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As temperatures start to drop and the kids are back in school, it won’t be long until the start of the dreaded flu and cold season.
Patients often come to me this time of year when they have already become ill and want to know some holistic things that they can do to recover more quickly. I do provide them with recommendations for a speedier recovery, but I also always suggest that, once they are feeling better, that they continue with preventative habits to keep their immune system strong all year long.
Your immune system lives throughout your body, in the blood, lymphatic system, your gut, etc. You need to nurture this system, not just react when it becomes weakened and you get sick! You want to nurture it so that your body is able to prevent illness, and also that it will be better able to protect itself from all types of diseases.
How to boost your immunity
There are a lot of things you can do to boost your immunity, including incorporating better food choices that deliver key immunity-boosting nutrients to your body. You can also address important lifestyle changes, like the need for more restorative sleep. Here is an earlier article on how to improve your sleep quality, and what sleep can do for your overall health. Studies show you are at higher risk of getting sick when you get 4 hours or less sleep compared to 6 hours or more.
The usual lifestyle culprits also come into play relating to the state of your immune health.
- Stress management – too much cortisol damages your immune system, plus stress severely impacts your digestion, which impacts your body’s ability to breakdown and absorb immunity-supportive nutrients. Learn to breathe deeply and meditate. I love the HeartMath™ system; it is easy to incorporate into your daily life and provides many health benefits, both mental and physical.
- Add some exercise – also important for digestive health and reducing inflammation. Moderate regular exercise is recommended. Lack of physical activity and overwork impair immunity.
- Get rid of the vices – alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and, especially, SUGAR. These all negatively impact your immune system. The amount of studies that support the corroborate the negative impact of sugar on immune health is staggering! Just 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar decrease your T-cells dramatically for 4-6 hours, leaving your immune system much more susceptible to invaders during that time. T-cells gobble up viruses and bacteria in your body, so you can see why it’s important to do everything you can to maintain the amount of T-cells you have on hand, especially at this time of year. With the holidays upon us, SUGAR SEASON IS DEFINITELY NOW OPEN.
- Toxins – reduce your exposure to toxins in certain foods, such as white foods and grains – all of the things that cause inflammation.
- Environment – maintain an orderly, pleasant living and working environment. Of essential importance for those with very weak immunity is association with completely supportive people. Sunlight, clean, fresh air, and pure water strengthen immunity. If these are not available naturally, then water filters, full-spectrum lights, and air filters/ionizers are helpful. Avoid overexposure to dampness, and protect against other climactic extremes.
- Get more quality sleep – as stated above, this cannot be emphasized more because it is so important.
- Improve your mental outlook – Positivity helps reduce stress. The research on this is monumental! This is the foundation for immunity; gratitude and forgiveness are preliminary steps. Spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, and visualization normally support the experience of continual renewal; such practices, however, can also weaken immunity if they are used to reinforce rigid thinking and habits.
- Hydration – drink a minimum of twice your body weight in fluid ounces daily! Even better, add a little lemon or lime in some of that water to ensure your system is alkaline, which will provide improved immunity support. Another important point about dehydration that many people are not aware of is that your body actually releases histamines when you are dehydrated. Histamines cause the mucus that leaves you suffering from nasal congestion!
I could write a blog on each of these because all are that important. But today I am going to focus primarily on foods and nutrients that can help or hurt your immune system health.
The impact of food on your immunity
As you know, I am a fan of using foods straight from nature, but in some cases supplements can be beneficial when it comes to boosting your immunity.
Just a reminder that these recommendations are not intended as a replacement for assessment and treatment by a qualified health care professional. They are suggestions for supporting your body’s natural healing systems so that you are more likely to recover more quickly or maybe avoid getting sick in the first place. They are not a magic pill that will cure your flu in one day.
Here are my major suggestions:
- Eat whole foods – choose a variety from a plant-based diet. Moderate undereating and simpler food combinations strengthen immunity. Do not eat late at night.
- Focus on lots of antioxidant heavy hitters! My number one favorite? Green veggies. Add to soup, broth, smoothies, and juices. Baby arugula is now one of my favorites. Greens also are very alkaline and nutrient dense. I have a free eBook bundle to help you learn more about greens and how to use them that I encourage you to take advantage of.
- Drop the intoxicants. Also avoid refined or chemically contaminated foods, rancid nuts and seeds, and limit oils and fats. If candida overgrowth symptoms are present, further dietary discipline is necessary, and the oxygenating and yeast-inhibiting foods, supplements, and practices should also be considered.
- Bump up your vitamin C – You can do this through foods as well as supplements. When I feel the sniffles or a sore throat coming on, I increase my daily vitamin C using powdered vitamin C every hour for the entire day, or until it’s gone. Usually that knocks out whatever is coming on. I like to use Perque vitamin C.
- Deficient in vitamin D3? Many of you are deficient even in the summer when you are out in the sun! But now with daylight savings and colder weather, you may have dropped even further. You can get a blood test to check for sure. This is very important for immune health.
