In Part 1 of 7 Ways to Increase Your Winter Wellness we covered the first four immune boosting tips:
- Stay hydrated
- Get enough quality sleep
- Germ busters
Have you been able to implement one or two of those ideas? I’d love to know what’s working for you.
In Part 2 let’s explore some other immune-boosting tips to increase your winter wellness. We’ll look at the health benefits of creating a clean gut and boosting your gut microbiome; which immune-boosting foods to eat (and which immune-suppressing foods to ditch); plus immune-boosting herbs, spices, and herbal remedies to give your body an extra wellness boost this winter, and all-year-round too.
5. Build a Healthy Gut
Having a healthy gut is imperative for boosting your immune system. If you experience frequent gas, bloating, burping, constipation, diarrhea or loose stools, this is not normal or healthy. Even if any of those symptoms seem “normal” to you because you’ve had them your whole life, it’s a clear message from your body that something isn’t right in your gut microbiome.
As we learned in Part 1, 60-80% of your immune system resides in your gut. And when your gut microbiome is out of whack, your immune system takes a hit too. A healthy gut greatly improves your winter wellness odds.
If you’re interested in learning more and healing your gut, I highly recommend reading a couple of fascinating books. The Mind-Gut Connection by Dr. Emeran Mayer, and Dr. Alejandro Junger’s Clean Gut both look at the inner workings of our guts that we usually just take for granted. I use Clean Gut with my health coaching clients, and typically start them on the 21-day elimination diet. While I’m not at all a fan of “dieting” or fad diets, this book is all about eating clean, healthy, whole foods, and the recipes are so delicious we use them in our everyday meals.
The basic premise is to find the foods that your particular body may be reacting to and eliminate them to help boost your immune system. “Bio Individuality” means EVERY body is different. What may work for you might not work for me, and vice-versa. I’m allergic to the proteins in dairy. And it’s estimated that at least 65% of people have a dairy sensitivity/allergy (1), and this number is even higher in Native North American and Asian populations. After all, dairy is really meant to grow baby cows, goats, and sheep…not adult humans.
Think about this: if your immune system is constantly being called upon to fight off something you’re eating that’s causing an immune response, (but you don’t even realize you have a sensitivity to) like wheat, dairy, etc. when something bigger comes along like the latest cold/flu virus or even cancer your immune system may already be too taxed to take it on.
Are you game to read Clean Gut and take the 21-day clean eating challenge? This is the perfect time before the holidays, to get your gut in tip-top shape and learn what foods you might want to avoid to promote winter wellness this season. Need some extra support trying it out? Find out what health coaching can do for you.
At the very least, I recommend eliminating the following most common food allergens (2) for two-weeks:
- tree nuts
- legumes (peanuts and beans)
Then slowly reintroduce each one, one day at a time, skipping a day in between (eg: reintroduce dairy one day, then skip a day, then on the third day re-introduce eggs, etc.) Keep a food/mood journal, write down what you eat and how your body feels before, during and several hours after. If you note feeling sluggish, bloated, low energy, or have any gastrointestinal issues, that’s your body’s way of telling you that food doesn’t work for you. And that food is quite possibly suppressing your immune system, making it much easier for you to catch the next cold or flu to go around.
Now that you know which foods don’t work so well for your body, you can work to eliminate than on a more permanent basis. That doesn’t mean you can never eat them again. Just be aware of their effects, and the potential for those foods to suppress your immune system. Ultimately it’s your choice: boost your immune system, or eat something your taste buds may love, but your body not so much.
6. Eat Immune Boosting Whole Foods, Herbs, & Spices
Eating a mostly plant-based diet including a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables will help boost your immune system. Plants have so many beneficial phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals that can help us achieve winter wellness.
Top Immune Boosting Foods and Spices:
- Citrus Fruits ~ lemons, oranges, and grapefruits all contain mega doses of Vitamin C which is a big immune system booster. And they just so happen to be in season in the winter. Think that’s just a coincidence? I think not, Mother Nature is sometimes smarter than we are.
- Berries ~ berries of all types, and in particular blueberries, are full of antioxidants (3) which help to boost the immune system. Berries are also top the Dirty Dozen list, so always opt for organic berries. You can add frozen organic berries to your smoothies or oatmeal.
