5 Simple Ways To Naturally Support Your Immune System This Season
Written by Rejan Magee of Whole Harmony Health. Check out her blog here!
5 Simple Ways To Naturally Support Your Immune System This Season! + An Immune Boosting Recipe!
Do you tend to get sick during cold & flu season? Do you feel a little more sluggish during the colder months of the year? If you answered YES to these questions, you might think that it is just a normal part of life. However, what if I told you that it wasn’t? What if I told you that we as humans should not be getting sick as often as we do? Well, it’s true, and the reason why it happens is due to our immune systems being overburdened with less-than-optimal (or in some cases downright terrible) diets and lifestyle habits. I’m talking about consuming lots of low-nutrient foods, high stress living, and partaking in things we know we shouldn’t, such as smoking and drinking. These things can be detrimental to our immune systems, leaving us feeling weak and exposing us to harmful bacteria and viruses that require better health to fend off. Sure, you might just think of being sick as the average cold or flu – but really it’s your body’s way of telling you that you need to support your immune system better!
Luckily for you, you can easily boost your immunity – totally naturally – and all it takes are a few simple adjustments and tricks. Continue reading to learn how to strengthen that immune system of yours this season!
1. GET MORE SLEEP
I’m sure you’ve heard it before, and I’m here to say it again: Get. More. Sleep. That’s right – you should be aiming for 7-9 hours of quality sleep every dang day. This is essential for every aspect of our health, our immune system definitely included. While we are asleep, our bodies produce and release cytokines – which are proteins that mediate or regulate immunity and inflammation in the body. They are essential for protecting and keeping us healthy when our bodies encounter different types of stress. Lack of sleep results in a decreased production of cytokines, as well as infection-fighting antibodies and cells – thus leaving us more vulnerable to illness and infection.
To ensure you’re getting adequate sleep regularly, set yourself a bedtime schedule, where you are falling asleep and waking at relatively the same times each day. Remove electronics from the bedroom and try to make the room as dark as possible. Using a sleep mask is also helpful. If you have issues falling asleep, or staying asleep – you may have deeper health issues that need to be addressed, such as HPA-axis dysfunction (aka: adrenal fatigue) or nutrient deficiencies. It’s important to recognize these signals and seek out professional help.
Check out Rejan’s services page to see how I can help you address your health concerns.
Of course there are many natural sleep aids, as well – but remember that though they are natural remedies, they are still essentially “band-aids” for the issue, which is generally just a symptom stemming from a bigger health concern. Use sleep aids as you need them, but don’t solely rely on them to fix your sleep problems. Using essential oils like lavendar, chamomile, valerian, and ylang ylang (either topically or in a diffuser) are great for calming and helping you fall asleep. Sipping on teas like holy basil chamomile, lavender, passionflower, skullcap, and valerian before bed can work wonders at helping you fall asleep, and for a stronger effect you can take these herbs orally as a natural sleep-aid supplement.
Of course, trying to quiet the mind at night is one of the biggest issues I see with folks (myself included), and practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation can work wonders for helping you fall asleep. Naturally, these remedies work at reducing stress, which brings me to my next recommendation…
2. REDUCE STRESS
We all know that stress affects our health, and just like sleep it can affect every aspect of it, too. Stress can lower your body’s ability to fight off illness and infection in a number of ways as the brain and the immune system are always in constant communication. Being stressed decreases the body’s ability to fight off antigens and this can result in increased susceptibility to illness and infection. Stress hormones can suppress the immune system’s functionality and effectiveness by way of lowering white blood cell counts. What makes matters worse is when people use unhealthy coping strategies to deal with their stress, such as drinking, smoking, or drugs. Additionally, stress keeps a lot of people up at night – resulting in sleep deprivation, which as I just covered is also detrimental to immune health. Stress also puts a burden on the digestive system, and so digestion is slowed – meaning that the absorption of important nutrients is also slowed or halted, ones which we need to keep our immune system thriving. Moreover, the majority of the immune system resides in the gut (something I’ll cover below), so you can imagine that wreaking havoc on it will also wreak havoc on your body’s ability to fend off sickness!
