5 tips for supporting the immune system through cold & flu season
DISCLAIMER: I'm not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one on the internet. This post, and anything else you find here is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to treat or diagnose any condition. If you'd like to view my full disclosure & disclaimer, you can click here.
With the change of seasons comes runny noses, chicken soup and lots of bugs going around. Are you ready for it?
Since Fall is now upon us (and considering influenza A sent our Nate into a flurry of FOUR seizures in a 12-hour span this past year), I thought I would share a few of the strategies we are implementing in our home to help support and strengthen our immune systems.
1. Vitamin D - Get tested!
Have you ever heard of “The sunshine vitamin?” Our skin typically produces vitamin D from exposure to the sun, but here in the colder climates of Canada we tend to not get enough as the seasons change. So why is vitamin D so important? And if it is, how can we ensure we know how much to get?
My best advice here is to get tested! Yep, it’s typically not covered by health insurance, and it will probably cost you around $35-$40 or so to have this checked (with a simple blood test), but this information is worth every penny! First of all: If you don’t know what your blood level of vitamin D is, how can you be sure you need to supplement at all, let alone how much to take?
Vitamin D is super important for supporting the immune system and a balanced mood (ever wonder why seasonal depression happens? I’d like to think a deficiency in vitamin D can be a contributing factor!). It’s also supportive of bone health and overall illness prevention, not to mention it’s crucial role in reducing risk for autoimmunity and many other chronic conditions.
It’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone, and while it is definitely possible to supplement, it is also easy to OVER or UNDER supplement (which can be dangerous!). This is why understanding where your levels are is such crucial information. Test, don’t guess, my friends! And if you need help in determining exactly how much to supplement when you receive those test results, reach out to a practitioner who can help you in creating a program that will best suit your individual needs.
As for interpreting lab results, I would also recommend discussing this with a functional medicine practitioner if you can. They will look for OPTIMAL ranges of Vitamin D levels vs. NORMAL ranges. And yep, those are two very different numbers! Just ask yourself, “Would i rather have normal health or optimal health?” If you’re the latter, shoot me a message and I can share the name of a few practitioners that I know who work virtually and understand how to interpret these types of labs.
2. Eat more ORANGE foods!
Does Fall bring you cozy memories of butternut squash soup bubbling away in the crock pot, or oven-roasted sweet potatoes and pumpkin spice everything? How about a chicken noodle soup with fresh carrots pulled from the garden, or a homemade immune-boosting turmeric elixir?
Foods with these beautiful golden-orange colours are rich in carotenoids and other compounds which are not only super important for eye, bone and heart health, but they also can help to protect the cells from damage caused by free radicals while enhancing immune system function. They’re anti-inflammatory in nature, and they’re often also rich in Vitamin C which is essential to a healthy and strong immune system.
(And of course, just like fruits and veggies of all different colours; they contribute different types of fibers which are the best kind of food for the beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. These bacteria make up a large, key piece of the immune system, so while orange foods are awesome as a focus for healthy immunity, be sure to still keep things as diverse as possible.)
Especially this time of year, enjoy citrus, pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato, butternut and acorn squash, bell peppers, turmeric and cantaloupe to give your immune system a little extra love.
3. Move every day
Did you know that movement can actually help to detoxify the body? It gets your lymph fluid moving, it gets your blood pumping, and it can even help to boost serotonin (your “happy hormone!”) by up to 100% in just 30 minutes (which is also super important this time of year as SAD - seasonal affective disorder - is so common!) And yes - Many toxins can actually be eliminated from the body via sweat! Pretty amazing, right?
But here’s the biggest key takeaway I’d like to share about movement that specifically pertains to immunity:
Lymph is a colorless liquid in the human body that contains white blood cells. It drains into our bloodstream through a complex network of vessels that make up our lymphatic system. This system plays a huge role in removing toxins and waste from the body, but there’s one major problem: Unlike the heart, our lymphatic system didn’t come equipped with a pump. This means it’s up to us to get it moving each day! But have no fear - All you need are two feet and a heartbeat! Yep, a 20-30 minute vigorous walk per day (or perhaps a shovelling session when the snow starts flying!) will provide plenty of circulation to help get that lymph fluid moving.
One easy way to get 30 minutes of movement in without doing anything excessively strenuous is to set your alarm a few minutes early (if your life situation permits it), then set your timer for 15 minutes. Lace up your sneakers and start walking. When your alarm goes off at the 15 minute mark, start heading home and voila! When you arrive at your doorstep, you'll have finished 30 minutes of movement before your day has even begun. It might not sound so fun to have to set your alarm 30 minutes early, but your lymphatic and immune systems will totally thank you for it!
(And here’s a little side note: Another great tool that I love for stimulating the lymphatic system is a quality dry skin brush. There are some fabulous tutorials online on how to use them, and the benefits go beyond just stimulating the lymphatic system. They even slough off dead skin cells, which can help to detoxify the body even more while serving up that extra little bit of glowy-ness with regular, consistent use. I love mine and use it before I hop in the shower every second day!)
4. Let there be sleep by understanding LIGHT.
Oh goodness - I could write an entire book about the importance of sleep alone! If there was a pill that could do all of the things that sleep do for us, we would ALL want it - And yet it’s such a simple thing to do that so many of us push aside. In our busy, chaotic everyday lives, it’s so easy to consider those last hours of the day as our “ME time” where the kids are in bed, the to-do list is away, and we can finally put our feet up to binge-watch a few episodes of Chef’s Table. OR if you’re more of a type-A personality, you may find yourself getting caught up in your work in the evenings. “Burning the midnight oil,” or pulling an all-nighter to get things done. Yep, that used to be me! I would put the baby to sleep and stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning so that I could feel extra accomplished the next day. But my friends - LET ME TELL YOU that I learned my lesson on sleep the hard way.