- Garlic ~ garlic is one of nature’s power-houses to fight of viruses and bacteria. My go-to cold-fighting remedy combines garlic and honey, see recipe below. Just like Mary Poppins sang: “A spoonful of honey helps the medicine go down.” And honey has its own health benefits too.
- Honey ~ honey is antimicrobial in its own right. For optimal health benefits look for raw, organic honey. And it’s always best if it’s from your local geographic region as well. This will ensure it has pollens from the plants around you which can act as a homeopathic remedy. By exposing you to small bits of those pollens it may help prevent a hay-fever attack. You can also mix honey into a tea to help ease a cough or sore throat. (Note: honey should never be given to children under age 2.)
- Cloves ~ this aromatic spice packs a powerful punch of antimicrobial properties to fight viruses and bacteria. If you like the flavor, try this trick to boost your winter wellness. Before filling your water bottle (which you’re carrying around with you to stay hydrated, right?) put 3-5 whole clove buds at the bottom of it. Keep refilling throughout the day, leaving the clove buds at the bottom as you drink your clove-water. This is a big part of my winter wellness plan each year, it’s also warming and tastes yummy too.
- Black Pepper, Ginger, and Turmeric ~ these three warming spices are incredible immune boosters. In fact, they are part of the reasons that chai tea and Indian foods are so healthy. During the cool winter months, we add these spices to everything we eat. Try the Ginger Turmeric Elixir recipe below to really boost your winter wellness.
Top 3 Foods That Suppress Your Immune System:
While you’re doing everything right to boost your immune system and create winter wellness, you can also help your body stay well by knowing what NOT to eat. Just say NO to these foods if you really want to boost your immune system. There are more immune-suppressing foods, but these are the top three.
- Sugar ~ sugar is the most inflammatory food you can eat. And these days it hides everywhere. Even in foods, you might least expect to find it. So it’s imperative to read labels and ditch the sugar. Sugar suppresses your immune system, and it can also fuel viruses and cancer cells to grow faster. There are now more than 60 different names for “sugar” (4) making it tricky to detect. Familiarize yourself with these names and read labels. According to SugarScience (5) “Added sugar is hiding in 74% of packaged foods.” It’s also important to note that artificial sweeteners are no better. In fact, they may be worse. They have been linked to cancer as well as a 67% increase in diabetes for those who drink diet sodas (6). Kick your sugar habit before sugar kicks you!
- Fast Foods and Processed Foods ~ You likely know that eating a whole food diet is the healthiest way to eat. But here’s an interesting thing to ponder. A recent study (7) published in the peer-reviewed journal Cell found that regular consumption of fast food and processed foods, like those found in the Standard American Diet (SAD), can shockingly reprogram the way your immune system works, and not in a good way. In the study, mice were fed a diet high in sugar and low in fiber (mimicking the SAD diet) and after one month their immune systems were on high alert, as if they were fighting off microbial invaders. Even more shocking was that their systems didn’t return to normal after they switched back to a healthier diet. Yikes!
- Artificial Preservatives and Additives ~ these artificial chemicals help to preserve shelf-life in processed foods and are cropping up in everything these days. They are typically those ingredients with very long names you can’t pronounce. And unfortunately, they have been linked to everything from ADHD and autism to cancer. Many of them are banned in the EU and in Canada, but they are ubiquitous in the US. Again reading labels will go a long way towards keeping you healthy. Familiarize yourself with this list of food additives to avoid (8) and why.
7. Immune Boosting Herbal Remedies
So as you can see from above, food IS medicine if you eat the right things. And I hope this article has inspired you to eat healthier to increase your winter wellness. But if you’ve found yourself over-stressed, over-tired, and feeling like you’re about to catch a bug, there are a few herbal remedies you can try to stop that virus in its tracks.
These are my go-to herbal remedies for those rare times when I catch a cold. I’ll always hit it with the garlic and honey first, as I mentioned above. And I’ll hit it with a cocktail of the following remedies plus the recipes below as well. These remedies will either nip it in the bud before it actually takes hold or at the very least reduce the duration and severity of the common cold or flu.
