Winter has officially arrived, leaving fall just a fleeting memory.  With the change of seasons also comes the onset of cold and flu season, which means it’s time to start thinking about easy ways to help strengthen our immune systems. 

From lifestyle changes to herbs and supplements, incorporate some or all of the following to boost your immune system this winter.

4 Lifestyle Changes for a Healthy Immune System

Sleep:

It is important as the days get darker, to honor our natural circadian rhythm and maximize the amount of sleep we get every night.

At least 8-10 hours of sleep per night is optimal for the overall strength of the immune system. One study found that even just a small reduction in total sleep is enough to inhibit immune function.  Another study found that individuals who slept for 7 hours or less were 3 times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept for 8 hours or more.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, winter is the time of year where we honor our natural diurnal rhythms and make the most of the long, cold nights by maximize the amount of sleep we get.

If you regularly struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, be sure to mention it during your next appointment so that we can adjust your treatment accordingly.

Diet:

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, our bodies function best when we live in harmony with the seasons. When it comes to diet, this means incorporating more warming foods in the cooler months, like soups, stews, stir frys and porridges.

Fall and Winter are the perfect time to trade out those green smoothies of Summer for a warm bowl of bone broth full of colorful vegetables and a hot mug of herbal tea. 

By consuming warming foods we maximize the absorption of nutrients and are better able to utilize the energy from foods to boost our immune system. 

Stress Reduction:

It’s no question that stress can wreak havoc on many aspects of our physiology, and our immune system is no exception. In fact, some experts say that chronic stress could be responsible for up to 90% of illnesses.

As we move into the holiday season, stress relieving practices and self care moments become even more essential.

Some of our favorite stress reduction tools include:

  • Meditation: Apps like Headspace, Expectful and Calm are perfect for short guided meditations that can recenter you in just 5-10 minutes.
  • Movement: Exercise is a wonderful tool for stress management and it doesn’t have to be an intense HIIT class to be beneficial. Sometimes all you need is to incorporated some mindful stretching into your day, or take a walk during your lunch break.
  • Self care rituals:  Self care can look very different for many different people. It can be a warm bath infused with essential oils and epsom salts, or preparing your favorite recipes ahead of time so you have healthy food throughout the week. Self care can be spending time with friends and family or honoring your introverted side and spending some solo time recharging. No matter what it is for you, the most important thing is to regularly carve out time to regenerate.

Acupuncture:

Regular acupuncture treatments support a healthy immune system by treating the root of imbalances in the body. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, by treating the root, the body is brought back into a state of balance and is able to utilize energy more effectively to combat cold and flu viruses.

Modern studies show that acupuncture regulates the immune system by increasing white blood cells, which strengthens the immune response to pathogens.

We recommend coming in for monthly treatments during the winter months to reduce stress, increase immunity and enhance overall wellness.

5 Natural Immune Boosters with Herbs and Supplements

Ginger:

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is an essential herb to add to your Winter wellness routine. This spicy, warming rhizome is antibacterial, antiviral and is packed full of antioxidants, making it an immune boosting power house.

Long used in Traditional Chinese Medicine at the onset of a cold or flu, Ginger also settles the stomach, reduces nausea, and minimizes bloating. Ginger can be purchased in most supermarkets (organic is best) and stored with veggies in the refrigerator.

It can easily be incorporated into your daily routine by adding it to broths, stir-frys or enjoying it as tea. 

Try this simple tea made from fresh ginger: Place 1 Tablespoon grated ginger + 2 cups of water in a saucepan and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and sweeten to taste using honey, maple syrup or stevia.

Elderberry

(Sambucus) Loaded with antioxidants, vitamin C and a powerful antiviral, Elderberry is not only delicious, but also a must-have for the upcoming cold and flu season. 

Elderberry activates the immune system and has been shown to be effective against 10 different strains of the influenza virus. It can be taken preventatively, but it also effectively reduces symptoms of the cold and flu if taken during the course of an illness.

Elderberry is widely available in syrups, lozenges, teas and tinctures. 

Probiotics:

More and more research is showing how our day to day health is a direct reflection of the heath of our microbiome, or the microorganisms that live in and around us.

Part of keeping our immune system strong includes keeping our gut microbes healthy and abundant. Interestingly, a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition reported that taking probiotics for 2 weeks prior to receiving a flu shot and for 4 weeks after increased the total antibodies to the flu virus, thus improving our overall immune response.

We recommend looking for a high quality probiotic that contains a count of at least 20 billion active cells and at least 10 different strains. 

Zinc:

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that plays a crucial part in the function of a healthy immune system (as well as many other aspects of human health). The body doesn’t have a way of storing zinc, so it is necessary to consume foods containing zinc and/or supplement with it daily.

The RDA requirement for zinc is 11mg for men and 8mg for women, with higher requirements for vegetarians, women who are pregnant and women who are breastfeeding.

When taken at the onset of a cold, higher doses of Zinc has been shown to reduce the total duration and severity of symptoms.

I recommend having supplemental zinc, either in liquid form or lozenges, available to take if you feel cold symptoms coming on and take them every 2-3 hours until symptoms are gone.

Vitamin D:

The “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D is a powerful anti-inflammatory and very important when it comes to fighting off infections. It also allows the body to efficiently absorb and utilize calcium, which is vital to bone health.

The sun is the most efficient source of Vitamin D for humans, but in order to synthesize a proper daily dose, it would require sun exposure for 10-30 minutes per day, which is just not an option in NY November – March (or maybe even April, lets be honest).

I recommend supplementing with 3,000iu of D3 throughout the winter months.

In addition, it’s always a good idea to have your levels checked at your annual check-up. If your levels come back deficient, you may need to increase your daily dose for a few months.

Ginger Tea Image Credit:

Dominik Martin

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