Cold and flu season may be coming to an end, but with all the world in a tizzy over the global coronavirus outbreak, it seems it’ll still be awhile before most of us can stop working about getting sick. Maybe I’m being naive, but I’m not terribly concerned about COVID-19 affecting my family — even if we do get it, we are healthy and relatively young people who eat well and exercise. Plus, the virus doesn’t seem to be affecting children as much, so I’m not so worried about my kids. That said, last year me and my kids were all hit by the flu and strep throat, so I did some research to find out how we could boost our immune systems and lessen the chances of getting that sick again. Keeping in mind that most of the colds and illnesses that we encounter on a daily basis — including COVID-19 — are caused by viruses that just have to run their course, so there are not cures. However, we can do some things to make sure our immune systems are as healthy and strong as possible, so our bodies can do the work of fighting off the viruses efficiently.
Eat a Variety of Whole Foods
Your first defense against illness is your diet. Aim to eat a wide variety of nutritious whole foods on a daily basis so that you are receiving the bulk of your immune boosting vitamins and minerals from food on a consistent and regular basis. Be sure to include foods that have a lot of antioxidants, Vitamin C and Vitamin D, among other nutrients. Eat enough calories — especially those from healthy fats — so that your body can better absorb the nutrients it receives. Even if you’re currently trying to lose weight, don’t restrict so much that your body goes into starvation mode. That will cause your body to use extra energy that could otherwise be utilized by your immune system.
Drink Lots of Fluids
Drinking lots of fluids including water, unsweetened herbal tea and natural juices will help your body flush out impurities and toxins much faster than if you function in a slightly dehydrated state most of the time. Water should be your primary beverage, but it’s okay to switch it up for a little flavor. You could even try adding a splash of 100-percent fruit juice to some seltzer. Citrus juices are great because you’ll also get a bit of Vitamin C from them.
Speaking of Citrus…
It can’t hurt to pick up a couple bottles of a good-quality Vitamin C supplement, but snacking on citrus fruit, squeezing it’s juice into your water, making smoothies with them and using citrus in your food is the best (and tastiest) way to make sure your body is getting plenty of the legendary immune-boosting vitamin. Just one orange has over 100 percent of the recommended daily value and the same goes for a fresh grapefruit. If you don’t love eating citrus, try pineapple which contains more than 100 percent of the daily value in just one cup or mango which contains about two thirds of the daily value in a cup. Remember, you’re looking for a surplus of Vitamin C, so you want to eat multiple servings per day. Veggies like bell peppers and broccoli also contain significant amounts of Vitamin C.
Vitamin D Can Help
These days, many people are actually Vitamin D-deficient and don’t even know it. So many of us work indoors all day long and spend very little time out soaking up the sun. Plus, at the end of cold and flu season nearly everyone — even those who normally work outside — tends to be a little low on Vitamin D, which our bodies naturally produce when exposed to sunlight and helps to balance our immune systems. Salmon, tuna, sardines and other small fishes are excellent food sources of Vitamin D, as are egg yolks and mushrooms. If you’re finding it difficult to get in enough Vitamin D, try a high-quality liquid supplement, which is typically absorbed by the body faster than pills.
Elderberry Syrup Works Wonders
Though the FDA doesn’t have any recommendations regarding the use of black elderberry to prevent or treat illness, a number of scientific studies have shown that it supports a healthy immune system and can either prevent illnesses caused by viruses and bacterias or shorten the duration of illnesses. I personally have used this on and off since September and it seems to have helped dramatically. I take some form of it — gummy, syrup, effervescent tablet — every time I start to feel a bit under the weather, and I haven’t had a full-blown cold all season.
Get More Exercise
It might come as a surprise that exercise has actually been proven a natural immune booster. Exercise has huge benefits when it comes to keeping you free of sickness. The act itself is said to flush out germs and possibly stop them from growing thanks to the increased body temperature it causes. Exercise also causes disease-fighting white blood cells to circulate more quickly enabling the body to find and fight them faster. Aim to get sweaty at least a few times a week to reap the most benefits.
But Balance That With More Sleep
We all know how hard it can be to get enough sleep — especially if you’re a parent, amiright? — but sufficient sleep is absolutely crucial to optimal immune function. Not sleeping enough may reduce T cell activity in your body, which can not only lead to a weakened immune system, but also hinder your body’s response to vaccines. So try not to burn the candle at both ends too often and make sure you’re getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep most nights (or days, if you work nights).
Vitamin B-6 is Essential
A lot of us think of Vitamin B-6 as something that can help us with energy, and it’s definitely important for that, but it’s also essential for your body’s immune responses. Vitamin B-6 supplements are readily available pretty much anywhere and it’s even in most multivitamins, but it’s a great idea to boost your intake from food sources as well. The best sources are animal proteins like salmon, chicken, pork, etc., but smaller but still significant amounts of B-6 can be found in sweet potatoes, bananas, potatoes and green vegetables as well.
It’s Worth the Garlic Breath
Lots of Latin cuisine features garlic, so you’re probably already eating a good amount of it, but there’s no harm in adding a bit more. Garlic has been known for almost all of time for it’s infection-fighting properties. Using it in your food is great because it tastes amazing, but some people will even make garlic tea or straight garlic soup to help boost their immune systems. If you’re one of the odd bunch that doesn’t enjoy eating garlic, you can also purchase garlic supplements in pill or capsule form.
Limit Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption
Girl, I am not going to be the one to tell you to stop drinking (you should stop smoking though), but if you want your body — including your immune system — to function at its best, it’s a good idea to cut back or eliminate at least for a while. If you drink, it’s best to stick to a maximum of one drink per night for women and two for men and if you really want to help out your immune system, maybe only have a drink a few nights per week. Smoking on the other hand, is a huge hazard. Not just because of the cancer risk, but because smoking can negatively affect your immune responses and it has been shown to negatively impact both your adaptive and innate immunity.