Once winter rolls around it seems like everyone and their dog is sick. But don't panic! Exposure alone does not result in illness but rather how resilient your immune system is. What influences your immune system's resiliency? Factors such as your diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management play a much bigger role in determining how healthy you are.
Staying healthy might seem like a lot of work but there are many simple ways for you to protect yourself and your family this season so you can avoid the dreaded cold and flu. Read on below to find out what our top tips are to keep you healthy this winter!
Eat nutrient-dense foods
It may seem obvious but your nutrition really is the foundation for your health. And it plays a big part in the strength of your immune system.
So before running to your supplement cabinet, have a look at your diet and decide if it is fighting disease or if it may be contributing to it.
Choosing whole foods should be your primary focus when it comes to diet, including a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Increasing your consumption of plant foods and quality animal products is a great way to strengthen your immune function by providing the necessary vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants for the immune system to function optimally. Check out our top immune superfoods on our blog.
Hot cold showers
Hydrotherapy refers to the medicinal use of water to provide health benefits. Contrast hydrotherapy is just one method that has been shown to increase immune function (1).
Contrast hydrotherapy involves alternating between hot and cold temperatures to expand and constrict blood vessels promoting the movement of blood throughout the body.
Coldwater has specifically been shown to increase detoxification of waste as well as blood flow circulation and movement of white blood cells to sites of infection.
So next time you take a hot shower, finish it off with a few seconds of cold water. You can also alternate between hot and cold for about 7 times, always ending on cold.
Get enough sleep
Sleep may be the most important factor to keep you healthy and speed up recovery. During sleep, the body works on repair and regeneration processes while boosting immune cell activity such as T cells (2).
Lack of sleep results in a depressed immune system, and an increased risk of developing cold or flu symptoms. How much sleep should you be getting? Experts seem to suggest 7-9 hours as an optimal amount of sleep per night for the average adult.
Oil of Oregano
One of the most powerful natural antibiotics, oregano oil contains antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties that can kill off harmful pathogens.
Choose a wild oregano oil with the highest concentration of carvacrol (over 80% is ideal), which is a highly antimicrobial agent found in oregano. Carvacrol and thymol are the compounds in oregano responsible for its antiseptic and antioxidant properties. Always be careful with taking it internally or externally as it is a potent oil, so start small and dilute in water.
Mushrooms are remarkable superfoods that can support healthy activity of the immune system by increasing the activity of immune cells like macrophages and natural killer cells. They also help feed the microbiome, reduce stress, improve resiliency, boost nutrient status, and lower inflammation. Every mushroom has its own specific actions however they can also be used in combination to provide synergistic effects.
There is increasing evidence for vitamin D being effective in preventing the occurrence of the cold and flu (3). Vitamin D deficiency is very common and may be a significant contributing factor to why certain individuals get sick more than others. In Canada, about 32% of Canadians have less than adequate vitamin D levels (4).
Though you can find vitamin D in certain foods the best way to get your fix is through sun exposure, however, you don't want to overdo it either. For this reason, supplementation may be the wisest choice.
Health really starts with a healthy gut. This is why your gut bacteria have a profound impact on your health impacting everything from cardiovascular to mental to immune health. Most of us do not realize how far-reaching the microbiome's effects really are and the research is only just scratching the surface.
Since over 70% of your immune system resides in the intestinal tract, your digestive health has a big say in whether you get sick or not.
There are many types of probiotics, the most common species being lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. It is recommended to include a variety of strains and species to create the most diversity either by supplementing or eating probiotic-rich foods. During antibiotic use supplementation is recommended in order to replenish beneficial bacteria to sufficient levels.
Exercise has many benefits but did you know it can help you not get sick and even fight the cold and flu?
Regular movement improves the regulation of the immune system and supports immune cells at killing pathogens.
Our lymphatic system plays a central part in immune function as it is responsible for transporting white blood cells throughout the body to fight foreign particles such as bacteria and viruses. The lymphatic system relies heavily on muscle activity in order for the lymph to circulate and remove waste and toxins. This may be a key reason as to why sedentary individuals have an increased susceptibility to infections.
Exercise appears to stimulate the immune system by increasing lymphocyte activity (the body's main immune cells) in the hours after physical activity (6).
Avoid the sugar
Sugar creates an imbalance in the gut microbiome as it feeds pathogenic bacteria and depletes our beneficial microbes. As we know, the majority of the immune system lies in the gut so it's important to eat the right foods to support the proliferation of good bugs instead of the bad ones.
Limit your consumption of added sugars and choose naturally sweet foods instead like fruit and starches. Having a hard time giving up the white stuff? Check out our best tips on how to reduce your sugar intake.
Manage your stress
Chronic stress elevates stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in the bloodstream which suppresses the immune system and provokes inflammatory chemicals. This results in decreased white blood cells and natural killer cells, and an increase in pro-inflammatory compounds called cytokines.
Stress affects us all however we need to become aware of the stressors that we can control and create the necessary boundaries. And participate regularly in activities that make us feel good.
So during this busy holiday season remember to take time to pause, breathe, and play!
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.