Your to-do list can wait, but your health cannot.
It’s important to understand that we are beings of light. And generally speaking, our bodies run on a 24-hour cycle with the sun. It’s pretty amazing if you think about it.
Now you may have heard of something called your “circadian rhythm,” and this is your body’s natural 24-hour internal clock. It is the thing that regulates the times when you feel awake and when you feel sleepy. But your circadian rhythm is SO much more important than that. It coordinates the release of certain hormones, which are these little chemical messengers that play a massive role in regulating our mood, energy, skin health, digestive function, sex drive, fertility, and even our ability to maintain a healthy weight.
No biggie, right?
It is essential to understand and respect the nature of your body’s circadian rhythm, a big part of which responds directly to light.
In this day and age, we illuminate our environments artificially SO much in the evenings. We’re on our cellphones before bed, we’re watching TV, working late into the night, or perhaps scrolling Instagram RIGHT before we close our eyes! This particular type of light (called blue light) is especially concerning because it sends a signal directly to the place in the brain that regulates our circadian rhythm, making our BIOLOGY believe it is daytime. Blue light is so stimulatory that when we expose ourselves to it in the massive amounts that we do, our body may be tired, but our brain believes that it’s morning!
ANY artificial light in the evenings can impact your biology, and I think the biggest point I am trying to make here is that we don’t even truly realize just how much blue light we are truly exposed to - ESPECIALLY in the evenings. The average person touches their phone more than 2,600 times per day! It seems like such a passive, harmless act to check our phones, or watch a bit of TV before we go to sleep, but it’s important to understand that while you may not be AWARE of it, those signals are still being received by your body.
So why does a little artificial light, or the odd evening of burning the midnight oil matter so much?
When we sleep, our bodies are doing the biggest amount of healing and regenerating. Our liver, which is our prime detoxification organ and has over 560 functions in how our body runs, is doing the majority of healing and regenerating, and our immune system also recovers from illness or injury the most overnight.
So as you can see, the importance of sleep goes FAR beyond how well rested you feel the next day. It helps us fight disease and illness, it can decrease the risk of heart attack, it can help our body to eliminate waste products (even from our brains!), it can help us manage chronic pain, and it can even help us to survive cancer. And lastly, sleep is a time when our brains consolidate and store memories, meaning it’s actually the time of day when we are learning and building creativity. How amazing is that?
If you truly want optimal health and you buy organic and you work out and you do ALL OF THE THINGS but you ignore both light and sleep hygiene, my friends - You’ll be negating everything.
So what can be done?
For starters, choose a bedtime and a wake time that works for you, and stick with it - Even on the weekend! For myself, I try to be in bed by 10 and up by 6, and I ensure that if at all possible, stimulating lights are off by 8 or 830pm. Am I perfect at this? Not always, but setting that framework in my mind has certainly helped me to be far more consistent.
If you absolutely must be on your phone or computer before bed, try using an app that reduces the levels of blue light emitted from these devices. I use a free one called Flux on my laptop, and my android cellphone has a built-in “night light” feature. Apple products should have something similar pre-installed as well.
I also wear a pair of blue light blocking glasses that I ordered on Amazon for about $24. You can find many different brands of blue blockers that range in price from about $20-$500, but I personally use this super affordable brand. Note that while these glasses may be helpful to an extent, our skin also has receptors that blue light can have an effect on. This means that the best way to reduce exposure is to simply shut off your device.
In the mornings, it can even be helpful to expose yourself to a little natural light in your first hour after waking. Get yourself up and out on the deck to enjoy this Fall weather with a hot cup of tea, or get those windows open so the sunlight can peek in and hit your skin! This can help the body’s internal clock to begin re-gaining balance.
How crazy cool is the human body, amiright?
5. Deep Immune
A few years ago, I had a stealth infection in my gut that became life-threatening. Before the root cause of my condition was discovered and upon the advice of my Naturopath, I starting taking a tincture called “Deep Immune” by St. Francis Herb Farm. A few months later, I learned that this supplement alone played a massive role in my body’s ability to adapt to the crazy stress of not one, but TWO parasite infections.
In the words of my practitioner: “This stuff has been saving you. You know that, right?”
Needless to say, that was the beginning of my love affair with Deep Immune, and all things SFHF.
Deep Immune is a supplement that comes in both capsule and tincture form, and they even offer a kids version which only has a few key chosen herbs. We as a family will be implementing the use of these blends as a preventative measure to ensure our immune systems are rockin’ all winter long!
Almost all of the herbs in Deep Immune are adaptogens, which means they help the body to adapt to stress. In other words, they don’t necessarily stimulate the immune system, but rather they act to bring things back into balance. Whether the immune system is over-active or under-active, adaptogens can potentially support the body in making it’s way back to “normal.” I LOVE adaptogens as a natural alternative for both prevention and recovery in so many situations. They’re certainly a key player in my own holistic medicine cabinet!
I specifically love Deep Immune’s blend of herbs from a prevention standpoint, meaning I won’t only be using it IF and WHEN a bug comes our way. I use a bit of the children’s tincture in Nate’s smoothies, and I add some into a glass of water for myself and Ryan.
(And while I am not sponsored or affiliated in any way to share this company with you, I did receive some free Deep Immune from St. Francis Herb Farm which I plan to give away on both my Facebook and Instagram over the coming weeks for you guys. Keep an eye out for these giveaways happening soon! )
So there you have it! 5 simple strategies that anyone can consider implementing to start loving on their immune system NOW. I would love to hear your biggest tips on how to support the immune system! What are your go-tos? Let me know in the comment below!
In health (and with minimal sniffles!),