As the holiday season begins to descend upon us, so does the dreaded cold and flu season everyone wants to avoid.
As an integrative dietitian and trained herbalist, over the years I have developed my own immune supportive protocols that I always lean on and recommend to friends and family.
First let’s get into how your immune system works. Then you’ll understand why my method has been so successful.
What Does Your Immune System Do?
Think of your immune system as your body’s personal bodyguard, always ready to fight off any potential harmful pathogens or environmental exposures. While your immune system was expertly designed to handle many of the harmful pathogens it encounters, today our bodies are exposed to more consistent stress, environmental toxins and pathogens. Over time these pressures can exhaust your immune system and make it less capable of doing its job.
It’s important to know what the signs of a run-down immune system are, and what dietary, lifestyle, and complementary supplements can help support your immune system when it needs a little extra help.
What Are The Main Components Of Your Immune System?
Your immune system is comprised of an extensive network of cells, organs and tissues that all work with one another to create a complex defense that is capable of keeping your body feeling its best day after day.
Most of the time you would never notice your immune system because it functions silently in the background of your body. Sometimes, however, when you overwork your body a little too much or come in contact with a particularly strong pathogen, your immune system can go into overdrive.
When this reaction happens, you are most likely to become more aware of your immune system at work. The classic signs are swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, fever and congestion. All of these symptoms are examples of your immune system working hard to fight and eliminate any harmful exposure your body came in contact with.
The Best Lifestyle And Behavior Changes To Help Support Your Immune System This Winter
While every person has unique needs for keeping their body feeling its best, there are a few lifestyle and behavior changes virtually every person can benefit from when it comes to supporting a strong immune system.
Your body is only truly at rest when you are sleeping. This fact is why getting enough sleep is one of the most important parts of supporting your immune system and giving it the break it needs to recharge.
So if you aren’t getting enough sleep (at least 7-9 hours each night) this habit should be your first order of business for supporting your immune health.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Our bodies are mostly made up of water, which is why it is so important to make sure you are staying hydrated, especially during the cold and dry winter months when dehydration becomes much more common. Drinking enough water will also help to flush harmful pathogens from your body, which will aid your immune system in doing its job better and faster.
Eat More Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens, including kale and arugula, are full of antioxidants that help to fight free radicals in the body and are high in fiber that helps support a healthy digestive system. If you want to improve your diet to support your immune health, begin with adding more dark leafy greens.
Load Up On Vibrant Citrus Fruits
Vitamin C is a vitamin and antioxidant that is found in high quantities in citrus fruits. It also helps that citrus fruits are in season during the winter months, so load up on those seasonal fruits and reap the immune supportive benefits of all that natural vitamin C.
Move Consistently Every Day
Moving your body consistently every day for at least 30 minutes will not only help your body eliminate harmful pathogens through your sweat, but it will also help improve your circulation and the circulation of your lymphatic system, which without consistent exercise can become sluggish.
Because your lymph nodes are an essential part of your immune system, it’s important to utilize practices like exercise that can encourage the movement of lymph through the body. This effect helps prevent potential pathogens from triggering your immune system.
My Go-To Herbal and Vitamin Supplements For Aiding Immune Health
My first recommendations for supporting your immune health throughout the winter months will always be by focusing on positive behavior and lifestyle changes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the complementary role of certain herbs and vitamin supplements that can help support your immune system during cold and flu season.
Magnesium is known as the “calming mineral” that is excellent to take for helping to promote rest and relaxation and prevent unnecessary stress in the body. The substance can also help support a good night’s sleep that, as we already discussed, is essential for our immune health.
Zinc is an essential mineral that can be found in foods like oysters and pumpkin seeds. Many people don’t consume enough zinc. The chemical plays an important role in immune health by aiding cells in the healing and prevention of infection. This quality makes it such a powerful supplement for supporting immune health during the winter months (and all year round).
Vitamin D plays a critical role in supporting immune health, and unfortunately many people are chronically deficient in vitamin D. Especially if you are someone who lives in colder/darker climates, it is so important to get your vitamin D tested each year and talk to your personal doctor about supplementing.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that, like I mentioned above, can be found in high quantities in citrus fruits. Vitamin C helps to support the immune system by working to fight oxidative free radicals that the body comes in contact with. While consuming vitamin C via food will always be the best form of absorption, it can be helpful to further support your vitamin C intake with a complimentary supplement, especially during cold and flu season.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Eucalyptus is an herb that works wonders at helping to clear sinuses. One of my favorite ways to recommend using eucalyptus essential oil is by pouring a few drops into the bottom of your shower and allowing the hot steam and eucalyptus scent to help clear your sinuses and get any congestion flowing.
Stay Well This Winter
With these lifestyle changes and holistic supplements, you will be well on your way to better supporting your immune system this cold and flu season and keeping your body functioning at it’s very best.
By implementing these supportive behavior changes now (before you get sick), you will also be helping your body and immune system better fight off any harmful pathogens before they ever knock you off your feet. So, do your very best to consistently focus on supporting your immune health this winter, and you will have a head start at staying healthy and happy all winter long.
* These recommendations have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not to be viewed as personalized medical advice. Before starting any new supplements it is always recommended to consult your personal doctor or registered dietitian for personalized medical advice.
Bio: Megan Faletra (MS, MPH, RDN) is a global health dietitian, sustainability advocate, and the founder of The Well Essentials. Her mission is to help others discover what it means to reconnect with their food, culture, and daily choices to create social change in our global food system, and sustainable health equity globally.
Megan has a Master of Public Health from Tufts University School of Medicine and a Master of Science from Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition. As a global health professional, Megan has worked both domestically and abroad to address social justice in our food system, and health equity globally.
When Megan is not working, you will find her living in Vermont with her husband, where she loves to cook seasonally from her garden and be outside in nature as much as possible.
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