It’s that time of year (not THAT time of year, that phrase just cued up Christmas music in my head . . . not complaining though), where the warm weather is fading and the cooler, crisper air winds through the streets.
And with the change of seasons, the drop in temperature and the brace for the long winter months ahead -- People. Get. Sick. And that’s never fun.
Fortunately though, you’re reading this right now! “How to prevent getting sick” is a common Google search phrase, and for good reason. Being sick isn’t fun. You feel like garbage, your productivity goes way down, and if you’re like me, you become just a wee bit short tempered. Or a lot. A lot short tempered. Okay fine, I’m a friggin terror when I get sick.
The immune system is an incredible system we all have, and when working optimally, we never really feel what it’s doing. It’s a complex system of organs, cells and certain proteins designed to protect the body from pathogens (virus, bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc.) that can bring the body down.
You want your immune system to function optimally and not veer too far from ideal. When you have an under-active immune system, you’re more susceptible to the bad guys. But on the other side of the coin, when you’re immune system is on overdrive, you run the risk of autoimmune diseases, where the immune system has lost the ability to discern between “self” and “non-self”. Unfortunately, autoimmune diseases are on the rise (another article dedicated to autoimmunity is coming down the pipeline).
So we want to do everything we can to support our immune system, giving it the best tools to do its job. And when we do feel that itchy throat, or lingering feeling that something is on its way, we want to be armed with the knowledge, vitamins and supplements to give it that extra helping hand.
7 Health Hacks to Support and Boost the Immune System
1) Cut the sugar
Nutrition and the immune system are intrinsically linked. Feed your body the right stuff, it’s supported. Feed it the wrong stuff (processed sugar being a huge culprit), and you create a constant uphill battle. Sugar actually depresses your immune system and curbs your immune-system cells for hours after consumption (1), and when your body’s being attacked by invaders, this is the last thing you want. If you need a sugar fix, replace those syrups, sodas and sweets with natural sugars found in berries and other fruits. The extra burst of vitamin C (along with other minerals like Zinc) in these foods will go a long way to supporting your system.
2) Bone broth
Chicken soup has a long history of helping the common cold, and for good reason. Bone broth (made with chicken or beef) is incredibly mineral-rich, providing building blocks for your immune cells, as well as containing a ton of collagen, which helps support the gut-health and reduce inflammation. This aspect holistically and synergistically supports the immune system - when there is further inflammation (in addition to the inflammatory response from the pathogen), your body has to work that much harder.
3) Take your Friggin’ Vitamin D
This is something you should be taking every single day, as this is one of the top vitamins that can help protect against numerous conditions, including ones beyond the common cold (chronic diseases, for example). It is one of THE best vitamins for immune system health, and you should be taking it. Did I hammer the point home enough? If you’re deficient in this crucial vitamin, which serves as more of a hormone for the body, you are more susceptible to infection, something that research has proven time and time again. (2)
A safe dose is around 2000-3000 iu per day (do the liquid drops as they’re easier to take), but I encourage you to get your levels tested by your doctor or health practitioner to determine the best dose for you! When you’re sick, taking a higher dose of Vitamin D is sometimes a great way to boost the system (again, check your levels first).
Zinc helps in a myriad of ways during an infection, supporting the immune system but also keeping it in check, making sure it doesn’t wind out of control. Zinc actually helps “control infections by gently tapping the brakes on the immune response in a way that prevents out-of-control inflammation that can be damaging and even deadly.” (3).
Take 25-50 mg Zinc Citrate, and if you have a sore throat, consider sucking a zinc lozenge with around 20 mg Zinc Acetate every couple of hours.
5) Oregano for Respiratory Infections
This potent antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial herb is one of the top immune system supplements for a lot of people, and for good reason. Particularly great for when you have a respiratory or sinus infection, it packs a potent punch that also carries some antioxidant qualities. You might hear of some people taking drops of the essential oil all winter long to avoid a cold - please don’t do this. It is herbal medicine, and like any medicine, you don’t want to overdo it.
If you are fighting a respiratory or sinus infection, my pick would be Oreganum Plus by St. Francis, which also contains garlic and black seed - giving a two-three punch to that nasty bug. Follow dosing instructions for optimal results.
6) Healing yet Soothing Sore Throat Spray
Sore throats are never fun, and if you’re dealing with one - I feel your pain (as I type this I’m battling one). All of the hacks mentioned up until this point qualify as good recommendations, but for quick relief, a spray is always a nice thing to have on hand. Look for one that has a combination of demulcents, which will help lubricate and soothe (like marshmallow and licorice), as well as immune boosting herbs like Echinacea.
“Stop it Cold” spray contains all of those herbs mentioned, in addition to propolis (sometimes called “bee-glue”, a potent antiseptic wound healer composed of a resinous substance that bees use to seal their hives). Spray 3-4 times, every hour as needed!
7) Vitamin C
Yes, this basic vitamin you’ve been hearing about since you were a kid. This is one of my favorite vitamins, that is always stocked in my cupboard, and which I take every day myself. Beyond the skin/hair/nail boost, Vitamin C is used up rapidly when your body is fighting an infection. Full disclosure, there is conflicting evidence that Vitamin C is effective at shortening the duration of a cold, but my personal opinion is that those studies are using an insufficient dose to provide any real results. The studies that have shown Vitamin C is effective at shortening the duration of colds (like this one) use higher doses, as much as 8g per day (I would split this dose up with breakfast, lunch, and dinner).
Personally, I take 2000 mg, 3x/day when I feel a cold coming, as it does enhance T -Cell proliferation and induce T-Cell function (basically meaning it pumps up your immune-soldier production). Vitamin C is a very safe vitamin, and the only thing that would happen if you took too much would be “the runs”. This is actually used as a ‘test’ in the holistic and functional medicine world to determine your optimal dose of Vitamin C.
Termed a “bowel tolerance test”, you basically work your way up in Vitamin C dosing by 1000mg until you get the runs - and your ideal dose to correct a deficiency is 1000mg less than the dose that caused you to go the bathroom. Please work with a professional if this is something you’re considering.
It’s actually healthy to be sick once in a while. Like everything in life, moderation is key. If you get sick more often than not (more than twice per year), my suggestion would be to do some foundational groundwork to support your immunity (including placing a big emphasis on sleep). On the flip side, if you NEVER get sick, that could be a sign that your immune system is on high alert and “always on” isn’t a great thing either. My suggestion in this case would be to find ways to help calm your system and take time to relax and wind down more often than you are. Balance is key.
And when the cold or bug does come around, use some of these vitamins and herbal remedies as a first line of defence before going to the harder stuff, which tends to just mask symptoms and don’t necessarily help support your body’s wonderous immune-fighting capabilities.
A bone-broth-zinc-filled-side-of-berries TOAST to our marvelous immune system!