It’s that that time of year when the body kicks its natural cleansing process into overdrive. If you’re like many folks, your body has built up a few extra toxins from the Holiday season. Too much sugar, refined carbs and poor fat sources congest the body leaving our cleansing systems backed-up. When your elimination systems aren’t working optimally, your immune system becomes compromised leaving your body open to colds, flus and other infections.
There are several things you can do right now to keep the “bug” at bay.
Increase your vegetable intake, especially antioxidant rich foods such dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots and winter squash. Dark leafy greens are full of nutrients that support a healthy body and mind. They are also hydrating and full of fiber which supports regular bowel movements. Both dark leafy greens and orange colored veggies like sweet potatoes and winter squash are full of pro-vitamin A/beta-carotene which is a crucial nutrient for the immune system. Vegetables should be the foundation of any diet as they are the most nutrient rich foods out there and won’t congest the body. If you’re not a fan of eating vegetables, consider juicing them, blending them into a smoothie or pureeing them into a soup.
Hydrate with bone broth and fresh vegetable juices. Hydration is key to keeping nutrients moving into your cells and wastes moving out of them. Water also helps to support elimination. Finally, your body has numerous mucus membranes which protect the body including those in the lungs, nasal passages, eyes and digestive tract. To keep the mucus from becoming too thin or too thick and sticky, the body requires adequate hydration. If your mucus membranes aren’t functioning well, you’re leaving yourself open to pathogens.
Eat your sea vegetables. Sea veggies are full of important minerals and omega-3 fatty acids that are crucial co-factors for many processes that the body must accomplish each daily to stay healthy. In particular, sea veggies are full of calcium, iron and iodine which nourishes the thyroid. The thyroid keeps the timing of all of the body’s processes on point. If the body is running too slow, one can become constipated, stagnant and eventually sick. If the body runs too quickly, it can wear out important tissues and organs. Last but not least, sea vegetables help to detoxify and transform toxins in the body so they can be excreted harmlessly.
Dump the sugar. Sugar and other refined carbohydrates are one of the most congesting and acidifying foods for the body. Holistic health practitioners agree that disease does not survive in an alkaline environment. Sea veggies, dark leafy greens, bone broths and other mineral rich foods help to keep the blood’s pH slightly alkaline. Instead of refined carbs, consume complex carbohydrates found in whole grains and vegetables.
Relax and take time to play. One of the biggest toxins attacking our immune systems is in our heads – STRESS. Believe it or not, stress is more toxic than a Big Mac (sorry to pick on you, Big Mac). So, it doesn’t matter how healthy your are if you’re a stress bucket most of the time! Your body is designed to respond to short-term stressors. It doesn’t know the difference between a bear and your boss (although for some of us, our bosses look more like bears every day). As a result, your body produces stress hormones which in time, take their toll and compromise the immune system. The only prescription for this condition is relaxation and play. Relax or play each day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. When you relax, you’re telling your body that the emergency is over so it can go back to doing what it does best – taking care of all your body’s systems, not just the ones involved in an emergency situation.
Pick the thing on this list that resonates with you the most first. Then add one new tip each week over the next month or so. If you can commit to it, I guarantee this works better than any flu shot!
Winter is here and “germs” are everywhere. Guess what? They always have been. Unfortunately, germs are blamed as the cause of sickness when a weak immune system is the real culprit. Why are our immune systems weak? A variety of factors contribute to this weakness including stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, overuse of alcohol or medications and dehydration.
So what can you do to support your immune system this winter? I suggest adding alkaline, nutrient-dense foods in your diet such as chlorophyll-rich greens like kale, parsley and cabbage, anti-microbial veggies such as garlic, high-mineral sea veggies and other seasonal goodies. In addition, fats such coconut oil (high in lauric acid), butter from pastured cows (high in vitamin A, E, selenium and conjugated linoleic acid) and cod liver oil (high in vitamins A and D) are great immune system builders. Flax oil, fish oils and wild-caught, cold water fish such as salmon and sardines contain omega-3 essential fatty acids which reduce inflammation in the body. Also, be sure to incorporate lacto-fermented foods and/or a good probiotic which build healthy intestinal flora and support immune system health. Lacto-fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, kefir and yogurt, to name a few.
In addition to fat, make sure you are getting enough good quality protein in your diet. This can be from sprouted or soaked legumes, pastured meats or wild-caught fish. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and support the growth, repair and maintenance of every system in the body. Without it, your body doesn’t have the building blocks it needs to support your immune system. Be sure to balance your animal and vegetarian sources of protein. Everyone is different. Some people need more animal protein sources and less vegetarian protein, while others benefit from more vegetarian protein sources. Start with a 50/50 ratio and experiment! You may find that you need more protein or a particular type of protein during certain seasons or when you engage in more activities.
Remember that poor diets can lead to leaky gut syndrome, compromised digestion, nutritional deficiencies and Candida overgrowth (yeast). The health of the gut is very important to the health of your immune system. If you experience allergies, skin conditions, gas or bloating, for example, you may need to look a closer look at your diet, stress levels and digestive system health. If you’re feeling rundown, it’s really important to cut back on sugar, refined carbs, alcohol and commercial dairy. The sugars in these products feed the opportunistic bacteria and yeast. In addition, water supports the mucosal lining of the gut where the friendly microbes live, so make sure you are hydrating well in the colder months.
Regular, appropriate exercise and sunlight (rich in immune-system boosting vitamin D) have been found to support a healthy immune system. Be careful with working out too much however, because for some it can weaken the immune system further. Some people benefit more from intense workouts, while others benefit more from more calming workout such as walking or yoga (although yoga can be quite intense as well). The important thing is to move your body regularly and listen to it.
In addition to eating well and exercising, getting plenty of sleep and relaxation will protect you from most viruses and other infections. Make sure you have time to decompress everyday. It can be staring into space, closing your eyes to meditate or visualizing something soothing or joyful. In my opinion, this is the most effective way to stay healthy, even if you consume a lot of junk. Guess what? People who eat well but don’t rest get sick. Create a self-nourishment or play menu and pick something from it each and every day. It can be as simple as giving someone a hug, smiling more, going for a long walk or enjoying a cup of tea or glass of wine with a loved one.
So instead of worrying about the flu vaccine and stocking up on hand-sanitizer, put your time and and energy into eating well, relaxing, playing and loving yourself and others a little more. As they say, laughter truly is the best medicine.