It's that time of year again. We're running around like crazy, getting ready for the holidays: cooking, cleaning, shopping, attending parties, and then Boom! In the middle of it all, we get sick.
Stress can actually be a helpful survival response, but only for a specific, short-lived situation. Unfortunately, we all tend to live in chronic stress mode. With the holidays upon us, our stress response gets amped up even higher. The result is a depressed immune system so that any handshake, kiss from a friend, or sneeze from the person next to you can be the tipping point for getting sick.
Staying well depends on two key factors:
- keeping your stress level in check
- strengthening your immune system
While I could write for days on each of those, I'm going to tackle the one you can do something about immediately: boosting your immune system.
Did you know that 75% of your immune system is in your gut? That means that taking good care of your digestive system will help you stay well all winter long. To start with, you might want to take stock of the various items that tend to irritate your digestive system and avoid them whenever possible.
- Toxins in our environment
- Food allergies
- Food sensitivities
- Yeast overgrowth (Candida)
- Medications like cortisone and prednisone
- NSAIDs (ibuprofen)
- Poor diet foods (high in sugar and fat and/or processed)
- Excessive alcohol
- Excessive coffee
But what CAN you do to boost the gut's immune capacity? In addition to avoiding irritants, you might want to seek out foods that Boost Your Immune System:
- Your first line of defense is whole foods. Organic, grass-fed meats and poultry, wild-caught fish, fruits, and vegetables. All the reds, yellows, purples, blues, and oranges help protect plants in the environment. Those same colors, called phytonutrients, also help protect us. Fruits and veggies are full of vitamins and minerals and are antioxidants. This means that they protect us from free radicals that cause damage to our bodies and negatively impact our immune system.
- Try whey protein. It protects the immune system and supports the body's detox system. Easy to add to a smoothie.
- Try fermented foods, like Kefir, Kombucha, tempeh, natto, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles and olives. They help to support your gut flora. Be sure that store-bought products do not have vinegar, as they are not truly fermented.
- Organic, free-range eggs (finding a farmer or neighbor with chickens is even better) are high in protein and fat, both of which are good for you (remember: not all fats are bad. Your brain AND your gut need good fats!).
- Grass-fed beef and organ meats are nutrient-dense foods.
- Coconut oil is an anti-viral, anti-microbial, and yummy alternative. Use it to make granola cereal for breakfast with some slivered almonds, and you've got a nutrient-rich sensation!
- Mushrooms are high in protein, fiber, Vitamins, C, B, calcium, and minerals. They are also high in beta-glucans, a strong immune supporter.
- Teas are all the rage and can be very good for you. Green tea is high in polyphenols in the form of catechins, a powerful antioxidant. Tulsi tea, made from the Holy Basil plant, is also an antioxidant, and it improves the immune system and helps manage stress.
- Fresh garlic is anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-fungal wonder-food. It smells great, in the pan, too!
- Taking supplements can also be helpful. Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, and Selenium all support our immune system, and probiotics are great for gut support. While you cannot supplement away a poor diet, when supplements augment healthy food choices, they can do a lot to challenge the ongoing stress cycle we tend to live in.
Spices That Boost Your Immune System
- Black pepper
Take a Holistic Approach
To limit stress and maximize immune strength, take care of your mind, body, and spirit daily. Take responsibility for your health by eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, meditating, or praying daily. Enjoy the winter, embrace the change of seasons … and stay well!
Many resources were used in creating this article, including:
Lipski, L., PhD. (2012). Digestive Wellness, McGraw-Hill;