Of course, short-term stress – though it is suppressing to the immune system – it is not dangerous. It is chronic stress that we see causing issues. When the immune system is chronically suppressed from this continual stress – that is when disease and illness can creep in. Reducing the amount of stress you are exposed to is obviously going to be the first thing you should focus on, but I know all too well that that is sometimes easier said than done. There are many ways to reduce the effects of chronic stress in your life, and it will look different for each one of us. For myself, I find that engaging in activities that I enjoy or that bring out my creativity helps A LOT. This sometimes translates to reading a good book, cooking and recipe creating, food photography, or even a good ol’ Netflix binge. Exercise is going to be stress-reducing for everyone – and I always suggest adding ultra-calming activities like yoga into the mix for the best results. You don’t have to be a full-on yogi to reap the benefits, either! It’s more the mindfulness practice and deep breathing that helps – the exercise component is just a bonus! Things like meditation, getting out into nature, and spending time with loved ones are going to be huge for reducing the negative impacts of stress, as well – and I recommend this to any and every one wanting a little more calmness and happiness in their lives. Of course, this will all result in a stronger immune system, too!
3. CLEAN UP YOUR DIET
This may seem like an obvious one, but perhaps you don’t know exactly what it is in your diet (or what’s lacking) that is causing a drop in your immune function. Once again, this is going to vary person to person, as food allergies or sensitivities that cause inflammation in the body and lower immunity are going to be different for everyone. That, of course, is one thing to consider though. Do you have any known food sensitivities? If so – stay away from those foods. Simple. The harder part comes when you are unaware of your food intolerances and the like. I recommend starting a food journal and seeing what comes up. Additionally, you can work with a practitioner such as myself to get to the root cause of any adverse reactions you’re experiencing that may be related to your diet. Elimination diet protocols are often a sound way to figure out what’s going on.
Reflect on the amounts of sugar you’re consuming (whether that is refined or not), as excess sugar (and always refined sugar) causes inflammation in the body and compromises immune health. Excess sugar not only feeds harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi – which can lead to things like candida overgrowth and inflammation, but it can also suppress the immune system, create insulin resistance and lead to hormonal imbalances.
Cut out fried foods and refined oils such as canola, soy, corn, and anything else labelled on a package as “vegetable oil”. These oils are highly refined and can cause inflammation in the body – and as I mentioned, inflammation leads to lowered immunity.
Perhaps you’re not including enough of the right foods in your diet to support your health properly, either. Make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of fiber – namely from vegetables and fruit, and some from whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. And when I say adequate, I mean you might need a TON of fiber to support your specific health needs. I know that I do. Fiber is essential for properly eliminating waste, and regularly too! A build up of toxins in our system – which can happen if we are constipated – is going to burden our immune system. TIP: Include vegetables at every single meal. How the heck do you do that? It’s super simple to add veggies to smoothies, breakfast scrambles, etc., and you have no excuse for not having veggies at lunch and dinner! Check out my recipes for some inspiration! We of course want to include these foods in our diet for their high nutrient values, too – as nutrients and antioxidants help to support our immune system. Vitamin C is found in abundance in fruits and vegetables, and having enough in your diet is an essential part to staying healthy and illness-free!
4. IMPROVE GUT HEALTH
Now what in the heck does gut health have to do with keeping your immune system strong? EVERYTHING.
If you didn’t know, the majority of your immune system resides in your GUT. Surprising though it may be, it is absolutely true. So, naturally, keeping your gut healthy is going to in turn keep your immune system healthy as well. Simple, right?! Well, that depends. If you have gut health issues, you should really be focusing on that first, as most inflammation, illness, and imbalances can stem from an unhappy gut – whether it’s IBS, leaky gut, food allergies/sensitivities, or more serious complications like Crohn’s or colitis. Work with a practitioner (check out my services) to see what’s going on and get a customized plan to heal your gut. It’s going to be one of the most important things you can do for your health. And if your immune system is suffering as a result, it will also heal in time as you work on supporting your gut. In the meantime, here are some simple things you can do to support digestion and a healthy microbiome:
- Eliminate any food triggers/agitators or suspected allergenic foods. These could be things like dairy, gluten, and soy, or even too much nut butter! Experiment and keep a food journal!
- Soak your legumes, grains, and nuts before consuming them. This reduces phytic acid, an antinutrient that promotes gut inflammation and nutrient malabsorption. Read more about soaking here.
- Drink lemon water (room temperature or warm) upon waking every morning
- Sip digestion-supporting herbal teas between meals, such as peppermint, chamomile, licorice, and ginger
- Take raw apple cider vinegar before meals (1 Tbsp in a small amount of water should suffice)
- Introduce fermented foods into your diet
- Take probiotics & digestive enzymes
For more info & tips on better digestion, check out this post.
