As cold and flu season kicks off, it’s important to pay close attention to your immune system and make sure it keeps humming along. Read on for my top tips to avoid coming down with a bad case of the sniffles!
1) Boost Your Antioxidant Intake – Eating foods rich in the Vitamins C, E and Selenium provides your body with important antioxidants. Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, is also a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals, unstable compounds that cause cellular damage and inflammation in the body. Making sure you’re eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables like oranges, onions, strawberries, spinach and broccoli, as well as nuts and seeds will ensure you’re getting great antioxidant support.
2) Enjoy More garlic – One study found that those who took a garlic supplement during cold season (a 12 week period) were less likely to get a cold than those who took the placebo. This is probably due to allicin, a antiviral and antimicrobial compound gound in garlic. Add more garlic to your diet, or you can take a garlic supplement.
3) Get Some Sun – Vitamin D is a powerful factor in the expression of immune cells and deficiency has been linked to immune dysregulation. While Vitamin D is hard to obtain from the diet, your skin can synthesize it through sun exposure. In the winter months, I recommend taking a Vitamin D supplement. Always get yourself tested before taking a Vitamin D supplement, as toxicity can occur (a optimal level is likely between 50-70 ng/mL).
4) Sweat – Exercise can be one of the best ways to make sure you stave off that winter cold. Not only does it help lower stress levels (a strong immunosuppressant), it helps us detoxify. Research shows that moderate intensity exercise has the ability to improve immune system function.
5) Get Your 8 Hours – When we sleep, our body is able to rest, repair and detoxify. Making sure you are getting enough sleep is one of the most important ways you can ward off a bad cold or the flu. This study found that shorter duration as well as poor quality shut eye in the weeks prior to an exposure to rhinovirus were associated with lowered resistance to catching the virus.
6) Take a Probiotic – Nearly 80% of the immune system is located in the gut, which is home to a wide array of beneficial bacteria that helps keep pathogenic bacteria at bay. Keeping the bugs that live in our large intestine happy can be a crucial way to make sure our immune system function is up to snuff as we head into the winter months. One study found that adults who got a special strain of Lactobacillus casei in their diet were less likely to suffer from an upper respiratory infection than their peers. Eat more homemade fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi or kombucha, or take a multi-strain probiotic supplement.
7) Eat clean – Eating lots of processed carbs and sugars not only causes spikes in blood sugar, but it causes an inflammatory cascade as well. If your immune system is busy taking care of quenching the inflammation caused by a high sugar diet, you are more prone to catching a cold or the flu. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and high quality protein is one of the best ways to avoid coming down with a cold.
Help! I feel a cold coming on…
Never fear! Here are a few of my favorite products and ways to help kick your cold to the curb:
Elderberry Syrup – Sambucus (aka Elderberry) is a powerful immune booster and has been found to be helpful in the treatment of the common cold. My pick: Gaia Herbs Elderberry Syrup
Vitamin C – Take 1,000 mg of Vitamin C as soon as you feel a cold coming on. One study found that supplementation of 1000 mg of Vitamin C daily reduced the incidence of colds by 59% over the group that received a placebo. My pick: Allergy Research Group Pure Vitamin C
Grape seed extract (GSE) – GSE is a great immune booster. My favorite product combines this with other plant/herbal compounds (goldenseal, ginger, and astralagus) that can help reduce the length and severity of a cold. My pick: Nutribiotic Defense Plus
Zinc – Zinc is a mineral that is needed for immune cell expression. Studies show that taking zinc within 24 hours of the onset of a cold reduces the length of a cold in otherwise healthy adults. (I recommend taking 2 mg of copper glycinate with zinc, as they tend to compete for absorption and taking zinc alone may impede copper absorption). My pick: Pure Encapsulations Zinc Citrate
Essential Oil swish – Combine two drops each of lavender, lemon and eucalyptus essential oil in 1 oz. of distilled water. Swish in your mouth for 20-30 seconds. Repeat a few times daily. I personally swear by this technique! Make sure you are purchasing your oils through reputable buyers. NOW, Doterra, Auracacia and Young Living all have high standards in place and sell high quality products.
Written by Elizabeth McKinney, MS, CNS, LDN, CLT