Top 5 Tips to Support Immunity Through Fall and Winter
It’s that time of year again. Colds and viruses are circulating and COVID is still ever present. You have probably heard it in the coughing and sniffles of many of those around you. I was recently stuck in Chicago’s O’Hare airport on a long layover and it seemed like everyone was sneezing and coughing. Needless to say, I was very glad I brought some of my trusty immune support and had come from a 2-day conference where I ate healthy food, no sugar, and got lots of good rest. I believe it was all this that allowed me to make it home without getting sick! Here is my attempt to sum up what I feel are the most effective steps to keep your immune system robust this winter season.
- Sleep (and rest): I know this is easier said than done for many of us, but no amount of supplements and good food can overcome poor quality sleep when it comes to your immune system. When at rest, your body heals and repairs which includes the immune system. If you don’t get enough sleep one night, see if you can take a 15–20-minute nap or even just a rest period where you can do some breath work or meditate at some point during the day. As stress goes up (and inadequate sleep is a big stress), your immune fighting cells go down.
- Avoid sugar: Sugar comes in many forms, it’s not just table sugar and candy. Any white food from processed grain flour is sugar (with more sugars usually added). Many studies have demonstrated how the inflammation that sugar causes in the body can significantly lower the number and ability of your white blood cells to fight off infections. If you are feeling run down or know you will be somewhere with more exposure to germs, take a break from eating sugar. You can always have that dessert at another time.
- Eat optimal protein and lots of colorful plants! As you may know, proteins are considered the building blocks of the body and this includes your immune system. Protein needs vary for everyone, but you should include some with each meal and increase the amount you eat when you are looking to boost your immune system. This can include both animal (poultry, red meat, fish/seafood), plant-based proteins (legumes like beans, lentils, soy, and peas), as well as some high protein nuts and seeds (almonds, hemp, pumpkin, and chia). A good rule of thumb is to have the size of a deck of cards for animal protein per meal. For vegetarian sources, about a cup of cooked legumes with a few tablespoons of high protein seeds will provide a similar amount of protein. Some of the best plants for the immune system include the allium family like garlic, onions, leeks, scallions, and shallots. Medicinal mushrooms are excellent at supporting and balancing the immune system and many have anti-microbial/anti-viral properties including turkey tail, shiitake, and maitake. You can eat these whole or get them in supplement form (see below). Finally, cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cabbage, etc. are my other top recommended family of vegetables because they are full of immune supportive nutrients C, E, Beta-carotene, along with sulforaphane which is a nutrient that optimizes the immune and detox systems.
- Supplements- Even when you are eating a clean, balanced, unprocessed diet, supplements can play an important role in immune system support. My top THREE are:
- Vitamin D especially during the winter when it is hard to get enough D from the sun in US. Ideally, it’s best to get your levels checked first before supplementing, but anywhere between 2,000-5,000IU most days is a good amount to supplement for many of us. I often recommend D in combination with A and K because they work well together in supporting the immune system. ADK Evail from Designs for Health is a good blend.
- Medicinal mushroom extracts/powders- I love the throat sprays and capsule blends from Host Defense Mushrooms. You can check out their website for blends recommended for immune support.
- Zinc- This mineral is one of the best researched for the central role it plays in the immune system and there is a clear increased susceptibility to infection when zinc levels are low. Many of us can keep our zinc optimal in the diet with fresh clean seafood, especially oysters and clams, pastured red meat, nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds. But again, if you are feeling run down or looking to give yourself an extra boost- 15-30 mg of zinc for a few days to a week can help ward off getting sick.
- Last but not least- stay well hydrated. We all know that optimal hydration is important for a lot of reasons, but I find many people I see for nutrition consults are not getting adequate hydration and wondering why they feel fatigued and achy. Optimal hydration ensures that our blood stream can transport nutrients and help the various organs systems in the body to communicate, including the immune system. Hydration also impacts the lymphatic system which is closely entwined with the immune system. This helps to remove waste, abnormal cells, and pathogens out of the body along with transporting or infection fighting white blood cells. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces. Keep in mind it doesn’t all have to be water. Soups, broths, herbal teas and smoothies all count!