Just the way flowers need water to flourish and a car needs an oil change to run well, going into the winter months, your body might need a boost of goodness and support.
In the long-term, that protection helps your body provide a stronger defense against diseases like cancer and autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease, which affect thyroid hormones. It also protects you against the health impacts of aging.
Why Are Colds So Contagious?
Colds and flu are hardy adversaries and here’s why:
- There are almost 200 viruses that cause the common cold.
- Cold viruses can live on surfaces for anywhere from several hours to several days.
- Droplets that carry viruses can travel almost 3.5 feet when you cough or sneeze.
- Cold and flu viruses sneak into your cells and it takes about a week for your body to produce antibodies, to help destroy them.
- Cold and flu viruses change during the season. So even if you developed immunity to the first strain, you may still come down with the flu after it has morphed into a slightly different virus.
14 Tips to Pump Up Your Immune System
If you spend more days sick throughout the year than you do on vacation, then it’s time to make a change. Make the following simple lifestyle and diet tweaks to give your immune system an immediate boost and to protect your health now:
Are you sure you want to race off to work with a gurgling tummy? Research from Cardiff University shows that people who skip breakfast are more likely to develop winter illnesses (including the common cold).
Skimping on brekkie can also cause the jitters. If you don’t “break your fast” then your blood sugars drop due to an extended time without food. When this happens, feelings of mental fog, anxiety and sugar cravings can occur. This can raise stress levels and stress hormones like cortisol, which can then put your body in a state of fight or flight that lowers your immunity. So get out of bed a little earlier and ensure you have time for breakfast.
- Savory starters: Have the PFF kind of breakfast, starting with the Farmer Wife’s Breakfast. This ensures that you face the day with a good amount of protein on board, rather than navigating a sudden spike in blood glucose from sweetened cereals or spreads like honey and jam. For another seasonal option, try my Savory Porridge with Butternut Squash recipe.
- A caffeine-free morning: Remember, a latte or long black on the way to work does more than make you feel awake–it puts your body in a state of high alert and triggers adrenaline. This can stop your immune system from working properly because it mistakenly thinks you are under threat.
- Healthy to-go breakfasts: Keep nuts or healthy whole grain seed crackers and tuna in your desk drawer. Or try my recipe for Savory Zucchini Muffins.
Put Mushrooms on the Menu
These small powerhouses of nutrition are immuno-modulators. This is due in part to their high levels of beta-glucans, which help activate macrophage and natural killer cells that are pivotal to your immune defense.
Beta-glucans not only protect you against viruses like colds, they also inhibit the growth of cancer tumors. Research from the Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism found that when firefighters (who suffer many respiratory issues due to smoke exposure) were given beta glucans daily, they experienced 23 percent less colds.
That’s good reason to add some mushrooms to an omelet, green smoothies or dishes like salads, soups, and stews. If you’re FODMAP sensitive and mushrooms are generally off limits because they upset your stomach, try medicinal edible mushrooms like Reishi, which may be better tolerated.
- Shiitake: Eating one 4-ounce serving of shiitake mushrooms every day boosts the function of immune-boosting gamma delta T-cells and also reduces inflammatory proteins that increase the risk of disease, shows research from the University of Florida.
- Reishi: This fan-shaped mushroom has traditionally been used to support the immune system, boost energy and reduce allergies. In one study, daily intake of reishi was shown to boost gut immunity while also reducing inflammatory chemicals like cytokines and C Reactive proteins to lower inflammation.
- Turkey Tails: In China, this mushroom is used to reduce phlegm. Studies show it is high in proteoglycans, which can lower inflammation and also act as signaling molecules, triggering crosstalk amongst receptors that help the immune system work more effectively. As a source of the compound polysaccharide Krestin (PSK), research shows that turkey tails not only restore day-to-day immune function, they can also help fight diseases like breast cancer. As this mushroom can be a little leathery, most people brew it with hot water to make an immune-boosting tea.
For more information on how to use herbs for immunity, join our Herbs for Balance program here.
