It’s more important now than ever to have a strong an immune system, especially during the colder months. Keep reading to learn about some simple ways to help support your immunity this autumn and winter.
I’m excited to have my friend Lisa as a guest writer on the blog today. She is an amazing author and blogger and I can’t wait for you to read what she has for us today.
Lisa has done a lot of research on simple ways to help support your immunity this autumn and winter. I can tell you that I definitely learned a lot!
You can find Lisa’s books here. I’ve read both and they are hard to put down!
And please check out Lisa’s blog! I always look forward to her Fiction Friday posts as well as her amazing photographs!
6 Simple Ways to Help Support Your Immunity This Autumn and Winter
The word of 2020, as we all know, besides “chaotic”, is “virus”. We are reading about it, hearing about it, and face it each morning as we head out to school or work. Most of us are donning masks on our face to try to keep us from giving anything to anyone else and, on a smaller scale, reduce our own risk of catching a virus the medical community doesn’t know much about.
It isn’t lost on most of us that COVID-19, or whatever the medical community is calling it today (some say SARS-CoV-2), isn’t the only bug out there that can infect us. COVID-19 is one of the more unpredictable at this time, but influenza, the common cold, and respiratory infections can strike us when we least expect it, especially during the autumn and winter months, even when we try our best to keep ourselves safe and sanitized. We can’t ever guarantee we won’t catch a bug or virus, but we can help build up our immunity to help our bodies fight off or repel the viral onslaughts that come our way.
There are nutritional and physical ways we can improve our immunity, but we can also improve it by focusing on our mental health. Harvard Medical College tells us there is no guarantee that we can actually “improve” our immunity at a cellular level, but there are steps we can take to strengthen and support our immune system.
Here are six simple ways to help support your immunity anytime, but especially over the colder months.
1. Eat healthier.
Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods will benefit your overall health in addition to your immunity. Have you ever heard the term “Eat the rainbow”? If not, it essentially means to eat food from all the food groups to give yourself a balanced diet. What we eat is definitely a key to how our body responds to invading germs. Our diet is considered the most important aspect of building a strong immune system. Leafy green vegetables are some of the best foods to build our immunity because they are full of vitamins like vitamin c, vitamin k, and minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium, and selenium. Other immune-supporting foods include vegetables and healthy fats.
Eating better can seem overwhelming if we haven’t already been doing it. If we feel like we are doing it “all wrong” then we might give up. For some, the key to eating healthier is going slow. Many health experts suggest that you slowly add healthier foods to your meals while removing less healthy foods from your diet at the same time. Eventually, your body, but more importantly your tastebuds, will grow accustomed to the healthier foods, and eating them will become a routine. Eating one or two meals with some extra kale or broccoli isn’t going to do much to improve your immunity, but consistently consuming these foods at least a few times a week, if not every day, very likely will.
Some nutritionists point to the Mediterranean style of eating as a way to build your immune system through your gut. This eating style focuses less on meat and more on healthy fats (like nuts, fatty fish, and olive oil), fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fermented foods added to this diet are even more beneficial, according to Yufang Lin, M.D., of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
“This eating pattern is high in nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and other antioxidants shown to help reduce inflammation and fight infection,” she told AARP.org.
- To read more about the Mediterranean diet see this article from Harvard Health.
- To read more about tips to boost your immune system through what you eat visit AARP.org.
2. Take supplements and probiotics.
Taking vitamin supplements to further support your nutrition can be an overwhelming prospect, especially if you research online and read the confliction advice on what you should take, how much, and how often. There is no way one person can take every supplement suggested, so it’s important to research and find the supplements that will benefit your own body, and your immunity, the most.
Some supplements are known to help support immunity include zinc, Vitamin D, B-vitamins, Magnesium, Vitamin K, and vitamin C. None of these can help on their own but taken together they can help your system fight off the nasty bugs that come its’ way.
One thing that is important to remember about supplements is that many companies who produce vitamins or supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Some consider this good, some consider it not so good. No matter how you feel about the FDA, researching what is in the vitamins you are taking is important. There have been a few studies over the years that have shown that what you think is in your vitamin capsule or tablet is actually only a small amount of the actual vitamin and a huge amount of unhealthy fillers. Finding out what your particular supplement consists of can be hard because many companies don’t want to admit they used more bad fillers than good vitamins, but with a little internet research, you may be able to find a pure supplement that will provide you with more good than bad.
One word of caution, before you buy supplements, be sure you actually need it. You can do this by having blood work done by your doctor or simply taking some of the safer supplements and seeing if they help you. Some supplements won’t hurt you by getting a little extra, but there are others you need to take in moderation.
For example, Vitamin D is something people from the northern part of the United States are lacking in during the colder, dreary winter months when there isn’t as much sunlight. Supplementing with a little extra (anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 IU) most likely won’t hurt you. If you are concerned, however, please check with your doctor. It is also important to understand the relationship between Vitamin D and calcium. If you have ever received a high calcium alert in your blood work, your doctor may advise you not to take Vitamin D or to only take small doses and for you to be checked for a condition called Hyperparathyroidism.
