The air smells different, the sounds of late September whispering "fall" and a strange sadness mixed with anticipation takes hold of me. Every season has its own charm and while I'm truly a sucker for spring and summer (primarily because I don't enjoy wearing a boatload of clothes and like being barefoot), fall has its own charm and beauty. But the start of fall marks the start of school and the start of school inevitably marks the start of cold season in my house.
I can't recall in recent history having been as sick as I have since my son started school. The gems he’s brought home still make me shiver thinking back. But it's inevitable, kids are gross (say what you will, they are) and they pass stuff back and forth and bring it all home.
But really it happens, people get sick, it's the way it is. However, I'm a firm believer that there are things we can do to strengthen our immune system. Sometimes this means being able to entirely ward off colds or at least reduce their duration and symptoms.
What weakens our immune system?
Lack of sleep - it should come as no surprise that sleep plays a rather big role in our body's ability to fight off sickness. While we sleep, the body essentially resets itself, repairing cells, strengthening the immune system and doing what our body knows to do so well, keep us healthy and well. But so many of us neglect sleep (I'm just as guilty) not realizing just how crucial sleep is to our immune system.
Poor diet - If you've been following for a bit you know that my whole thing is all about eating real food from the earth, taking it easy on the processed stuff ( I get it, we're all human, we do eat crap at times) and cooking from scratch as much as possible. Eating mostly processed food and slacking on nutritious food filled with vitamins and minerals, will eventually impact the body's ability to heal.
Lack of exercise - I know you're probably thinking what does exercise have to do with it. But in fact, a lot. Regular exercise helps the body eliminate toxins and bacteria, reduces stress hormones, which weaken the body.
Chronic stress - This is fairly obvious and I'm sure you're no stranger to the effects of stress on the immune system. Having stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol constantly elevated, plays a big role in the body's ability to naturally fight infection.
Depression/Anxiety - Depression and Anxiety can often cause some of the above mentioned symptoms such as chronic stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, etc, which can be contributing factors in a weakened immune system.
Lifestyle factors - Excessive alcohol and drug use can damage the body on a cellular level further hindering it from being able to properly repair itself, especially long term.
I know, I'm such a downer, but the truth is, all those factors, which a lot of us are acquainted with can be reduced if we just step back and pay a little attention and making even the slightest changes.
And I’m realistic and know that stress, sleep and mental health are not particularly easy to manage, especially if they’re deeply ingrained in our modus operandi. But what I often return to is that we are fully in charge of what goes into our grocery carts and are 100% responsible for what we put in our bodies. Is it easy? No of course not, but it is still very much within our control.
So here are some foods you can incorporate into your diet to keep your immune system in check and get you through the cold season.
8 foods that boost the immune system
Citrus - We all know this, citrus is high in vitamin C, which plays a major role in the immune system's ability to fight infection. Lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, clementines and tangerine are all high in vitamin C and other nutrients.
Broccoli - Not many people know this because OJ is considered king when it comes to vitamin C, but broccoli contains far more vitamin C than an orange. But beyond vitamin C, broccoli is loaded with antioxidants. Especially as we age, the body’s ability to fight infection wears down so eating foods that strengthen the immune system is crucial.
Ginger - You’re probably very familiar with ginger and likely already know just how powerful this root is. It’s been used since ancient times and has been known to cure a variety of ailments for thousands of years. Ginger is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-nausea, strengthens the immune system and is said to even have anti-cancer properties. If you want to read all about ginger, check out this post.
Turmeric - A root that has been getting a lot of attention in recent years. This brightly colored orange root can be found in most grocery stores in the form of ground turmeric or turmeric root. I try to take turmeric every day and I’ve found one way that makes good sense to me in the form of supplements. Turmeric is responsible for helping the body fight infection and reduce the inflammatory response.
Tea- If you’re a regular tea drinker, you’re in luck. Drinking 4-5 cups of green or black tea a day increases immunity. But not just any tea, mainly green and black tea as this study suggests. Aside from helping with building immunity, green tea has anti-inflammatory and is high in antioxidants. Definitely a good one to indulge in, particularly as the weather gets cooler.
Garlic - You either love it or hate it! I grew up eating onion and garlic raw. It’s not crazy as everyone did it. Garlic contains powerful compounds which help to strengthen the immune system and even beyond that, prevent some of the more serious chronic inflammatory diseases.
Seafood - I know you’re thinking seafood, really? But it’s true, seafood contains a boatload of zinc and of course zinc is one of the best nutrients for warding off and shortening the duration of colds.
Chocolate - I know you’re probably very happy to see this on the list! No milk chocolate here, just pure chocolate that’s as close to 100% as possible. I love 92% and eat it nearly every day. Just like all foods on this list, pure dark chocolate contains antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals and help to boost the body’s immune system.
What about supplements?
As hard as we may try, sometimes getting enough immune support through nutrition just doesn’t happen the way we would like it to so in that case I turn to supplements.
While you could get carried away with the boatload of supplements on the market, I think sticking with a few powerful ones is key.
Elderberry syrup - is easily obtained in most health food stores, online or can be made at home. Elderberry syrup helps to boost the immune system and also reduces the duration of colds and flu.
Zinc - You’re probably no stranger to this one as zinc also strengthens the immune system. If you’re supplementing, I recommend going with a low dose as the total daily recommendation of zinc is no more than 40 mg. If you choose to supplement, I would recommend one that contains 15 mg.
Probiotics - I wholeheartedly believe all health starts in the gut. If we keep our gut health, there is less chance of intestinal permeability (leaky gut). A healthy gut acts as a barrier against unwanted pathogens and bacteria, which keeps the immune system strong. Consuming priobiotic rich foods and taking the right supplements will strengthen the gut lining ensuring your body is strong enough to fight colds and flu.
Vitamin D - If you’re someone who works in the office 9-5, doesn’t get outside much or lives in a areas that get little sunlight, you may be deficient in this crucial nutrient. And vitamin D deficiency has been linked to susceptibility to infection.
Astragalus - This is a traditional herb that’s been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Astragalus is used for a variety of ailments from heart disease to seasonal allergies and even cancer but it’s also powerful adaptogen and helps to strengthen the immune system.
Cold and flu season really stinks but these are easy steps we can incorporate into our daily lives to boost the immune system and keep ourselves functioning well.