Think About Zinc
This wonder-mineral is found in every one of your cells and it’s critical for healthy cell development and function. Zinc interacts with thousands of proteins in your body and is involved in around 300 different enzyme processes. It improves wound-healing and improved thyroid function, gut health, blood clotting, vision, and smell. Zinc also works as a powerful antioxidant.
It also appears to put the brakes on the immune system when it goes into overdrive, reducing the risk of autoimmune disease.
Most importantly, zinc boosts immunity. When zinc is deficient (as it is in an estimated 2 billion people worldwide) there is reduced function in your T cells, which act as soldiers for your immune system.
Eat foods rich in zinc, which include:
- Clams and oysters (Take a look at my tasty recipe for Clams in White Wine Sauce)
- Flax and pumpkin seeds
- Pinto beans
- Cooked greens
- Tahini paste
- Cashews (For a zinc-boosting snack, enjoy these Cashew Protein Balls)
Note: Zinc supplements can be helpful during colder months. Recent research shows Zinc acetate lozenges may reduce the duration of a cold by three days.
A Cochrane review, (which is considered a gold standard for scientific evidence) also confirmed that zinc can help knock a cold on its head if taken in the first 24 hours after symptoms appear, reducing the severity and duration of the virus.
Make sure you don’t overdo your zinc intake though, as too much can lead to a copper deficiency, which can cause anemia.
How to Find Out if You Are Low in Zinc
You can easily find out if you are low in zinc by doing this simple zinc challenge at home. Purchase Zinc Challenge on Amazon.
To perform the test, put about 2 tablespoons of zinc status liquid into a cup and then into your mouth. Hold it in your mouth for up to 30 seconds to see if a definite taste develops, and then swallow. Depending on the time it took to notice a taste or the strength of the taste, the responses are classified as follows:
- No specific taste or other sensation is noticed.
- No immediate taste is noticed, but after a few seconds, a slight taste variously described as “dry,” “mineral,” “furry,” or “sweet,” develops.
- A definite, though not strongly unpleasant, taste is noticed almost immediately and tends to intensify over time.
- A strong and unpleasant taste is noted almost immediately.
A reaction in category 1 or 2 suggests a zinc deficiency and a need for zinc supplementation. A reaction of 3 or 4 indicates the patient has adequate zinc levels.
Those who scored 1 or 2 should take Zinc Liquid daily as a supplement (1-2 Tbsp per day) until a strong and immediate taste develops. Keep retesting zinc levels weekly to keep zinc levels optimal.
For a high-quality zinc supplement, we recommend Wellena Zinc Complete.
Heal Your Gut
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, famously said “All disease begins in the gut.” Now science is filling in the rest of that story. Research shows that when your levels of bad bacteria outweigh the good bacteria, your immune system is weakened. Your gut can also slam-dunk your immunity if you have chronic digestive issues. These include dyspepsia (which causes discomfort and burping after food), acid reflux and leaky gut, where small gaps open up between the mucosa cells that line your gut wall.
- Probiotic foods: These include miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt (if you can tolerate dairy, otherwise get coconut or almond yogurt) and kefir.
- Fermented beets: Kvass, a tasty fermented Eastern European drink, is made from chopped beetroot, turmeric root, water and salt, resulting in a lactobacillus fermentation. It is a super healthy probiotic drink that does not contain yeasts like Kombucha, so it will not worsen candida overgrowth. Check out my kvass recipe here.
- Gelatin: This can help to heal leaky gut by lining your gut wall with a thick-jelly-like collagen and repairing the connective tissue that joins the cells lining your gut wall. Research from the University of Catania shows that gelatin also reduces inflammation in the intestine.
Go for Garlic
The high sulfur content in garlic does more than boost the flavor in food. It has potent antibiotic actions and supports your liver to effectively carry out detoxification. This, in turn, reduces toxins and estrogen metabolites that can contribute to inflammation, which compromises immunity. Garlic is also rich in selenium, an essential mineral which ramps up immunity and may help women fight back against breast cancer.
- Raw garlic: Research shows that garlic can lose some of its sulfuric benefits when cooked, but crushing the garlic and letting it stand for 10 minutes before cooking helps protect the health-boosting alliinase enzyme. Add garlic to a salad dressing or a warm (but not hot) cup of water, lemon and honey.