One mineral you do need to be careful about getting too much of is zinc. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, the daily recommended dosage of zinc for an adult is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women. For children, the dosage amount is much smaller, ranging from 2 mg to 11 mg, depending on the age of the child. Check any supplements you have that contain Zinc and be sure you aren’t consuming more than that amount. Side effects of too much zinc include digestive issues, diarrhea, and headaches. Too much zinc over time can also lower copper levels and result in lower immunity. You would most likely have to significantly overdose on zinc for this to be an issue, however, and zinc is extremely important to our body.
- Read more about the importance of Zinc on the NIH website.
Probiotics are considered a supplement by some and have been found to strengthen the immune system by supporting gut health. There are a variety of probiotics on the market but one of the best ways to support the healthy bacteria in your digestive system is by eating fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha.
- Read more about the benefit of eating fermented foods at eatingwell.com
3. Reduce Stress.
Stress is a huge drain on our body’s resources. Avoiding stress altogether is easier said than done, but there are steps we can take to reduce stress. Right now, in the age of COVID, one thing we can do to reduce our stress is to – now, prepare yourself for this because not everyone is willing to do this — turn off the news and social media.
If you are like me, news and social media can be addicting. So many of us suffer from FOMA, or Fear of Missing Out. We are just so afraid something is going to happen, and we aren’t going to know about it, while rarely thinking if it is necessary for us to know it. Of course, it is important to know what is happening in the world on a limited basis, but do we really need to know every little bit of information out there? I don’t think we do, and I don’t think our body and mind is wired to take in all the information being thrown at us through our various devices on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis.
It can be so hard to avoid the news, especially if we have notifications on our phone that alert us every time the media thinks they need us to know something. Our minds need time to decompress. As our mind relaxes, our body can do the same. There are plenty of ways to give your mind time to relax and that is another blog post for another time, but some simple examples include: reading a book (preferably a good fiction book, not a hard-hitting non-fiction one), taking a long bubble bath, meditating, exercising, practicing yoga, watching a comedy, taking a walk, taking up a hobby, spending time with family, taking your pet for a walk, or redecorating your house.
I made a list of things I could do other than look at the news or social media when I took an extended break from social media last year.
There is a lot of unknown with coronavirus, and the unknown elicits fear in most people. There is a healthy fear, which alerts you to imminent threat so you seek protection, but then there is unhealthy fear, such as focusing on the what-ifs of life, or the things we can’t control. Precaution and being safe is important, but if we let fear consume us, we create an atmosphere within our body where illness can thrive.
Fear and anxiety increase cortisol within our body, which isn’t a bad thing in the short term because it helps our body adjust for an impending threat. Over a long period of time, though, chronic stress causes our body to kick out way more cortisol we need. Several health experts have told us that when too much cortisol circulates in our body it can wreak havoc on our physical and mental health.
According to the Mayo Clinic, constant anxiety over situations, such as the state of the world, or the state of our health, can eventually lead to long term anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, heart issues, weight gain, and sleep issues.
- Read more about the effect stress has on your body at the Mayo Clinic.
Saul McLeod, writing for Simply Psychology.org writes that “When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced. That is why we are more susceptible to infections. The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system (e.g. lowers the number of lymphocytes)”.
Oh, my old nemesis exercise. I hate exercise. Always have. Yet, when I actually do it, I find I do feel better. Additionally, many health experts (natural and mainstream) swear by its ability to help improve our wellbeing overall, including our immune system. Mark Moyad, M.D., M.P.H., Jenkins/Pokempner director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center (that’s a mouthful!) recently told AARP.org that working out “causes your body’s antibodies and white blood cells to circulate more rapidly, which means they may be able to detect and zero in on bugs more quickly.
The doctor added that being active can also help reduce stress hormones (see above).
According to Medline Plus from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, doctors aren’t sure why exercise can help immunity, or that it benefits as much as diet changes and adequate sleep, but there are some theories. One theory is that physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways, which could help reduce the chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
Another theory is based on the fact that exercise causes changes in antibodies and white blood cells and causes both to “circulate more rapidly, so they detect illnesses earlier than they might have before.” It isn’t known if these changes prevent infections, but there does seem to be some research that it can help fight them off or make them less potent on the system, according to the Medline Plus article.
The exercise doesn’t have to be high impact to be a benefit, either. Low impact is better because low impact exercise (walking, yoga, aerobics, swimming, or chair exercises) puts less stress on the body. High impact exercise has actually been shown to put too much physical stress on a body and potentially lower the immune system, Moyad told AARP.org.
- For some ideas on how to use exercise to support your immune system see this article from U.S. News.com.
5. Take Elderberry Syrup.
I am not a doctor and I know there are mixed studies on how much natural supplements or herbal remedies can help us but I’m going to offer this one with a personal endorsement. I don’t trust a lot of natural solutions and if I do eventually use them, I do so with a healthy dose of skepticism. That’s what I did with elderberry syrup when I started taking it on the advice of a friend. Three and a half years ago, I began by taking it myself and then giving it to my children. That year we were sick once, maybe twice and the illnesses lasted less than a week in both cases. In the case of my son, he had a stomach bug that lasted maybe half a day – symptom-wise at least.
