Getting sick sucks! For you it means missed work, getting behind on training, and feeling terrible. When your kids catch a bug, it means you have to find daytime childcare while they fall behind on school. So what can you do to give your immune system a boost so you and your family stay healthy?
Here are ten natural, science-supported ways to improve immune function for a healthy and happy winter.
#1: Get Your Vitamin D
Most people think of vitamin C for preventing illness, but we’re much more likely to be deficient in vitamin D—a fact that significantly increases the chance you’ll catch a bug. Vitamin D turns on an immune agent called cathelicin, which is your body’s first line of defense for your cells to kill of germs and viruses. A vitamin D blood value above 50 ng/ml is recommended, but if lab tests aren’t an option, taking 5,000 IUs a day for adults and 2,000 IUs for kids is a safe place to start.
#2: Eat At Least Five Servings Of Fruits and Veggies A Day
Fruits and vegetables are crucial for a robust immune system because they provide fiber, vitamins—they can supply all your vitamin C needs—and antioxidants that will help the body get rid of toxins. Shoot for the rainbow to get a wider variety of immune boosting nutrients: Red raspberries or peppers, orange carrots or sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, green leafy vegetables like kale or collards, blueberries, and purple eggplant or beets are a few examples.
#3: Keep Your Gut Healthy
Did you know that most of your immune system is located in the gut? The body produces various immune compounds in the GI tract making the right balance of good bacteria essential for a healthy immune system. Taking a high-powered probiotic with a bare minimum of 1 billion live bacteria will boost production of T cells and other enzymes involved in immunity. They also ensure adequate digestion and absorption of nutrients from food, which is important because nutrient deficiencies will compromise the immune system dramatically
#4: Get Enough Good Quality Sleep
Germs are everywhere and sleeping more is a good way to elevate our immunity to them. During sleep, you experience a greater production of white blood cells that prevent disease and sickness. For example, one study found that individuals who slept less than 7 hours a night were three times more likely to get sick than those who got more than 7 hours of sleep.
#5: Go Easy On Caffeine
Caffeine doesn’t appear to directly blunt the immune system, however, if you are elevating the stress hormone cortisol, your immunity will take a hit. A high cortisol response is most likely if you are drinking coffee in the afternoon, or if you’re just generally frazzled and are using it to get you through the day.
#6: Drink Water
A healthy water intake is necessary for cellular hydration and avoiding illness. A good rule is to get a minimum of 3 liters a day of filtered water. Remember to avoid reusing plastic bottles, because they can leech BPA and other chemical compounds that may compromise immunity and harm cellular function.
#7: Get Electrolytes
A healthy water intake isn’t the only thing necessary for hydration. Sodium, potassium, and chloride ensure that water gets into your cells for optimal function and immunity. If you feel depleted or are under the weather, consider adding an electrolyte packet to your water or mix sea salt with water and lemon to give your immune system a lift.
#8: Be Smart About Exercise
Physical activity and strength training can elevate your immune system and protect you from cold and flu by improving gene activity and the body’s natural antioxidant system. But if you’re already feeling poorly, it may be best to skip it and get more rest. Also, be aware that intense endurance exercise is a no-no when you’re at risk of getting sick. Marathoners are notorious for upper respiratory infections during heavy training, likely because this form of training elevates stress hormones and depletes immunity.
#9: Avoid Added Sugar & Processed Junk
The artificial additives, dyes, and unhealthy trans fats increase your toxic load, making the body work harder to eliminate these pollutants, blunting your immune response. Throw in the added sugar, gluten, soy, and corn that comes in most processed foods and your immune system is in for a major hit.
#10: Get Enough Zinc
Zinc deficiency profoundly affects the immune system because low zinc produces a direct, rapid decline in T cell function. T cells elevate the body’s immune system when viruses, bacteria, or challenges to health arise. Older people, vegetarians, and individuals with a high fiber intake are at greatest risk of zinc deficiency. Zinc can be supplemented in capsule form or you can take zinc lozenges at the onset of a cold to reduce the severity and length of illness.