5. INCORPORATE HERBS
I just LOVE herbs. They have so many uses, and TONS of them are super supportive to the immune system. Naturally, I have a few favourites, and I’ll outline them below…
- Echinacea. Likely one of the most immune-boosting herbs out there! It’s also great for inflammation, balancing blood sugar, and has even shown to be beneficial for skin health. If you’re not a fan of echinacea’s strong flavour, you can reap the benefits of this beauty through supplementation. If you don’t mind the flavour, you have the option to use this herb in lots of different ways. I love herbal tea blends with echinacea and tinctures to support my immune system throughout the year! You can also grab fresh echinacea to hang in your shower so that the steam releases the beneficial oils and clears out your sinuses. It makes for a beautifully aromatic shower time! With that being said, echinacea essential oil is a great one to diffuse while you are sick, or if you feel like you may be headed down that path.
- Elderberry. I can’t say enough good things about elderberry! What’s amazing about this plant is that the delicious berries as well as the flowers can be consumed/used in herbal applications and both are potent immune-boosters. The berries are FULL of antioxidants, and make a wonderful syrup for coughs and congestion, or using on the regular to prevent cold and flu. I love making my own elderberry syrup with fresh berries, and sipping on elder flower tea. If you’re not into making your own, you can absolutely purchase elderberry syrup from your local health food store, or even pick up some dried elderberries from a herbal store to create your own healthy concoctions!
- Ginger. What a lovely and versatile herb! Not only is this spicy root GREAT for digestion, but it’s also anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, so it’s amazing for the immune system! I love adding it to almost everything – from ginger tea to smoothies, oatmeal to curries, and if you are just in need of an immune-boosting shot of goodness – juicing ginger and mixing it with other supportive foods and herbs like turmeric and apple cider vinegar can work wonders! Using fresh ginger is great for recipes, but if you want an extra KICK of nourishing goodness, I love Organic Traditions’ Full-Spectrum Ginger Concentrate – perfect for smoothies, elixirs, and the like!
- Turmeric. Another one of my favourites. This golden root is suuuuper anti-inflammatory and so it is great for many things. I wouldn’t have included it if it wasn’t another kick-ass herb for the immune system, though! Due to it’s immunomodulatory properties, turmeric works its magic at strengthening the immune system through beneficial modifications such as stimulation of antibody formation. I’m obsessed with Golden Mylk Lattes, and I also add turmeric to as many things as I can (also check out the recipe for my Golden Mylk Ice Cream!) for extra flavour, beautiful colour, and of course all of its amazing health benefits! Lately I’ve been crushing on Organic Traditions’ Full-Spectrum Turmeric Concentrate to get the MOST health benefits.
- Amla. Also known as Indian Gooseberry, and it just so happens to be the star ingredient of my Immune-Boosting Vanilla Spiced Pear Oatmeal – recipe below! This is a newer herb in my repertoire, but I’ve been really enjoying adding it to my drinks and single-serve recipes for an extra boost of nutrition. First of all, amla contains a whopping 46% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, which as we know is amazing for the immune system. It’s also packed with fiber, and if you remember – that is a very important nutrient for ensuring regularity and proper nourishment. Of course, you’ll find other crucial nutrients in amla such as B vitamins, vitamin E, copper, manganese, and potassium, too – which all have their roles in keeping us healthy. The phytochemicals found in abundance in amla help to protect us from free-radical damage, improve our memory, and even lower the risk of some cancers. Blood sugar regulation is an important part of staying healthy, and as I mentioned – sugar can play a direct role in dampening the immune system. Amla’s fiber content as well as its alpha-glucosidase inhibiting properties allow this special plant to act as a blood sugar stabilizer by slowing down carbohydrate absorption. Some studies even found amla to be protective to the liver, and as this is our main detoxification organ, you better believe it plays a large role in your immune health. In fact, regular use of amla showed to increase antioxidant levels in the liver. What I love about Organic Traditions’ Full-Spectrum Concentrate Amla Powder, is that you only need a very small amount to reap all the benefits. Just 1/4 of a tsp will do you good!
And now for an immune-boosting recipe to make staying healthy this winter EASY!
Immune-Boosting Vanilla Spiced Pear Oatmeal
A flavourful and nutrient-dense way to start your day! Perfectly sweetened and full of all the goodness to keep you satisfied until your next meal. Bonus that it's supportive to the immune system!
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Author Rejan Magee of @whole.harmony.health
- 1/2 cup oats
- 1 cup vanilla oat milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp Organic Traditions Full-Spectrum Amla Powder
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 2 tsp pure maple syrup
- 1/2 cup chopped bosc pear (plus more for garnish)
- Combine oats, pear, vanilla, and oat milk in a small saucepan and heat on medium heat.
- Stir frequently for a couple minutes, then add maple syrup, amla powder, and pumpkin pie spice and continue to stir until thickened.
- Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Top with more fresh pear, nuts and/or seeds of choice, and whatever else you'd like!