella, G., Ferraro, V., Cirlincione, F. & Gargano, M.L. (2021). Medicinal mushrooms: bioactive compounds, use, and clinical trials. Int. J. Mol. Sci, 22(2):634.