- Sprouted garlic: This has been shown to have even higher antioxidants levels than the fresher, younger bulbs. Chew on some raw mint to reduce the garlic scent.
- Mediterranean cuisine: This includes garlic in many different recipes, including slow-cooked stews, seafood marinades, dips and rice dishes.
- Check out this short video showing how you can make your own natural antibiotic using garlic and onion.
Take Turmeric Daily
This warming, bitter spice triggers an increase in an important protein that helps your immune system fight off fungus, viruses and bacteria, shows research from Oregon State University.
- Turmeric lattes: Also known as golden milk, this soothing drink is a great way to get your daily dose of turmeric. For a different twist, try my recipe for Turmeric Chai Latte.
- Roasted or powdered turmeric: This can be added to vegetable dishes, soups, stews, and freshly made dips, like hummus.
Savor a Cup of Tea
Every time you sip on a cup of matcha, English breakfast, green or oolong tea your body enjoys an immediate increase in health-giving antioxidants, called flavonoids. The polyphenols in tea rank higher than some fruit and vegetables on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale and help protect your body against free radical damage.
Within 20 minutes of drinking a cup of tea, there is a measurable increase in the level of antioxidants in your blood. Research from the University College of London found that tea can also counter stress hormones. In this study, people who drank tea enjoyed a faster drop in their cortisol levels (an adrenal hormone) after having to deal with stress.
This is in part due to L-theanine a calming compound found in tea. In your liver, this is broken down into ethylamine, a molecule that helps your immune system deal with bacteria, viral, fungal and parasitic infections. Long-term it may also help protect against cancer tumors. Tea drinkers also have up to five times more interferon—a natural protein made by your body’s white cells to help fight everything from viruses to disease.
- Loose-leaf tea: Steep for 3 to 5 minutes to extract up to 85 percent of the flavonoids. Big leaves need to steep for longer while tiny pieces of tea infuse faster. Keep in mind, that if you are adding sugars and full cream milk, your healthy tea habit may start to become a liability for your weight.
- Matcha tea: All green teas are high in antioxidants, so they are known to enhance immunity. Matcha tea, which comes in a bright green powder, is an even richer antioxidant source. It has high L-theanine levels that support the production of dopamine and serotonin—two neurotransmitters that enhance mood and alertness. (Try this Matcha Latte recipe for a cozy treat.)
- Rosehip: Like tomatoes, this is high in lycopene, which can be protective against cancer. The vitamin C and flavonoids in rosehip tea are also great allies against viruses like cold and flu.
- Calming teas: These include chamomile, valerian, and ashwagandha as well as teas that combine ingredients like lemon balm, skullcap, and passionflower. They stabilize hormones by promoting feelings of calm, allowing your immune system to focus effectively on protecting you from illness.
Up Your Antioxidants
To maintain good health, you also need plenty of nutrient-dense choices to boost your immune system and balance your hormones. That’s where foods high in antioxidants come in. They reverse the impact of excess hormone levels and stabilize free radicals, reducing the risk of illness and disease.
- Berries: While blueberries boast the most antioxidants, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, black currants and elderberries are also rich in antioxidants. This is due to their polyphenols, including procyanidin, quercetin, and anthocyanins, which give them their spectacular color.
- Hot cacao: Studies from Cornell University show that cacao is packed with nearly double the amount of antioxidants found in red wine and up to three times more than those found in tea. Cacao is also high in magnesium, which can boost heart health and help lower anxiety. This powerful food also contains tryptophan, which converts to serotonin, a chemical that can help elevate mood. A calmer state helps ensure that your body’s immune defenses, such as killer T cells can do their job more effectively.
- Broccoli Sprouts: Cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, spinach, and cauliflower have been shown to be boost immunity and protect against cancer. Broccoli sprouts are a particularly good choice. At the sprouting stage, they contain 50 times more sulforaphane than mature broccoli flowerets. Sulforaphane helps your body with cell repair and the production of energy, hormones and a master antioxidant called glutathione.
