I’m sure you’ve all heard the refrain “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, there is good reason why that saying exists! The foods we eat can help boost our immune systems to we get sick less frequently and, when we do get sick, it is less severe and we recover faster. There are also other healthful habits we can adopt that can maximize our immune systems to get through the Fall and Winter. So, now that Fall is here, the kids are back to school, and flu season is fast approaching, how can you support your immune system without relying on all kinds of medications?
Fresh produce is loaded with immune system-supporting compounds call phytonutrients (“phyto” means “plant”). These nutrients give plants their vibrant colors and distinct flavors. Phytonutrients include antioxidants which have been linked to a decrease in cancer risk by binding to the damaging free radicals in your body. They also include anti-inflammatory compounds as well. Inflammation continues to be linked to more and more illnesses and chronic diseases. Thus, phytonutrients protect your health on a number of different levels. To experience the benefits of phytonutrients, eat foods like berries, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and eggplant. An easy way to think of this is eating the rainbow – the more different colors you can eat, the more phytonutrients you’re eating as well!
Add Some Flavor with Honey and Cinnamon
Cinnamon is a powerhouse of a spice. It has both anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. It has also been shown to be antimicrobial and antibacterial as well. Once the cooler weather gets here, I start sprinkling cinnamon on top of my coffee grounds every morning – it’s delicious and I can enjoy the immune system boost from it as well. We are fortunate in that most traditional Fall recipes contain cinnamon, so eating seasonally will help get more cinnamon into your diet as well.
Similar to cinnamon, honey has proven antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Adding some honey to your tea, to plain yogurt, or to smoothies is a great way to consume more of this immunity boosting sweet.
Our blood vessels are lined with special cells called the endothelium. The endothelium is like your body’s own pharmacy in that it releases a number of different medicinal compounds into your bloodstream as is needed. When you exercise, it increases the blood flow through your blood vessels and over the endothelium, thereby prompting it to release more of those medicines. This is why sometimes when you feel a cold coming on, you feel better after going for a brisk walk. Additionally, regular exercise can help produce new blood vessels further improving your circulation and your health.
In the simplest sense, our bodies need just 4 things: nutrition, movement, water, and rest. The last of those is the one that we seem to value least in American society today. Sometimes it seems like there are competitions at work to see who is the most exhausted or the busiest. But sleep deprivation actually depresses your immune system, so the more exhausted you are, the more likely you are at to get sick. Sleep is the best opportunity your body gets each day to repair itself and flush out the toxins you take in during the day. It’s not just about the quantity of sleep you get, however, it’s about the quality, too. To make sure you are getting sufficient and quality sleep, avoid simple carbohydrates and big meals in the evening. Having a glass of wine before bed might help you fall asleep, but it will disrupt your sleep later in the night, so skip out on the alcohol as well. It’s also important that you sleep in a dark room and keep all devices out of the bedroom – just looking at your cell phone screen in the middle of the night will disrupt production of your sleep hormones.
Some other quick tips:
- Practice good habits like washing your hands regularly (avoid using hand sanitizer – it’s loaded with chemicals and contributes to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacterias).
- Avoid eating processed foods as they contain many ingredients that contribute to inflammation in your body and don’t contribute anything in the way of nutrition.
- Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum.
- Keep well-hydrated – this means 1/2 oz of water per pound of your body weight per day (for adults).
- Not necessarily “natural” in the strictest sense, but get your flu shot if you are part of the flu vaccine priority population.