- Onions and garlic – amazing immune support! Both contain quercetin which is an antioxidant, and is also anti-inflammatory and acts as an antihistamine as well. Seriously, if you can stomach it, 6 cloves of raw garlic a day will provide you with incredible immune support. If I feel something coming on, I have been known to add these in my green juices, soup, guacamole, and more. If you can’t deal with taking it through foods and drinks, try garlic capsules.
- Mushrooms (shiitake, reishi) – fresh or dried, I throw them into broth and teas.
- Herbs (oregano, rosemary, thyme) – these are strong anti-virals. I also like to use turmeric, an anti-viral and anti-inflammatory that is good for pain relief, too.
- Echinacea – herbalists usually recommend the tea, powder, liquid extract, or powdered extract for any kind of infection that is not deeply seated, or a result of a more serious weakness or deficiency. The extracts are preferred because they concentrate the active ingredients, which include important fat-soluble compounds such as polybutylamides and polyacetylenes, and the water-soluble constituents cichoric acid and polysaccharides, which are giant sugar molecules. These well-researched active constituents have been shown to strongly stimulate various activities of immune function such as increased interferon activity, which protects our cells against viral attack, and increased killer t-cell function, which can remove invading organisms. Echinacea can also stimulate the properdin/complement system, and the production of alpha-1 and alpha-2 gamma globulins, also helping to control and prevent infections.
- Olive Leaf Extract – an anti-viral and strong antioxidant. Contains oleuropein, which has antibacterial and antifungal attributes.
- Zinc – I prefer using food versus supplements for zinc, so try eating some pumpkin or sesame seeds. Taking zinc at the beginning of a cold appears to slow down the severity and duration of the virus.
- Oregano Oil – if you can stomach it, just put some in water and drink it. There are oregano oil capsules if you aren’t able to drink it. It’s a strong antimicrobial.
- Elderberry – an antibacterial and anti-viral; focuses on reducing mucous and nasal congestion.
- Digestive and proteolytic/protease enzymes – to fully breakdown foods and access maximum nutrients. I also suggest probiotics and/or fermented foods to keep the gut healthy. The gut is the largest area in your body that is focused on your immune health!
- A note on synthetic vitamins – synthetic vitamins and inorganic minerals seem to work best for individuals with strong, robust signs, although they may benefit others, also. Whole food supplements such as wheat- or barley-grass concentrates, sea vegetables, chlorella, and spirulina may be more beneficial for long-term use. Sprouts are a superb source of nutrients and can adequately supplement most plant-based diets; however, they should be lightly cooked and used sparingly by individuals who are cold, weak, or frail.
A word on fever
People sometimes ask me if they should take over-the-counter meds for fever. I usually say no, not unless the fever gets too high for too long.
The reason? Fever means your body is fighting some invader, so why would you put a halt to that?
If you take an over-the-counter fever reducer, you are slowing down your body’s ability to fight off the invader. I encourage you to do everything you can so you don’t get into a dangerous zone. Talk to your practitioner if you aren’t sure what that danger zone is.
For my family, on the rare occasion one of my sons got sick, I would support their body as it worked its way through with their temperature going to about 103 degrees for a few hours. That temperature usually allowed their body to kill the invader and heal. I would make sure they had vitamin C, echinacea, and the healing soup they asked for. I also would have them take warm baths, as that would “heat up” their body and helped to kill off the invader more quickly as well.
Should I get a flu shot?
I believe that there are many natural ways to boost your immunity so I do not – nor do my family members – get an annual flu shot. My personal decision is based on:
- So many strains of viruses are out there each year – the flu shot may or may not even be adequate in a given year.
- Pre-existing exposure – if you’ve already been exposed to the virus, a flu shot is really just making that existing exposure worse. Depending on your immune health, this could be dangerous.
- Preservatives and other chemicals in the vaccine – I don’t like that a vaccine can include certain chemicals, some which have been shown to impact the nervous system.
- Natural methods really work! Why introduce chemicals into your blood stream?
You can learn a bit more about my thoughts on vaccinations in an article I wrote. Do your own research. This is a personal decision that you should discuss with your practitioner or medical care professional. They know you and your health situation the best.
If you are looking for a recipe to use all these whole foods to protect your immune system, I think you will greatly enjoy my warm and immune-boosting vegetable soup. It offers your body protection against viruses, germs, and environmental factors.
What do you do to protect your body from the cold and flu season and maintain your energy? Do you have recipes that have proved to work year after year? In our VITAL Health Community, we have many kitchen shows as well as health topic presentations, on the issue of maintaining your health through a good immune system, as well as a standard of living for all parts of your life.
If you are a practitioner and would like to increase your knowledge to help your clients further increase their immunity, there is obviously so much more we can teach you. It might be one of the many good reasons for you to consider some additional education and support around the whole area of nutritional endocrinology. If you are ready to take your practice to the next level, I encourage you to fill out the application for my Nutritional Endocrinology Practitioner Training program. Once you submit your application, you can schedule a time to learn more and ask questions.
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Medical Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo, drritamarie.com, and the experts who have contributed. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
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