To get through Canadian Winters, it’s imperative to support your immune system. We are very aware nowadays that we share our existence with a plethora of microorganisms, not all of them friendly: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Our immune system plays an important role in the ongoing struggle to keep us healthy. The efficiency of our immune system in keeping us free of disease, determines our level of immunity, which can be weakened pretty easily if we don’t make health a priority. In addition to this, many viruses live longer and can replicate faster in colder temperatures – so supporting your immune system to keep it in tip top shape, especially in the winter, is so important!
The immune system can be weakened by many factors including, but not limited to:
- Lack of protein and other immune-building nutrients from a poor diet, or poor absorption of nutrients
- Lack of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract
- Environmental pollutants and toxins
- A weak or stressed liver
- Insufficient or poor-quality sleep
- Stress (including physical, mental, or psychological) which causes the release of cortisol which is immunosuppressive
- Lack of exercise/movement, impairing lymphatic drainage and decreases immune cell function
There are many ways, including diet, supplementation and lifestyle recommendations that can help nourish and support your immune system.
Diet: Balance & Moderation
To support your immune system, it is so important to focus on eating whole foods and having a macro-balanced diet (including adequate complete protein, healthy fats, and whole grains). It is important to avoid refined processed foods, sugar, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, coffee, tea, or any caffeine, stimulants, and carbonated beverages. Furthermore, to avoid foods one is sensitive to. Drinking a lot of pure water or herbal teas, increasing fibre intake, and dark leafy green vegetables and other chlorophyll-rich foods will help support the immune system.
Supplementation: Build & Boost
When it comes to immune health, there are two components to consider: immune builders and immune boosters.
Immune builders are necessary for the immune system to function properly – they are also referred to as immune supporters.
Here are some immune builders, and can be found in whole foods and/or supplements:
- Probiotics: without healthy gut bacteria, our bodies are at risk of developing any number of infectious illness.
- Protein: eat complete protein – all white blood cells and immune system tissues require sufficient protein.
- Zinc: this is a mineral that is involved in almost every enzyme reaction in the body.
- Vitamin A: stimulates the production of killer T-cells in the body.
- Vitamin B: support antibody production.
- Vitamin C (with bioflavonoids): immobilize microbes, neutralize microbial toxins.
- Vitamin D: increases self-destruction of mutated cells.
- Essential fatty acids (omega 3s): important for all important immune function.
Immune boosters don’t build new immune cells but stimulate the existing system. These are excellent to push our immune system into action but are to be avoided by people with autoimmune diseases.
Here are some immune boosters to consider:
- Garlic: antioxidant and stimulates production of glutathione, which supports detox.
- Echinacea: stimulates antibody and interferon production.
- Astragalus: enhances immune cell ingestion of microbes.
- Reishi mushroom: stimulates immune cell ingestion of microbes.
- Cat’s claw: immune stimulant to be used only in short bursts.
- Licorice: strong anti-inflammatory.
- Yarrow and lemon balm: useful for viral infections.
Before starting supplements of any sort, it is recommended to see a holistic health care practitioner to ensure you are taking professional grade supplements, as well as to ensure that what you take works for you and your current health situation.
Lifestyle: Stress, Sleep & Movement
Stress levels and sleep are two important lifestyle considerations.
High stress levels will create higher levels of cortisol in your system and this will suppress the effectiveness of the immune system. Ensuring that you are keeping stress levels down will help support the immune system. There are different ways to do this including meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, walking in nature, a day at the spa.
Getting adequate rest and a good quality sleep every night will also support the immune system. During sleep, your immune system releases cytokines, a type of protein. Some cytokins are required to fight an infection or inflammation – and sleep deprivation will affect their production!
Lastly, ensuring that you continue to move throughout the day is beneficial not only for mental health in these darker months, but also to move fluids in your body clearing toxins more easily to reduce the stress on your immune system. It doesn’t have to be big to be helpful. Consider taking the stairs rather than the elevator or escalator, doing some mild stretching and movement while watching your favourite show, or throw in some squats, lunges or arm circles as part of your morning routine to get things moving.
Recipe: Nourish & Support your Immune System
We all know that Great Grandma’s homemade soup had magical powers – we now know that bone broth (when made fresh) helps heal our gut and support our immune system, as it’s filled with protein, Vitamins A, Bs, C, E, Zinc, and Selenium. Enjoy this wonderful 2 step recipe!
- 1 Whole Chicken Carcass (about 2 lbs of bones)
- 1 Carrot (peeled and chopped)
- 1 Yellow Onion (diced)
- 2 stalks Celery (chopped)
- 3 Garlic (cloves, halved)
- 1 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 tsp Sea Salt
- 1 cup Parsley (chopped)
- 6 cups Water
- Place the bones in the slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients. Set slow cooker to low and let cook for at least 12 hours.
- After 12 hours, strain the broth through a strainer or mesh sack. Discard the vegetables that you strained out. Allow broth to cool. Once cool, remove the layer of fat that forms on the top, save it for future cooking. Consume or freeze broth until ready to use.
Written by Catherine Binette, Registered Holistic Nutritionist. Catherine has a clinical focus in general wellness and women’s health including teens and moms. She currently lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Disclaimer – Everything shared is for informative purposes only. It is not intended for assessment, diagnosis or treatment purposes. If you feel there needs to be further investigation, please seek out a qualified health care professional for a proper assessment.