Immune-Boosting Tips for Cold & Flu Season
Brrr! Winter has arrived! And that means cold and flu season is here as well.
Each year, Americans get more than 1 billion colds, and between 5 and 20 percent end up with the flu, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. And now that COVID-19 is here, it makes even more sense to shore up our immune defenses as a strong preventative measure.
The immune system is extremely important for overall health: It is fundamental to healing wounds and protecting against infections as well as chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
So whether you’re trying to ward off any potential viruses or shorten a cold you’ve already caught, below you’ll find pro tips to help boost your immune system.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Growing research has shown a significant link between sleep and the immune system. Interestingly, the link between sleep and immunity goes both ways: Not only does better sleep boost immunity, but an activated immune system can affect sleep as well, according to research.
According to SleepFoundation.Org, “Sleep provides essential support to the immune system. Getting sufficient hours of high-quality sleep enables a well-balanced immune defense that features strong innate and adaptive immunity, efficient response to vaccines, and less severe allergic reactions.”
“In contrast, serious sleeping problems, including sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, and circadian rhythm disruption, can interfere with the healthy functioning of the immune system.”
Avoid Sugar and Refined Carbs
A study from the 1970s shows that it takes about 75 grams of sugar to weaken the immune system — and once the white blood cells are affected, it is believed that the immune system is lowered for approximately 5 hours. In another study from 2011, researchers found that sugar, especially straight fructose (commonly found in soft drinks), can negatively impact the body’s immune response to viruses and bacteria.
In addition, if you eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates, like white bread and white rice, it can have the same effect because the body processes refined carbs as sugar.
Everyone has heard of the dangers of too much sun exposure, including skin cancer and premature aging, but a little daily sun exposure can actually boost your immune system. One reason for this is that sunbathing naturally increases levels of vitamin D, which is vital for a healthy immune system.
In one study, researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center showed that sunlight — through a mechanism other than vitamin D production — energizes T cells that play a vital role in immunity.
Eat More Fruits and Veggies
Research has shown that fruits and vegetables provide nutrients — like vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamin E — that can boost immune function.
According to SF Gate, “Fruits and vegetables have a lot more to offer the immune system than just their vitamins and minerals. The phytonutrients, antioxidants, fibers, oils and acids in fruits and vegetables, which are responsible for their various flavors and colors, are also responsible for their many health, healing and immune- modulating properties. These bioactive compounds are used by the body to directly combat inflammation and infections and support detoxification and immune cell function through a multitude of mechanisms, many of which have yet to be fully understood.”
If you do end up getting sick, don’t underestimate the power of herbal teas. Not only are they full of antioxidants but they feel good on a sore throat. Green tea is well-known for its health benefits. One study from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University found that a compound in green tea has the ability to increase the number of “regulatory T cells” which play a vital role in immune function and the suppression of autoimmune disease.
Research has shown that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has antimicrobial action which can help ward off illness. Curcumin can also reduce inflammation and pain and help in the management of inflammation. In fact, curcumin has such strong anti-inflammatory action, that studies have shown it may be as effective as some any-inflammatory medications but without the side effects.
Inflammation plays a role in the development of many chronic diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, cerebral injury, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, cancer, allergy, asthma, bronchitis, colitis, arthritis, renal ischemia, psoriasis, diabetes, obesity, depression, fatigue, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
According to a review in the journal Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition, the authors write “In Ayurvedic practices, turmeric is thought to have many medicinal properties including strengthening the overall energy of the body, relieving gas, dispelling worms, improving digestion, regulating menstruation, dissolving gallstones, and relieving arthritis.”
To get the benefits from turmeric, you can simply add the spice, along with black pepper (for better absorption), to your favorite herbal tea. You can also make turmeric tea. You can find several good recipes online, including this one.
Ceylon Cinnamon Tea
Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), also known as true cinnamon, is a superfood loaded with powerful antioxidants. It is a small evergreen tree belonging to the family Lauraceae, native to Sri Lanka. Traditionally, cinnamon has been used to help with bronchitis and upset stomach. It also acts as an immune stimulator to help prevent colds. Like turmeric, you can either just add cinnamon to your favorite tea or you can make cinnamon tea. To make the latter, just add 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon to 1 cup of boiled water and stir. Add honey to taste.
Peppermint is one of the most widely consumed single-ingredient herbal teas. Just the aroma of peppermint alone can help calm nerves and boost your mood. If you’re dealing with a sore throat, tummy issues or headaches, peppermint tea might be a good choice for you. Animal research shows a relaxation effect on gastrointestinal (GI) tissue and analgesic and anesthetic effects in the central and peripheral nervous system. Menthol — the compound in peppermint responsible for its minty taste and aroma — is a known muscle relaxant, helping you relax even when under mental stress.