Some who read my blog will know I homeschool my children and have for a little over two years so they might say, “Well, your children aren’t in a school setting being exposed to every illness on the planet for six to eight hours out of a day. Of course, elderberry syrup probably seems like it’s helping them.” I do understand this reasoning. However, my son was attending a traditional school when we first started elderberry syrup, and the next year we attended events with the local homeschooling group the following year. During the year he was in a traditional school, he was sick twice with the illnesses having extremely reduced durations versus illnesses when we were not taking elderberry syrup. Do I think elderberry syrup is a cure-all or definitive protection against all illnesses? I don’t, but I do think it has helped our family at least.
I normally give my children 1-2 doses of half a teaspoon a day from about October through April. This year I gave it to them almost year-round because of COVID. If they become sick, I give them that same dose several times a day and I’ve noticed it reduces the length of time they are sick and the severity of the symptoms. My husband and I take a full teaspoon if we remember, once a day and take that dose every few hours if we are fighting a cold or illness. The brand I currently use is Gaia because it has the least ingredients in it.
- You can read more about the benefits of elderberry syrup, or elderberry in other forms here.
6. Get enough sleep.
In addition to that whole stress thing, this tip is one of the hardest for me to follow. I’m working on it, though. One of the best ways we can make sure we are getting enough sleep is by going to bed around the same time every night, preferably early enough to allow us 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I laughed when I wrote “uninterrupted” because as I get older, many things interrupt my sleep – from sore muscles to hormonal issues to overactive bladder. Still, having a routine can help even some of those interruptions.
Sleep is when our body rejuvenates, which I’m sure all of you know. If we don’t get enough of it our body will struggle to fight off the germs that invade our systems. I’m sure some of this section seems patronizing. but to be honest, I don’t always think about how much a lack of sleep can negatively affect my immune system. I often need reminders of what can help and hurt my health and while it might seem like getting a good amount of sleep is obvious, it’s not one of the first things that come to our minds.
And not to harp on the stress thing again, but reducing stress (giving our brains and bodies time to rest) can benefit our sleep life as well.
Other ways to ensure you get enough sleep include: turning off any devices at least an hour before bed, keeping your sleeping atmosphere quiet and dark, taking an Epsom salt bath before bed, and taking magnesium in the form of magnesium glycinate.
One other tip that has worked for me is to remember something my mom always told me which is that even if you are not sleeping you can still rest. That means that sometimes you have to tell that voice in your head that screams at you in the middle of the night that “You’re not getting enough sleep” to shut up and consciously tell your body (such as your muscles) to relax and rest into the mattress, even as your brain tries to race. I often have issues falling asleep but find when I tell myself I am at least resting and then focus on a podcast, or music, or an audible book, my body, and mind begins to relax, and sometimes I even drift off into sleep. I also remind myself of how many times I was unable to get sleep when I was a new parent and somehow I still survived the next day.
A final tip on the sleep thing: don’t be afraid of cat naps. Short naps (10-20 minutes) during your day, if you have time for such a thing (most of us don’t) can rejuvenate you and help make sure you make it through until bedtime. Longer naps often make you feel worse, sadly.
You don’t even have to actually sleep during these “naps.” Just resting your mind and your body, as I mentioned above, can help you feel much better and survive the day and, if researchers are right, maybe help boost your immunity.
Some essential oil users swear by essential oils, saying that they too can boost immunity. I have not seen that oils can boost immunity in my use of essential oils, but I have seen benefits for allergies, headaches, in helping during an illness, and maybe even in preventing catching an illness.
I do not sell essential oils, but I will say that the one essential oil I have seen benefit my family during cold and flu season is Thieves oil from Young Living. I believe doTerra has something similar called On Guard. I have rubbed Thieves oil on my children’s’ feet and the back of their necks during cold and flu season and like the elderberry syrup it seems to either help keep them from getting sick or to reduce the length of time for the illness. If nothing else, the cinnamon-like aroma helps to open their nasal passages.
We have also successfully used peppermint essential oil (which has helped with headaches and sinus issues for me), eucalyptus oil, RC oil (Young Living), Lavender, and clove oil.
If you are using essential oils around pets or children, it is important to double-check that the particular oil you are using is safe for them. Essential oils can be placed on the skin (with the use of a carrier oil) or be diffused by placing a couple of drops in water in a diffuser.
How about you? Do you have any tips that have worked for you to help improve your immune system? I am aware that there are so many more than I have mentioned here. Let me know your tips in the comment section.
Author bio: Lisa R. Howeler is a former small-town newspaper reporter who writes a little bit a lot of things on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She is a wife, mother, photographer, and self-published author of clean, faith-based fiction. Her second novel A New Beginning is on sale on Amazon and her novella Quarantined will be released on October 20, 2020.
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