It’s that time of year – some like to call it Cold and Flu Season, but some of us in the nutrition world call it Sugar and Lack of Sun Season. Recently I wrote all about sugar cravings, but what I failed to mention is that sugar suppresses the immune system. As days get shorter and colder, we get less sunlight… meaning less vitamin D which our immune systems need as well.
So what to do to strengthen our bodies this time of year?
Here are 5 ways to boost your immune system for fall and winter (to see more tips in more detail, check out last year’s immune boosting tips here).
- Eat seasonally. There is a reason that produce like root vegetables and apples are in season during fall and winter. They contain immune-boosting properties and phytonutrients we NEED to get through the changing seasons. Eating root vegetables can keep YOU rooted and grounded throughout a season of so much activity. Warming foods like hearty soups, stews, and bone broth are also great way to strengthen your body and provide a bit of comfort as things cool down. I always aim for at least 5 different veggies a day to maintain gut diversity – so important for immune health!
- Take your vitamins. Elderberry syrup is a daily staple for us, as is extra vitamin D. Some sources say vitamin D supplementation may be more effective than the flu shot! Of course, I always recommend quality probiotics, magnesium, and multivitamin with methylfolate for daily use.
- Move! As temperatures drop, this is the perfect time to take long walks or runs with your family. Exercise has a great impact on our gut health, which is where our immune system comes from, and it raises brain derived neurotrophic factor – much needed to beat the winter blues. Just remember that too long and too intense can stress your body out and have the opposite effect. So find something you love – and do that!
- Take care to manage your stress. Whether it’s writing in a gratitude journal every day before bed, downloading a meditation app to practice deep breathing, or treating yourself to a warm Epsom salt bath, find moments to be still. This takes you out of fight or flight and into rest and digest mode, which will further support your immune system.
- Sleep! I know this should be obvious, but a lack of sleep will negatively impact your immune system. A good night’s sleep will boost protective immune cells. It also impairs the function of your hunger hormones, causing to be more likely to eat more sugar than you normally would, further suppressing your immune system.
And that’s not all!
I recently interviewed our integrative pediatrician, Dr. Alina Olteanu of Whole Child Pediatrics of North Texas, and she shares some fascinating thoughts and tips on children’s health in the 21st century, the mind-body connection, and how to boost our immune systems. Take a listen here or read the transcript here.
Last but not least, please don’t underestimate the importance of positive relationships and a supportive “tribe.” As schedules get busy this fall and winter, be sure to slow down and spend time with people you care about. Eat delicious food around a table, laugh, and relax – there are so many positive health benefits associated with doing these things!