Pro-tip: I keep a bottle of Beekeeper’s Naturals Propolis in my bag as my secret weapon for boosting my immune system with antioxidants. It contains propolis—a sticky mix of plant and tree resins that bees use to protect their hives. This handy spray is like a bodyguard in a bottle, helping guard your immune system just as propolis works to defend the hive. Plus, with potent antioxidants to prevent free radical damage, this propolis spray protects your body from the nasties during cold and flu season. I like to spray this directly into my mouth 3 times a day whenever my body is feeling stressed or fatigued.
The more stressed you are the less effective your natural killer cells are, and the less primed your immune system is to do its job. Longterm, stress has been linked to the development of diseases like cancer, most likely because it causes mutations in DNA or compromises the ability to heal mutations. If you live a super busy life juggling too many responsibilities, the chronic stress can actually rewire your brain so that the parts that register stress and fear actually grow. This means you are then likely to react to smaller triggers with higher stress. Thankfully, those changes can be reversed. Encouraging studies show that when the stress is alleviated through practices like mindfulness, within weeks to months the brain starts to change back to a healthier configuration.
- Good Thyroid function: If you suffer from issues like anxiety plus fluid retention, dry skin, low body temperature and constant exhaustion, you may have problems with your thyroid function. To reduce the load, sign up for thyroid detox workshop here.
- Hugs: It’s true—a quality cuddle helps lower blood pressure and increases levels of oxytocin, the same chemical we produce when we’re in love. In turn oxytocin triggers the release of the “bliss molecules” called anandamides, shows research from the University of California.
- Laughter: A good giggle or hearty laugh gives your immunity a leg-up by boosting antibody production and activating important protective T cells. Studies from Loma Linda University found that laughter increased production of antibodies and activation of the body’s Natural Killer cells’ killing activity of tumor cells.
- Writing a journal: Debriefing about stresses and emotions in a journal or via a written account of a trauma can help strengthen immunity in people with asthma, arthritis, and HIV, shows research by psychologist James Pennebaker. Journaling can help you clarify feelings, problem solve more effectively, work through negative emotions, de-stress, move on and let go.
Your body repairs and renews cells during sleep, which may be why skimping on sleep trebles the risk of catching a cold, according to research at Carnegie Melon University in Pittsburgh. The study found that people who sleep eight hours a night develop better antibody response when exposed to a cold virus.
- Stick to a sleep schedule: Don’t sit up late scrolling through your phone. Stick to the same sleep and wake times so you get eight hours of quality shut-eye.
- Set a caffeine curfew: If you have trouble falling asleep, don’t drink tea or coffee beyond midday.
- Avoid bright lights in the evening: Light can reduce your production of melatonin, which can delay sleep onset, reducing your hours of slumber. You can read more about this and other sleep-boosting strategies here.
Also known as the purple coneflower, echinacea is thought to step up the action of our phagocytes, immune cells that eat up harmful viruses and bacteria. Though numerous studies of echinacea have shown few or no benefits against the common cold, a recent study by the University of Connecticut showed that echinacea can reduce the chance of catching a cold by an impressive 58 percent.
- Take echinacea supplements when immunity is low: As a rule, I’m not a fan of supplements. As well as having adders and fillers that are not always healthy, too much of one vitamin or mineral can cause too little of another. But some people find that echinacea really does fortify their immune system. So if you are prone to colds and flu in winter, it’s worth giving echinacea supplements a try.
To learn more about how to balance your hormones with supplements (and which to take), you can download our FREE Supplement Guide here.
Address Asthma and Allergies
If you suffer allergic reactions like eczema, asthma, and hay fever, your immune system will be overloaded because it is constantly dealing with chronic inflammation. This can then make you more susceptible to catching every cold or flu that’s going around. Longer-term it can predispose you to disease.
- A low-allergen diet: Eliminate common allergenic foods like gluten, dairy, eggs, and soy to help you work out which foods are your allergy triggers.
- Mold reduction strategies: Clean your shower regularly and use heaters to dry out rooms that are susceptible to molds. Wipe down moldy surfaces and leather shoes or jackets with a solution of water and vinegar (and air moldy clothes in sunlight).
