With cold and flu season upon us, and Covid-19 still randomly spiking across the globe, now is a good time to look at ways to bolster your immune system. These won’t necessarily guarantee you don't catch anything. That comes down to too many factors, including location, climate, social norms, herd immunity, vaccines, overall health, contact with others, handwashing, community, and so much more. This list is to encourage your best immune response possible though, so you are less likely to get sick and have hopefully shorter, milder symptoms if you do.
Sleep – Sleep is one of your top priorities. Nothing tears down your immune system like lack of sleep. This is when your body rebuilds, repairs, and cleans shop. Without proper sleep, everything begins to run slower and less efficiently, including immune responses. Get at least eight hours a night. A little more is better. If you need natural sleep aids, consider passionflower, valerian, and melatonin. Get plenty of full light exposure during the day and then shut down those screens at night too, so your brain knows when it’s time to rest.
Eat Well – Generally watching what you’re putting into your body is a good idea too. Highly processed, fried, fatty, fast, and other less nutritious foods don’t give you the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats, and fiber your body is counting on. Try to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and seeds.
Exercise – Regular exercise is a big part of staying healthy, and not just for cardiovascular reasons. Our immune system relies heavily on the lymphatic system to move immunity cells in and viral/bacterial debris out. Breath and movement drive that lymphatic system. Healthier heart, muscles, and skeleton doesn’t hurt either.
Lower Stress – Stress puts your immune system on the backburner so you can deal with fight or flight situations, but most of our stress in this modern age isn’t fight or flight. It’s chronic, intense, and hard to avoid, but there are a lot of ways to lower it. Exercise and sleep mentioned above help. Also try meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, listening to music you love, and massage.
Stay Social – Loneliness and depression can also drag your immune system down. We humans need to interact with other humans, even the most introverted of us. Stay social, even when social distancing or when you find yourself in a quarantine situation. Play card games with those you live with, talk on the phone with family, video chat up a friend, say hello to your neighbor from your balcony, or play with your pet. You can find ways to get that human contact in.
Hydrate – Water is important in maintaining a thin and healthy mucus layer that protects our cells from bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Drink clean water whenever you’re thirsty, try soothing teas, sip broths, and take a steamy shower now and again too. That humidity is good for your lungs.
Garlic – Garlic is rich in allicin, an amino acid created as the cloves are cut or crushed that has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Make sure you’re using fresh garlic finely minced for optimal effect. A supplement is your second-best bet. Sulfur based compounds in garlic also do a number on microbes.
Chicken Soup/Broths – Chicken soup gets pushed a lot for colds and the flu for good reason. It has some major benefits in the form of minerals, warmth, vitamins, and soothing steam. It thins mucus, open airways, has a mild anti-inflammatory action, and provides comfort. You can get many of the same benefits from a good broth too. Even a vegan or vegetarian broth can steam open airways, supply antioxidants, and provide that cozy warm feeling we can't help but love.
Citrus – Citrus fruits, especially orange, are part of a go-to arsenal for cold and flu season. Oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, and other citrus varieties are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that aids immune function and is thought to be vital to white blood cell production. Citrus also works so well with many of the other foods on this list, from broths and soups to teas.
Bell Pepper – Looking for vitamin C with less sugar than fruits, red bell pepper is an amazing source, with twice the amount as most citrus. They also have a good amount of vitamin A, another antioxidant.
Spicy Peppers – Capsaicin has the ability to reduce pain, increase circulation, clear sinuses, and increase mucus production. It can be helpful in clearing out bacteria in the sinuses and throat before they become a problem.
Ginger – Ginger has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, and anti-nausea properties all rolled into one mighty root. It is also highly versatile, working well with both savory and sweet dishes, from stir fry to candy. Try it in foods, teas, tablets, and more.
Honey – Honey is a natural anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory. It was used by ancient societies, including Egypt, to treat wounds and prevent infection. Honey can easily add a touch of sweetness to any dish or beverage while packing in these healthy benefits too.
Turmeric – A relative to ginger, this orange root has many of the same benefits, plus the power of curcumin. This compound is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that encourages cellular recycling, respiration, and repair. It also works well in tea with honey and lemon or in curry.
Green Tea – Green tea is one of the most potent sources of antioxidants on the planet. EGCG and catechins both have beneficial effects on the immune system while L-Theanine helps T-Cells fight off pathogens. Matcha contains the highest levels of EGCG, catechins, and L-Theanine of any green teas. These are converted to tannins in regular green tea and almost lost completely in black tea.
Herbal Tea – Many other teas can bolster the immune system. Peppermint, mint, cinnamon, licorice, echinacea, lemongrass, slippery elm, basil, orange peel, and so many other ingredients in many herbal teas have a place in your defense. The hydration and warm liquid are beneficial too. Add a bit of honey and lemon for more anti-microbial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Mushrooms – Mushrooms contain vitamin D, B vitamins, selenium, all important to creating immune cells. Mushrooms also contain compounds that have beneficial effects on cytokines, proteins that modulate our immune response. Each type of mushroom has its own particular benefits, so try a variety.
Yogurt/Kefir – Our gut regulates so much more than we realize. That microbiome affects weight, cravings, mood, and immune response. Probiotics and vitamin D found in fermented foods can help keep our natural flora and fauna happy and healthy, so we are too.
Elderberry – These dark purple berries are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. They have been shown in multiple studies to help shorten and ease symptoms of colds and flu. There’s more study to be done, but the delicious lozenges and syrups are worth exploring.
Broccoli – A staple health food for good reason, broccoli is rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E, and fiber. It’s not the most exciting, but it works so well with so many other foods that it’s a good thing to have in your fridge at the ready.
Lentils – Zinc in a vital mineral needed in many immune cells. This is why it’s found in throat sprays, lozenges, and cough syrups. Lentils contain a good amount too, are easier to cook than many other legumes, and store as well as any dried bean. They are a great addition to any pantry, especially with the possibility of travel restrictions looming. Try them with turmeric, garlic, and ginger. You won’t regret giving them a go.