Winter is Coming; are You Prepared?
Dreading the cold and flu season? With the cold of winter and stress of the holidays upon us; here are some ways to support your immune system.
For many of us, the cold is bearing down and germs are being spread. There are more leaves on the ground than on the trees, and the dampness is starting to settle into our bones. I’m not one for flu shots. I would rather focus on boosting my immune system naturally, so my body can ward off anything that I come into contact with; and not just whatever strain is in this year’s chemical cocktail.
The problem with relying on a shot is that there are so many other variables to sickness and health than a magic pill (or shot). When I think about winter, which kicks off grandly with the holidays, I think about stress. For some, the holidays bring joy and good stress. There’s a lot of running around, but they enjoy it. For others, the holidays bring pressure; others depression. It’s a mixed bag, the holiday season. And whether your stress is positive or negative, it’s still stress, which can tax the immune system.
I thought I would help you get in front of it all today by sharing some of my tricks for boosting my immune system to prepare for both the holiday hustle and bustle, as well as the shorter days and freezing temps. Even if you don’t experience freezing temps this time of year, it’s never a bad time to tune up your immune system.
I’m not going to go into a full fledge cleanse or detox here, just some simple tips that are generally regarded as safe. As always, if you are under the care of a physician or taking medication, make sure to check with your doctor before adding any type of supplementation to your diet. Prescription drugs or serious health conditions can be exacerbated by certain supplements and oils.
First off, get your sleep. Our body’s circadian rhythm revolves around the sun no less than our planet revolves around the sun. Our circadian rhythm works with the natural rising and setting of the sun. The longer days were meant for working to plant and gather in warmer weather. The shorter days are meant for relaxation, regeneration and rejuvenation. Be sure to get enough sleep. I’m not saying you must rise and set with the sun. That would be highly impractical in this day and age. But you do need to keep from burning the candle at both ends in order to give your body the sleep and rest time it needs to build up its reserves. I used to be a night owl. I can see now how that did not benefit me from a health standpoint. I normally get 7 solid hours of sleep every night during the warmer months. During the winter I try to get at least 7 on weeknights, and 9 on weekends. It helps to keep me from walking around like a zombie.
Check Your Levels
The next thing on the list for those of us in colder climates is to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D; the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is technically a hormone our bodies make from the intake of sunshine. In the winter, we don’t get any vitamin D and we deplete our stores; if we have them in the first place. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to cancer as well as depression (seasonal affect disorder especially). Before I was vigilant about vitamin D, I would look (and feel) like the walking dead by the end of winter every year. Now I barely notice a difference between the seasons. Vitamin D is critical for the immune system as well (thus it’s link to cancer). It’s no wonder we suffer so much from colds, flu and sinus infections in the winter and spring months. It’s a good idea to have your blood tested for vitamin D levels. If you want to supplement, it’s best to use a liquid form of D3 and accompany it with Vitamin K for optimal absorption. Vitamin D is best taken early in the day so as not to compete with melatonin and keep you awake at night. D3 also competes with folate, which is another critical vitamin, so if you take a B complex be sure not to take it with your D.
Vitamin C is critical to our immune system. It’s a powerful antioxidant that we need to maintain the integrity of just about every component of our body. According to Dr. Weil, “It helps repair and regenerate tissues, protect against heart disease, aid in the absorption of iron, prevent scurvy, and decrease total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. Research indicates that vitamin C may help protect against a variety of cancers by combating free radicals.” Vitamin C is water soluble and we can only absorb so much at once. It’s best to take multiple smaller doses than one large dose. Eating plenty of fruits and colorful vegetables will provide you with extra mini doses of vitamin C throughout the day. There’s a reason for the old saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
Another handy add-in is Echinacea. You can take it in supplement form or add a quality organic Echinacea tea to your daily regimen. The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service reports that “stimulation of the immune system appears to be strongly influenced by [Echinacea] dose level. Recent pharmacological studies indicate that 10 mg/kg [of body weight] daily dose of the polysaccharide over a ten-day period is effective as an immuno-stimulant.” However, they also noted that increases in the daily dosage beyond this level resulted in a decrease of effectiveness. So don’t exceed the recommendation.
One of my favorite ways to boost the immune system is by ditching the candles and air fresheners full of endocrine (and immune) disrupting chemicals. Grab yourself an essential oil diffuser (or put it on your holiday wish list) and quality, organic oils like peppermint, eucalyptus, frankincense, cinnamon, orange and clove. These oils are high in chemical compounds like d-limonene, menthol, eugenol, alpha-pinene and cinnemaldehyde that exhibit either anti-viral, anti-fungal or anti-inflammatory properties. Play around and find a combination that works for you. I love the smell of patchouli, orange and peppermint together. A nice holiday combination would have clove and orange. Eucalyptus is great on its own. It’s somewhat medicinal smelling, but that in and of itself will help you with stuffiness. Firs and pines are good for grounding (stress management) as well as providing an immune boost.
Finally, make sure to manage your stress levels. If the holidays are difficult, seek out support from friends, family members, or professionals. Stress management is critical to proper immune functioning. Having a social circle has been shown to be an important component of longevity in blue zones around the world. Taking time out to engage in self-care activities is also a great way to manage stress. Using activities like yoga, meditation, baths, reading and relaxing all provide the quiet time needed to bring cortisol levels down and allow our bodies the downtime it needs to regenerate. Also, try practicing gratefulness. Being aware of the things we are thankful for is uplifting and provides positive reinforcement. Take time every morning to set the tone for your day by naming three things for which you are grateful.
I could go on for days with more suggestions, but these should give you an excellent running start at making the holidays, and winter in general, a happier and healthier time of year.
Yours in Wellness,