- Low-allergen cleaning: Wear a medical mask when dusting and also use a damp cloth to ensure you don’t breathe in large amounts of dust mite.
- Pollen protection: If you are prone to allergies, get your partner to mow the lawn and steer clear of grass between 7-9 am and 4-6 pm when the change in temperature promotes greater pollen release. If you are allergic to a flower or tree and it’s in season, place a little coconut oil on the inside of your nose to catch the pollen. This coconut oil may also help treat chronic sinus congestion, which can be caused by candida overgrowth. More about that here.
Seek Daily Sun
Vitamin D, which is mostly synthesized from sunshine in your skin, is pivotal to important bodily processes such as shutting down cancer cells and assisting proper heart function. Lack of vitamin D has also been linked to a higher risk of coming down with influenza.
- A daily sunbath: Enjoy your sunbath outside peak UV times in the morning or afternoon to avoid sunburn. Expose your face, arms, and hands to the sun without sunscreen for about 10 minutes in summer and around 15-20 minutes in the cooler months.
I know it’s not possible to always get the natural dose of Vitamin D that your body needs to stay healthy. Here is a high-quality Vitamin D supplement from Wellena.
Mount a Cold Defense
Whether you have telltale signs of a cold or you’re trying to avoid one during winter, the following cold combat approaches will help.
- Saltwater gargles: These can help combat a sore throat while a saline syringe can help reduce bacteria in the nose. Some people do daily neti pots, to give their sinuses a saline wash to help prevent colds all year long.
- Clean hands: Fingers easily spread bacteria and viruses from door handles and telephones to your eyes and mouth. So wash hands frequently with regular soap (not the anti-bacterial soaps) and also before eating and wash them more often if someone in your household or workplace has a cold. Wash them for the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”. Avoid putting unwashed hands into your mouth or near your eyes as you may be giving a cold virus entry to your body. Remember, you’re more likely to catch a cold from the hot coffee your snuffly girlfriend just handed you than from kissing her ‘hello’.
- Daily exercise: Research shows that people who do moderate exercise five days a week enjoy 46 percent lower frequency of colds. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise on most days. To get motivated, find an exercise buddy, sign up for a gym membership and do something you enjoy such as salsa or yoga.
- A tall glass of water: Dehydration reduces the function of the protective barrier in your nose, your first line of defense against a cold. So aim to drink one to two liters of water every day.
- Nose breathing: Inhaling through your mouth may also make you more susceptible to a cold because your nose is not filtering out the pathogens.
- Cold hygiene: If someone in your family has a cold, give them their own hand towel, keep their toothbrush separate and encourage them to cough and sneeze into their sleeve rather than their hands.
- Chicken and vegetable soup: Just as grandma said, this really can help make you feel better when you have a cold. Research from the University of Nebraska suggests this is due to its ability to reduce inflammation.
- Warm feet: Getting really cold feet for just 20 minutes causes people to suffer a higher incidence of colds in the following week shows research from the Common Cold Centre in the UK. Why? Often we carry rhinoviruses and getting cold on top of this may cause blood vessels to constrict, reducing the supply of white blood cells that fight infection. So in the cooler months, avoid bare feet, wear thick socks in warm boots and wear gloves, hats, and scarves outdoors. You’ll stay extra toasty!
I hope you will try some of these tips. Best wishes to you for a healthy and happy winter!
I am a certified Health Coach. I really enjoyed this information on nutrition related to the immune system. I feel it should become common knowledge
for all from young to old. I feel it should be part of early education in schools and implemented in hospitals for people with diseases.
May your valuable information be received all over the world.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about this Maura 🙂
Thanks for this article. Loved it,.
Thank you for taking the time to read it Samira 🙂 ~HB Team
Loved this article, thanks for the tips!
Great to hear this Adriana! ~HB Team
Magdalena, I love your articles. You always provide great information. Thank you. It is hard to copy and save your articles, though. It is so time consuming, if you don’t want all of the photos in the article. It would be great if you would provide a print option, or PDF option on your page.
Thank you for your feedback. I’m glad you are here.
Angela HB Team
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I love this article, thank you!!