January Immune System Boost

It’s winter, it’s dark, it’s cold, and we’ve all just come out of a season of excess only to be faced with numerous viral enemies: flu viruses, cold viruses, stomach viruses…and the list goes on. With few exceptions, most winter illnesses are the result of viruses, not bacteria and thus are immune to antibiotics. Our only true defenses against these organisms are prevention and having a strong immune system to reduce the impact they have on our health and our lives.

This year in particular, the flu seems to be on everyone’s mind. There’s a new strain of the flu that has been making headlines and, although the first peak of the flu season is over, there is another peak coming in February so we’d best be prepared. In previous articles, I’ve discussed cleansing programs and their role in improving immunity and health but cleansing can be depleting and winter is not the time for depletion. Instead, the focus should be on fortification and maintenance, with the addition of some key nutrients and herbs to stave off infection. I’ve compiled a list of five “simple” strategies that will help protect you and your family’s immune system for the rest of this winter season.

1. Hydration – Water is so important to every aspect of your health that I mention it in almost every article. It is particularly essential to remain hydrated in January when we’re trying to clear out excess toxins. Frankly, everything works better when we’re adequately hydrated; we have more energy, clearer skin, more immunity, and optimally functioning organs. Water should be clean and cannot be substituted with coffee, tea, milk, pop, or juice. Caffeine is dehydrating and sugar depletes the immune system.
2. Exercise – Again, exercise gets a lot of airtime but it’s for good reason. Exercise is mildly cleansing, immune-stimulating, and it helps to prevent seasonal affective disorder that some of us living in the Northern Hemisphere are all too familiar with. If you are struck with a cold or flu, please do not adhere to your regular fitness schedule. While mild forms of exercise, such as stretching and walking, can help you get better sooner, excessive exercise will actually inhibit your body’s ability to fight off infection.
3. Sleep – Sleep is critical to optimal functioning during these winter months. Without those precious hours of recuperation, your body can’t possibly operate with a fully stacked immune system. If regular, good quality sleep is an issue for you, now is the time to seek out strategies to improve it through relaxation techniques, herbs, or caffeine elimination.
4. Keep it Clean – Cleanliness is key during the cold and flu season. Wash your hands, clean surfaces in your home and car regularly, and wash your clothes and sheets, especially if someone in your household has recently had the cold or flu. Antibacterial gels or wipes are sufficient substitutes when necessary but are not a substitute for regular hand-washing with soap and water. Additionally, if you’re sick, stay home and if your little one is sick, keep them home from school.
5. Enrich Yourself – Load up on nutrient dense foods like colourful fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens and beets, as well as garlic and onions. Take your multivitamin, consider an additional vitamin D supplement (unless you plan on wintering in Arizona), and take probiotics to promote gastrointestinal health. The gut is an important part of your immune system and eating a healthy diet and keeping the flora balanced is a key part of keeping your gut healthy. Additional herbs and nutrients such as vitamin C, elderberry, echinacea/goldenseal, oregano oil, and licorice root are all useful to keep on hand in case symptoms of the cold or flu start to develop.

This list may seem like a no-brainer but it’s helpful to be reminded of the things you can do to take charge of your health. Also, regardless of whether you chose to be vaccinated against the seasonal flu and/or the H1N1 virus or not, you are not completely immune against all the viruses out there and would still benefit from implementing the changes necessary to fully optimize your immune system. In fact, those who have received the vaccine may even benefit more from giving their immune systems some additional support.

Good luck and be well!