- Elderberry Syrup ~ I personally like Nature’s Way Sambucus Immune Elderberry Syrup, with echinacea, zinc, and vitamin C. Elderberries are full of immune-boosting flavonoids like anthocyanins which are responsible for their deep purple color. Elderberry is the herbalists’ go-to remedy for winter colds and flu. Echinacea, Zinc, and Vitamin C have all been shown to boost the immune system and lessen the symptoms of cold and flu viruses. If you’re prone to winter colds and flu, take 1-2 teaspoons of Elderberry Syrup daily as a maintenance dose. Then as soon as you start to feel sick, increase your intake 2-3 times a day. This remedy alone will often nip a cold before it starts.
- Natural Factors Anti-V Formula ~ This potent herbal formula will stop a cold, flu or other virus in its tracks. It also has natural anti-fungal and antibacterial properties to contribute to overall improved health and wellness. I learned about Anti-V remedy from my acupuncturist. If it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me!
- Xlear Sinus Clear Spray ~ Xlear contains Xylitol, a natural antimicrobial. A few years ago I succumbed to a sinus infection which antibiotics wouldn’t even touch (and I rarely take them.) After using Xyler for only five days, my sinus infection was finally gone. It’s amazing stuff. And I also use it during flights to keep my nasal mucous membranes from drying out mid-flight.
- Vitamin A ~ My naturopath recommends taking 10,000 daily at the first hint of a cold or flu. Vitamin A has been shown to have strong antiviral properties (9). But because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin it it needs to be taken with a meal containing healthy fat in order to fully absorb it. And as a fat soluble vitamin, it is possible to get too much. Therefore, it is not recommended to take this high of a dosage for more than one week. Always check with your health care provider before taking vitamins or remedies that may interact with prescription medications.
Immune Boosting Recipes
These are some of my favorite immune boosting recipes. Enjoy, and I hope they help keep you well this winter too!
Raw Garlic & Honey Cold Remedy
I use at the first inkling of catching a bug I eat as much raw garlic as I can stand.
1-2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1 TBSP raw, organic honey
Chop the garlic and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Allicin is the phytochemical in garlic that protects the garlic plant from infection and pests. And it’s those antimicrobial properties that help us to ward of colds and flu too. Allicin is formed by the oxidation process when the garlic is chopped and exposed to air. So chopped garlic needs to sit for 10-15 minutes to fully develop the most potent allicin. Allicin is also easily damaged with cooking, which is why it’s best to eat raw garlic if you want to get the most health benefits from it. After sitting for 10-15 minutes mix the chopped garlic with a tablespoon of raw, organic honey, and eat.
Ginger Turmeric Elixir
Try this Turmeric Ginger Elixir recipe from the Chopra Center
1 ¼ cups filtered water
1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, washed and grated.
1/2-inch piece fresh turmeric, washed and grated, (or ½ teaspoon dried turmeric if you don’t have fresh)
juice of ½ lemon.
pinch of freshly ground black pepper.
pinch of cayenne.
1 teaspoon raw organic local honey
Place the filtered water, ginger and fresh turmeric (if using) in a small pan. Bring to a boil slowly over low heat. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Place lemon juice, black pepper, cayenne, and honey in a mug (if using dried turmeric, add it here.) Strain ginger-turmeric mixture into mug. Stir and serve warm. Or pour into a mason jar, cover, and refrigerate for later.
Cold Remedy Tea
This is my favorite immune-boosting herbal tea that I always drink on those rare times I get a cold.
1/3 Elderberry Flower
1/3 Yarrow Flower
This tea is made with equal parts of three herbs. I usually make several ounces of dried tea at a time, then use about one tablespoon in a tea strainer along with 8 oz. of water to make the tea.
Start drinking it at the first signs of a cold or flu, and drink three or more cups a day. This tea can stop a new cold in its tracks, or significantly shorten the duration that you are feeling miserable.
You can find the ingredients at any local herbalist shop. In the Seattle area I shop at Dandelion Botanical, or at Herban Wellness in Kirkland. If you don’t have a local herbal resource, you can purchase these ingredients online at Mountain Rose Herbs.
Thanks so much for your interest in improving your winter wellness. Be sure to check out Part 1: 7 Ways to Increase Your Winter Wellness if you haven’t already read it. I’d love to know your go-to remedies and tips. What are your favorite immune-boosting tricks to stay healthy? And please share with your friends and family so they can stay well this winter too.