How to boost your immune system during the winter


The best defense against sickness this winter is to keep your immune system strong. Below are a handful of simple but powerful tips to improve overall immune function and keep you feeling your best.

Get your ZZZs
Sleep gives your body an opportunity to heal and renew. Studies have shown that inadequate sleep (less than 6 hours per night) is linked to lowered immune function through the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to promote a healthy immune system.

Some tips for improving sleep include going to bed at the same time every night, turning off all electronics an hour before bedtime, avoiding caffeine at least 4-6 hours before going to bed and taking a warm bath with Epsom salt and lavender essential oil. 

Stress less
Stress can be particularly high this time of year, and excessive stress lowers immune function and may leave you more vulnerable to infections like the flu.

Some great ways to manage stress include meditation, exercise, yoga, deep breathing and even a daily dose of laughter. One study found that just the anticipation of laughter or a funny event can boost immune activity by lowering the release of stress hormones.

Avoid the sugary snacks
Consuming sugar impairs your white blood cells from doing their job, which is to protect you from viruses and bacteria. Your immune function can be impaired for several hours following the ingestion of sugar, leaving you more susceptible to illness.

Skip the processed, refined foods and focus more on a plant-based diet, two-thirds or more of which should consist of fruits, veggies, whole grains and beans. If you need to use a sweetener, use a small amount of local, raw honey or stevia.

Exercise gives the immune system a nice boost and releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone. Exercise also reduces fat, builds muscle and helps you maintain a healthy weight, which also improves immune function. Studies have shown that white blood cells of overweight individuals have a decreased ability to destroy bacteria.

Aim for 30-60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise at least 5-6 days per week.

Take supplements
Since a large portion of your immune system is located in your gut, promoting healthy bacteria is crucial to overall immune function. This can be accomplished by adding fermented foods such as unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha or kefir to your diet. You can also discuss an appropriate probiotic supplement with your healthcare provider.

Vitamins A, C, D3 and zinc may also improve and support overall immune function and help keep you healthy during the flu season. You should always consult your naturopathic doctor prior to beginning any new supplements to ensure they are appropriate for you.

Mushrooms also can be incorporated into your diet to support your immune system. You can take Host Defense Stamets 7, a blend of seven mushrooms, daily this time of year.

For more information of how to ward off sickness during the winter months, consult a healthcare provider with Goshen Physicians.