After a warmer than average autumn, winter is well and truly here in Sydney! And you know what? I love it! I know, call me crazy but there’s just something about the colder weather that has me feeling all nostalgic. Perhaps it’s because of the freezing weather I grew up in down in Melbourne. Either way, I love being able to drape my lounge in soft warm throws, changing the bed sheets to flannelette, updating my wardrobe to include oversized scarves, boots and jackets…but most importantly I love the deeply nourishing soups, broths and herbal teas that abound!
Whilst there are things to be enjoyed about the change in weather, I know it isn’t always an exciting time for some. The thought of catching public transport to work on those dark chilly mornings sandwiched between people who are clearly sick and should be at home, or being stuck in an office where viruses can run rampant taking people down one by one, has most people groaning.
As a holistic health coach I’m passionate about helping people find natural ways to support their bodies. I question why there is very little to no discussion about strategies to help us strengthen our immune systems during winter, instead of the mainstream message to use cold/flu medications or antibiotics and all sorts of other products that interfere with our body’s ability to self regulate and heal.
Having been to the doctor recently for a checkup on my 2nd pregnancy (yes very exciting times ahead!) I was disappointed in the amount of time spent covering all the reasons I should get the flu shot because my immune system is more vulnerable than normal. Whilst I would have preferred a conversation about ways to help boost my immunity (and not just some obligatory statement about eating lots of fruit and vegetables), I was still thankful for the care and advice. But as I walked away I knew it was up to me to take the time to implement said strategies.
Strengthening our body’s natural ability to heal and fight a virus, infection or disease deserves to be our top priority. Yet so many of us fail to recognise just how powerful this can be and disregard taking the necessary steps. Every lifestyle decision we make day in and day out impacts our wellbeing. I fear it’s become too common place to reach for OTC medications which only suppress symptoms instead of finding ways to support the body to function optimally.
We all know that prevention is better than cure. A robust immune system will not only help prevent sickness in some cases, but also help to recover a lot quicker when you do get knocked down! This has certainly been my experience.
Since adopting a more health promoting lifestyle I haven’t had the flu in over 10 years(!!!) and when I do get the sniffles or a cold I find I bounce back so much faster. I’ve also found the same to be true in my daughter’s very short 23 months here on earth. Our priority is boosting the body with nutrient dense foods and natural remedies using the below strategies I wanted to share with you.
I firmly believe taking this approach will not only help you feel stronger, but save you money on all those doctor’s visits and (generally) unnecessary medication and get you off the merry-go-round of being sick and then well and then sick again…
My top 5 tips to boost your immune system
1. Get your zzz’s
The amount and quality of sleep we get cannot be understated. It’s not only important for our state of mind, it is CRUCIAL for the functioning and repair of our cells and you guessed it, our immune systems. But you know this. I know this. It’s information that is abundant in our culture, yet so many of us still suffer from poor sleep.
Research has shown that if you are in bed before 10pm and get 7-8hrs sleep you will be sufficiently rested compared to if you went to bed at 12pm and woke at 8am. This is due to our inbuilt body clocks known as our circadian rhythm which is responsible for managing the beautiful sleep/healing hormone melatonin. To ensure this process is optimised limit screen time at least an hour away from bed as the blue light from devices has been shown to disrupt melatonin production. Or invest in some blue blocking glasses like my fave “Swannies“.
2. Vitamin C
This won’t come as a surprise as it’s the vitamin most often recommended for the prevention of colds and flus. However the touted ascorbic acid isolate of vitamin C, which is often synthetically derived, does not compare to the complex array of essential vitamins and minerals found in whole foods that assist in absorption but also are more bio available. These include berries, oranges, kiwi fruit and superfoods like gubinge or camu camu (which has 460 times more than oranges!).
3. Invest in a good quality probiotic
Research on the importance of gut health and maintaining a diverse species in our gut (aka microbiome), is in its infancy but is loud and clear about the effects it has on our overall health. Evidence suggests that up to 80% of our immune cells are found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and that bacteria out number our own human cells 10 to 1! We are basically more bacteria than we are human!!
For this reason, taking good care of our gut flora can no longer be ignored. I strongly recommend investing in a good quality powdered probiotic which will reach the digestive tract more effectively than tablet form. Ensure you always check the ingredients and disregard what marketing claims are on the front! Avoid any with cornstarch or sucrose and look for a diverse number of bacteria and variety of strains – more than 15-30 billion should be listed. A well researched strain of probiotic to get is Bifidobacterium Lactos BB12.
Consuming prebiotics which feed the probiotics are also important in strengthening the gut microbiome. Whole foods that are a great source of prebiotics include, garlic (also acts as a great antimicrobial for when you are hit with a bug), fermented foods, asparagus, onions, leeks, dandelion greens, organic raw honey, psyllium husks and hemp seeds.
4. Bone broths
Whilst it might be all the rage right now, high quality bone broths are proven to be the best medicine for soothing and repairing any damage to our gut lining. There’s a reason chicken and vegetable soups were a traditional remedy to combat the flu! Choose broths that are made from free range organic or biodynamic farms, and preferably grass fed and finished meats. Or better yet make it yourself! The gelatin is healing to the gut and they are a rich source of easily absorbed vitamins and minerals to boost the immune system. This is opposed to stock which hasn’t been made the same way, therefore doesn’t contain as much of the health benefits of broth.
5. Essential Oils
I love empowering myself with the daily use of essential oils to keep me feeling vibrant and energetic. Not only physically but emotionally too. Nature provides us with an array of amazing compounds that when used correctly can support our body’s natural healing mechanisms. Note that quality of product here is crucial. Be sure to do your research and purchase only 100% pure essential oils as there are plenty of sub standard oils on the market containing fillers and impurities.
Used for thousands of years for a variety of ailments, essential oils can be used to fight infection, ease pain and reduce inflammation. My favourites that now form part of my ‘medicine cabinet’ include;
- Oregano – nature’s antibiotic
- Lemon – detoxifying and deodorising, clearing the air of any nasties
- Tea Tree – antibacterial, cleansing
- Eucalyptus – supports the respiratory system
What about veggies?
Ok it would be remiss of me not to mention veggie intake somewhere in this list! So here’s a bonus tip 😉
Eating as many vegetables as you can each day will not only sustain critical functions but is also crucial for great cellular health and thus your immune response. The best way to approach this is to think about eating a rainbow. Including as many different coloured, seasonal and local veggies on your plate at each meal, cooked or raw (or both!) will help supply your body with a wonderful range of antioxidants, phytonutrients, minerals and key vitamins which help to fight off a cold and help you recover much faster.
If you need some tips on how to sneak more veggies into your diet download my FREE Veg Pledge cheat sheet by subscribing here!
Stay well and enjoy the rest of winter!