Looking for the best gift for yourself this year? Support your immune function and stay flu-free with natural strategies for your lifestyle, diet and supplement plan.
Are colds and flus at the top of your holiday wish list? We thought not. While spreading the holiday love this year, make sure you prioritize your immune system. Banish winter party poopers with simple do-it-for-yourself (DI4Y) dietary, lifestyle, and supplemental strategies.
Changing everyday habits can bolster your immune function.
Periods of busyness and high stress drain our immune systems, leaving us susceptible to infections. Colds and flus can take up residence after we’ve simply been pushing ourselves too hard. Stress-busting strategies like breathing, meditation, or even indulging in some holiday crafting may help drop your risk of getting sick.
Work it out
Exercise is a powerful immune supporter, especially in people who are dealing with stress. Along with keeping the number of colds and flus to a minimum, exercise is a potent mood booster that will keep you coasting through those family get-togethers.
Sleep it off
In an experiment where people were intentionally exposed to a cold-causing virus, those who slept fewer than seven hours a night, or had poor quality sleep, were three to five times more likely to develop an infection. Get some help if you’re not getting your ZZZs.
Harness the healing power of hydrotherapy.
Flushing the system
The Ayurvedic tradition of nasal irrigation, practised with neti pot or squeeze bottle, can reduce congestion and improve breathing during a cold. If pouring salt water through your nose just isn’t your thing, gargle with plain water several times daily to cut illness risk by over a third. Frequent hand washing during flu season will thwart many infections.
It may sound atrocious, but the tried-and-true traditional strategy of a 30-second cold rinse after a warm shower may reduce time spent suffering with cold symptoms. Contrast showers can improve pain and depression, suggesting that this practice stimulates both immune function and brain chemistry.
At the other end of the temperature spectrum, hot and steamy drinks ease nasal symptoms, warming us from the inside out. Breathing in steam from a large bowl of hot water can also be soothing but be aware that burns are a concern; supervised warm showers are a safer steam therapy choice for kids.
True or false?
Short-term stress may boost our immune function.
TRUE: In a study of children starting primary school, those with higher levels of the stress-associated hormone cortisol had fewer colds. While short-term stress may be protective, longer bouts may ultimately end in infection.
Mushrooms are poor sources of nutrients.
FALSE: Levels of zinc and selenium in mushrooms may explain their immune-supporting effects. One cup of cremini mushrooms provides over 40 percent of one’s daily requirement of selenium and about 10 percent of that of zinc.
Avoid dairy foods if you’re sick with a cold or flu.
FALSE: Believe it or not, this question was the subject of a 1990 study that evaluated actual production of secretions in milk drinkers and non-milk drinkers with colds. No link was found. Eat and drink nourishing foods during a cold, from a variety of non-processed sources.
Eat for immunity by stocking up on these foods.
Tofu, turkey, or tahini
Protein has a vital role in immune function. High-protein diets can protect against infection when we’re running ourselves ragged. Make sure you’re getting protein with every meal and snack during cold and flu season.
Eat your greens (and purples and reds)
Bioflavonoids are mighty plant chemicals found in colourful foods like blueberries, tomatoes, cabbage, and even tea. These antioxidant compounds can cut infections by as much as 33 percent, providing yet another reason to eat your fruits and veggies.
It’s a food, it’s a wound healer … it’s a cough suppressant? Honey may be more effective than prescription medication for reducing cough and improving sleep in children with colds. A grown-up version with instant coffee trumped a steroid-based medication in another study, and it was certainly tastier (see below for recipe).
Honey/coffee cough syrup
250 g (about 3/4 cup) honey
35 g (about 6 1/2 Tbsp) instant coffee
Combine honey and coffee well and add 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of mixture to a cup of warm water, 3 times per day.
Did you know?
Mushroom extracts, such as shiitake-based active hexose correlated compound (AHCC), can boost immune response to the flu vaccine.
In addition to DI4Y strategies, botanical extracts, nutrients, and even probiotics can support your mission to stay healthy.
Many plants have antimicrobial properties as they need to fend off microscopic predators in their natural environments. Echinacea and ginger are well known for their immune effects, while aged garlic extract and Andrographis paniculata are slowly gaining renown for their influence on cold frequency and symptoms. Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), traditionally boiled and combined with honey to make a syrup, showed similar benefit in one study of air travellers.
Vitamin C and zinc are well known for their cold-shortening properties, but an important role for vitamin D is also emerging. Lower blood levels of vitamin D are associated with more frequent respiratory tract infections, while daily vitamin D supplementation can lead to more cold-free days.
Did you know?
Your beliefs may impact the efficacy of medications that you take. Participants in one trial tended to have shorter colds if they believed that echinacea would help them. This was true whether or not their pill contained any echinacea.
Did you know?
People whose care providers showed empathy toward their patients’ cold symptoms had shorter, less severe colds and better immune responses. Might this work between friends? Show a little love and find out.
Tiny immune helpers
Taking probiotics in either food or supplemental form has been shown to reduce cold frequency by as much as 55 percent, likely due to influence on gut-based immune cells. This simple strategy may save you days of sniffles this winter!