How to Protect Your Immune System

By: Sara Weinreb

Boost your immune system this cold and flu season

Cold and flu season is (unfortunately!) officially upon us, and I’m guessing that you’ll do what it takes to avoid this unfortunate fate. The good news— there are plenty of natural ways we can boost our immune system, helping us to stave away the sniffles. Truthfully, these tips are helpful year-round to keep both your immune system and overall health in tip-top shape. Taking care of your body in all aspects helps you remain healthy all year long and fight off disease. Here are some of the top ways to keep your immune system strong this fall and winter.

Reduce your sugar intake

All those apple cider donuts and Halloween candies are not helping your immune system-- in fact, they are suppressing it. It's beneficial year-round to be mindful of your sugar consumption (especially refined sugar!), and cold-season is no exception. Sugar consumption reduces your white blood cell performance, leading you to be less likely to fight off disease that finds its way into your body, and also leads to inflammation, a precursor for much disease. For this reason, I also recommend avoiding sugary snacks on planes where you are exposed to a lot of germs. Raw, local honey can be useful for your health and immune system, but in moderation.

Eat an immune-boosting diet

No surprises here— eating lots of vegetables is key, as well as some fruit! Dark leafy greens are excellent, as is eating a variety of veggies (the whole "eat the rainbow” philosophy applies here). Eating lots of different fruits and vegetables will give you a variety of vitamins and minerals, which will boost your health and immune system. Did you know Kiwis are very high in Vitamin C? Here’s a helpful list of immune-boosting foods for your reference!

Prioritize sleep

Lack of sleep is a huge threat to our overall health— it affects nearly every system in our body! Turn off screens at least 30 minutes before bed, and make sure your room is slightly cool and dark (or use an eye mask). Aim to get 6-8 hours of sleep per night, and the more consistent you can be with your bed and wake time, the better.

Meditation or practice other stress-reducing activities

Stress plays a significant role in our overall health, and so you will want to work on making sure you are managing your stress overall. Meditation and journaling can be useful for this! Or whatever you find is stress-relieving— maybe it’s talking to friends, going for a run, or spending time outside. However, stress-reduction looks like to you, make sure it’s working its way into your routine.

Keep up your exercise routine

Light exercise has been indicated in boosting your immune system and overall health. Add yoga, pilates, or maybe running to your routine this fall and winter! Exercise helps curb inflammation and reduces stress, both triggers for potential disease.

Support your immune system with herbal allies 

As an herbalist-in-training, I am a big fan of plant medicine, and there are lots of herbs and herbal medicines that can support your immune system. I like to make a batch of elderberry syrup (or you can buy it at your health food store). Elderberries are known to prevent upper respiratory infections and shorten the length of your cold or flu! Another useful, easy to DIY medicine is garlic, honey. It’s as simple as chopping up some garlic and letting it infuse in raw honey (local is best!) for a few days to a few weeks. Here’s a recipe. Garlic is highly anti-bacterial and anti-microbial, as well as is an expectorant, and is a superstar for your health and immune system— just make sure it’s raw. A small spoonful of garlic honey can do wonders for your health and immune system to keep a cold away, and you can increase the dosage if you have an active infection you are looking to fight. Adding raw garlic to salad dressings or anything you’re eating during the winter will be supportive of your health! There are tons of other herbs that are helpful during cold and flu season such as echinacea— I found this list to be particularly helpful, check out the herb section of your local health food store, or consult a local herb shop for further recommendations.

Of course, consult with your doctor or herbalist to determine if these remedies are right for you!