5 Simple Ways To Naturally Boost Your Immune System
It’s about this time every year as Winter approaches, that taking steps to boost my immune system gets on my agenda. Oddly enough, there are no conclusive studies showing that the cooler months negatively impacts our immune system. Although we need a strong immune system all year round, I still feel mother nature’s prod in the cooler months to pay more attention to it, probably because it’s often the time of year when the cold and flu are more prevalent.
So what is the immune system, and why is it so important?
The immune system is your body’s network of organs, tissues, and cells that work together to keep you healthy by fighting off harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. It acts as a barrier between your body and the things that can make you sick. (1)
The main tasks of the body’s immune system are:
Neutralizing pathogens like bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi that have entered the body, and removing them from the body
Recognizing and neutralizing harmful substances from the environment
Fighting against the body’s own cells that have changed due to an illness, for example cancerous cells (2).
Adopting a healthy lifestyle and being intentional about specific practices that promote good immune function will certainly have a positive impact.
What is super interesting, however, is that about 80% of immune cells are found in the gut (3). It makes sense then, that this should be the first place to start when boosting your immune system.
Here’s the top 5 ways that I personally use to boost my family’s immune system:
Probiotics are good bacteria that help you digest nutrients that boost the detoxification of your colon and support your immune system. It’s useful to supplement with a quality probiotic as well as eat probiotic foods, because we need bacterial biodiversity in our gut. When it comes to choosing a quality probiotic, you want to make sure to choose probiotic products with at least 1 billion colony forming units and containing the genus Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium or Saccharomyces boulardii, some of the most researched probiotics (4). I have found the Bioceuticals Ultrabiotic to be a good choice if you’re looking for somewhere to start. I often take them as directed on the packaging, however, you can also use the powder from the capsule to make your own cultured yoghurt from scratch too.
2/ NUTRIENT-DENSE FOODS
It’s clear that eating a wide variety of plant-based whole foods promotes healthy gut function, which therefore also can improve immune function. If you’re new to eating this way, aim for 20 different plant-based foods each week and slowly build it up to 40+ each week. Your gut and immune system will love you for it.
Here’s my 3 favourite immune-boosting nutrient-dense foods:
Raw garlic - This bad boy has powerful antimicrobial and antiviral properties (5). Aim for about one raw clove a day to boost your immune system. My favourite way to eat raw garlic is to slice it and add it to avocado on toast with a sprinkle of sea salt.
Raw ginger - Ginger helps to break down the accumulation of toxins in our organs due to its warming effects. It’s also known to cleanse the lymphatic system, our network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. I love slicing raw ginger and adding it to a hot tea with lemon juice and Manuka honey. Raw ginger is also great to add to fresh juices and salad dressings.
Oregano oil - This powerful herb also contains antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. If I’m feeling under the weather, or that tickle in my throat that’s a sure sign a cough or cold is on its way, I add 3 drops each of essential oregano oil, ginger oil and lemon oil to a capsule and take it every 3-4 hours. I notice that it either fends off the coming sickness, or reduces the time that I do experience cold and flu symptoms. Give it a try.
We all know how important it is to drink adequate pure water each day, but it can be challenging, especially in the cooler months. For some super simple tips on staying hydrated check out my recent blog Five Hacks For Drinking More Water. When the body’s immune system is low, drinking high sugar or high caffeinated drinks is not the way to help. Ditch these drinks for pure water and hot herbal teas. During winter, I aim to drink at least 1.5 litres of filtered water as well as have a couple of herbal teas throughout each day. My favourite herbal teas are peppermint, ginger & lemon, and blood orange.
4/ HOT & COLD SHOWERS
So, I actually personally hate this one, but know that it’s soooo good for me! I’m such a pansy when it comes to cold water (especially when the weather isn’t squelching hot). Hydrotherapy has been shown to have amazing effects on the body (6, 7), including the increase in circulation, reducing inflammation and boosting immune function. The simplest way to practice hydrotherapy at home is to have an alternating hot & cold shower as part of your daily routine. Aim for 3-4 rounds of a time ratio of 3:1 hot to cold. For example, 90 seconds under hot water followed by 30 seconds under cold water.
Ah, sleep! After becoming a parent I’ve realised that SLEEP. IS. LIFE. Lack of sleep seriously stuffs you up and can wreak havoc on your poor immune system. In fact, lack of sleep decreases the activity of T-cells (a crucial type of immune cell) and weakens our immune response to vaccines (8). Not getting enough sleep can also lead to higher levels of stress hormones and more inflammation in your body. So, if you’re wanting to boost your body’s ability to fight off any nasties, then you must prioritise sleep.
This is actually one of my main wellbeing focuses for this year: improving my sleep hygiene (sleep habits). Here’s some practices you can also try:
Limit exposure to blue light an hour before you go to sleep. You can do this by installing software on your computer that will orange-tint your screen as the evening progresses. You can also install night-friendly light bulbs with yellow or orange hue in your bedroom, or a salt lamp. Also ensure your room is as dark as possible.
Improve your routine in the hour before going to bed by:
Reduce noise in the home.
Avoid physical activity that elevates our heart rate for an extended period for at least two hours before bed. This doesn’t include sex (yay).
Try to avoid emotionally stimulating activities prior to sleep e.g. social media, intense movies or TV shows, and news programs, and important discussions with our partner (have them long before bedtime).
Try to avoid having a TV in the bedroom, or computer, tablets and phones.
Read a good book!
Take a soak in a hot bath or even a foot soak. Add magnesium flakes or epsom salts for even more relaxation.
The ideal temperature for sleep is between 15.5 and 20 degrees Celsius. Our core temperature during our deepest sleep drops 1 to 2 degrees Celsius below baseline, so if your room is too hot, it’s harder for your body to reduce its core temperature to achieve this deep sleep state.
Make your bedroom a haven of comfort. Keep it as uncluttered as possible. Keep your closet doors closed.
Keep air flow into your bedroom all the time, even in winter.
Use a good-quality mattress and pillow (you spend up to one third of your life here)
Change your before-bedtime eating & drinking habits
Have a light dinner, preferably 4 hours before bedtime
Skip desserts and sweets at dinner time
Avoid alcohol and caffeine altogether, but especially in the second half of the day
Enjoy a herbal (caffeine-free) tea before bed e.g. chamomile, peppermint or lemon tea
Avoid drinking a large amount of water before bed, so you won’t wake up needing to urinate
Reduce electromagnetic fields in your environment
In conclusion, your immune system will function well if you are adopting a holistically healthy lifestyle. The tips above are in addition to an overall healthy lifestyle, and may be beneficial if you notice your immune system struggling.
Got other tips that you’ve found helpful for boosting your immune system? I’d love to hear - share them below xx