It is definitely cold and flu season. We just entered fall, and everyone in my house has already had their first cold of the season. We all know the usual ways to boost immunity – loading up on zinc, echinacea, vitamin C to name just a few. Our immune systems are complicated though and directly tied into lifestyle factors like stress and sleep given their relationship with our adrenal and digestive systems. Here are some easy strategies to support your immune function throughout this season both before you are sick and when you have already come down with something.
1. Drink bone broth. Broths have been used in traditional cuisines around the world for thousands of years. Properly prepared meat broths are extremely nutritious – containing minerals, electrolytes and gut healing gelatin from animal bones, cartilage, marrow and vegetables. Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, found that the amino acids produced in the making of chicken bone broth reduced inflammation in the respiratory system and improved digestion. Bone broth supports normal immune system function (probably as a link to reduced inflammation in the gut) and reduce symptoms of allergies, asthma, and arthritis. Homemade is your best bet but Kettle and Fire makes an excellent shelf stable bone broth and Bonefide Provisions is distributed nationwide and can be found in the freezer section of some grocery stores. Let’s face it, we don’t always have the time or the means to make it ourselves.
2. Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods go through a lactofermentation process where natural bacteria feed on sugars in the food, creating lactic acid. The fermentation helps to preserve while creating beneficial enzymes, vitamins and various probiotic strains. Probiotics not only introduce beneficial bacteria into your digestive system and help the balance of flora, they are also known to support the immune system by secreting antibacterial peptides capable of killing off harmful bacteria in the gut. They also help strengthen the barrier function of the intestinal lining, lowering the chance of bacteria entering into the blood stream. This function may decrease the chance of infections and immune related reactions, therefore supporting the immune system. I like to eat my probiotics through eating foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, but a high quality grass fed or non-dairy yogurt can be helpful too, as are fermented drinks such as water kefir and kombucha (watch the sugar content).
3. Minimize refined sugars. According to a 1973 study by Loma Linda University, eating or drinking too much sugar reduces the ability of your white blood cells to kill germs and bacteria (possibly up to 50%) for at least a few hours after you consume it. White blood cells need vitamin C to destroy bacteria and viruses and sugar impacts this process by competing with vitamin C for space in those cells. The more sugar in your system, the less you will uptake vitamin C into your white blood cells. Consuming sugar inhibits your body’s ability to fight off infection and keeps your immune system from doing its job. Try to eat mostly natural sugars in the form of fruits, vegetables and properly prepared grains and legumes. Aim to consume natural sugars such as honey and maple syrup in moderation.
4. Get outside. Not only can getting some sun help to naturally boost your vitamin D levels naturally (which supports the immune system), but physical activity may help to flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways thereby reducing your chances of getting sick. Moderate exercise also causes antibodies and white blood cells to become more active which may allow them to detect illnesses earlier. Some anecdotal evidence shows that the brief rise in body temperature during and after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing and may help fight infection better (similar to how a fever works). Moderate exercise or activity such as walking, yoga and light movement can be beneficial when you are sick, but listen to your body and do not overdo it. Too much and too extreme exercise could actually cause more harm than good.
5. Minimize stress. Stress can create physiological stress in our bodies, lowering our immune defenses and making us more vulnerable to illness. Stress is also known to lower our white blood cell’s ability to kill germs which can inhibit your recovery. When you are feeling under the weather (or even when you are not), aim to get plenty of sleep and try to take some time off from work and other daily stressors. Meditation, yoga or a short walk may help to reduce stress and allow your body to heal faster. This is the time to catch up on your reading or podcast list or to veg out with your favorite Netflix show. I know that this is easier said than done, especially if you have a demanding job or are a parent, but your ability to rest will directly correlate to how quickly you are feeling better and back on your feet.
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon