5 tips to boost your immune system this flu season, from a holistic nutritionist
It’s that time of year again – colour-changing leaves, pumpkin patches, holiday get-togethers… and cold and flu season. In Vancouver, BC, most flu outbreaks typically take place around late fall to winter, and during this time, I recommend taking extra steps to make nourishing choices to give your immune system an extra boost. Did you know some of the most effective immune-boosting practices are things you can do yourself, without invasive drugs or procedures?
When your body recognizes something foreign in your body, like bacteria, virus, parasites, or fungi, your immune system activates. It acts like an army to fight off or kill foreign invaders. In fact, many of the symptoms you feel when you’re sick, like a fever, are an immune response to fight off foreign microbes and trigger the body’s natural repair process. If your immune system is strong, it makes it easier for your body to fight back and get you feeling back to normal in no time!
Of course food is a huge component in keeping our immune system strong, but there are a few other pillars of healthy living we need to consider as well.
Read on for my best holistic tips to increase your immunity the healthy way. These healthy habits can be incorporated into your life year-round too!
1. Focus on an anti-inflammatory diet
One of the best ways to boost your immunity is, of course, through your diet. After all, “you are what you eat!” The foods you choose can go a long way to keeping your body nourished and healthy, and ensuring you’re getting the nutrients you need to keep your immune system strong.
I recommend focusing on an anti-inflammatory diet with lots of fresh and organic foods to provide the best nutrition.
Foods to enjoy in an anti-inflammatory diet
Healthy fats (olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds)
Antioxidant-rich foods (berries, citrus, fresh leafy greens)
Healing spices (turmeric, ginger, garlic)
Warm herbal teas (ginger, lemongrass, echinacea, elderberry)
Foods to avoid in an anti-inflammatory diet
Refined carbs (like white bread and pasta)
Fried foods (like french fries, chips)
Sugar-sweetened beverages (like pop)
Red or processed meat
Fresh is always best, but it’s okay to support your diet with high-quality or practitioner-grade supplements too.
2. Take probiotics
Probiotics live in many foods that we consume, especially fermented foods. They’re live organisms that help to balance our body’s natural bacteria and functions, and give our natural immunity a boost as well. Probiotics are the good bacteria that you actually want in your system.
By helping prevent harmful bacteria from growing in your gut, probiotics are vital to aid digestion and improve nutrient absorption. They may also boost your production of natural antibodies and immune cells and reduce the likelihood of respiratory infections, like influenza.
In addition, probiotics can also often help to:
Balance friendly bacteria in your gut
Provide relief from gastrointestinal discomfort
Support overall mental health and wellness
Maintain good heart health
Reduce symptoms of digestive disorders
Probiotics occur naturally in plain yogurt, raw sauerkraut, kefir, and fermented vegetables and are available in supplement form. I recommend at least two tablespoons of foods with probiotics or 1 tablet of probiotic supplement per day.
3. Get good quality sleep
How much did you sleep last night? Getting good quality sleep can also help strengthen your immune system, as it gives your body time to rest and recharge.
Our body uses sleep time to repair and strengthen our body’s supply of T cells, which are less effective at fighting infected cells when they are “tired” or weakened. It’s like trying to solve complex math after only 2 hours of sleep the night before!
Stress also impacts your immunity. When your stress levels are higher, it affects the ability of your T cells to do their job effectively. However, when you’re sleeping, your body is at rest and feels less stress, so your T cells get a break to rejuvenate.
Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep every night. A regular sleep routine may include:
Going to bed at the same time
Waking up a the same time
Limiting TV and screen time around bedtime
Incorporating slow or relaxing nighttime activities (like reading, yoga, baths, meditation)
Avoiding caffeine and alcohol later in the day
4. Exercise regularly
Research has shown that those who exercise regularly tend to get sick less often. It’s likely because regular exercise improves your cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps manage your weight, and protects against diseases. This contributes to better overall wellness and health.
When you exercise, you release pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines into your body which help lower the incidence and intensity of any symptoms of an infection or cold.
However, it’s a balancing act because while moderate intensive exercise has restorative effects on your body, too much exercise can decrease your cellular immunity and susceptibility to infectious diseases. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that healthy adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.
Have you ever heard the phrase “sweat it out” when you’re sick? If you do get a cold this season, exercising can help you heal faster and reduce the severity of your symptoms. Exercising while sick may not boost your immune function immediately, but it can help by opening nasal passages to help you breathe better.
5. Drink water
As with everything, drink lots of water. Water is essential to transport nutrients around your body and remove waste products. Chronic dehydration can weaken your immune system and impair your physiological ability and performance response.
The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends men drink about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of water per day, while women need 11.5 cups (2.7 litres) per day. Another calculation is to drink about 0.5 oz of water for every pound of body weight. On days you exercise, you may want to increase your water intake to replace what you lose during perspiration.
Although plain tap or filtered water is the best hydration, it doesn’t have to be your only source of daily fluids. You can count the fluids from other beverages like tea and coffee to your daily fluid count, however, keep in mind caffeinated beverages are dehydrating so consume them in moderation. If you prefer flavoured water, I recommend using flavouring from natural sources like fresh fruit, herbs, or vegetables like cucumbers.
What’s the best way to stay healthy this winter?
With cold and flu season upon us, boosting your immunity is critical right now. Try to incorporate some of the tips from this article into your lifestyle to stay strong and healthy this season!
You can also book a consultation with me, and we can talk through your health and nutrition goals, and evaluate what areas of your lifestyle we can improve to get there. As a holistic nutritionist, I take a holistic approach to nutrition that is personalized to each individual with the understanding that we are all unique with different tastes and preferences.
Book a consultation now, and let’s work together to boost your immunity this season.