Many experts admit there is no definitive reason that people sniffle more during colder months. Some speculate it’s because we’re spending more time indoors and missing out on resupplying vitamin D, which makes us more susceptible to disease. Others say that when the temperature drops, the body uses more energy to stay warm instead of to fend off infection. What health practitioners do know is it’s possible to maintain immunity naturally with diet, lifestyle and a proper whole foods supplement routine. Consider these tips from three experts to stave off illness and shorten its duration.
NATUROPATHIC DOCTOR: Christopher Johnson, Doctor of Naturopathy; Thrive Naturopathic, Arlington, Virginia
Incorporate immunity-boosting foods. Ginger and garlic contain antioxidants such as vitamin C and selenium, and have antimicrobial qualities. Add minced ginger to teas or marinades; roast garlic with carrots and squash. Aim to eat one to two cloves of garlic and 250 milligrams of ginger daily.
Try elderberry extract. Elderberry has strong antiviral properties. Consuming the plant’s extract may prevent virus-based illnesses and alleviate both the symptoms and duration of a cold. Adults can take one to two teaspoons twice daily for prevention; increase dosage to four times a day if feeling sick. Use less for youths, based on size.
Make exercise and rest priorities. Daily physical activity rids the body of toxins, increases blood circulation and lowers stress levels. A simple 30-minute cardio routine three to four times a week strengthens immunity. Adequate rest helps the body recover and regenerate cells. Adults need a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night; children may need up to 13.
ACUPUNCTURIST AND CHINESE HERBALIST: Marco Chung-Shu Lam, Licensed Acupuncturist; Mandala Integrative Medicine Clinic, Boulder, Colorado
Practice deep-breathing exercises. Practicing yoga or t’ai chi several times each week can deepen the breath, allowing organs to function more efficiently and boost immunity. Concentrate on pranayama, a focused and controlled type of yogic breathing: Slowly inhale and exhale through the nostrils, expanding the belly, rather than the chest.
Add herbs. Incorporate the root herb astragalus in a daily whole foods supplement routine, especially important for older adults. Used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine, astragalus supports the immune system by stimulating immune cell activity with its high polysaccharide (complex carbohydrate) content. Simmer the short, flat herb in soups or add to long-cooking grains like brown rice.
Eat seasonally. Our body naturally drives us to eat heartier foods like sweet potatoes, beets and winter squashes in colder months—foods that support immunity by providing both fiber and vitamins A and C. Eat warming foods like stews, beans and miso; avoid raw foods, which cool the body and stress the immune system.
DIETITIAN: Barbara Bapst, Registered Dietitian; Carolina Nutrition & Wellness, Charlotte, North Carolina
Balance bodily pH. The typical American diet of fast food, sugary treats and refined snacks produces acid in the body, creating an environment in which bacteria thrive. Eat at least 10 servings of alkalizing foods each day to optimize the body’s immune response and overall functioning. Spinach, broccoli and cauliflower are excellent choices, along with almonds, olive oil and grapes. Drink plenty of water and green tea to keep acid in check.
Up the antioxidants. Antioxidants help the body resist illness because they protect cells against harmful free radicals and oxidative stress. Berries are particularly beneficial and maintain their nutrients even when frozen; blend half a cup into a morning smoothie. As a diet supplement, consider adding 400 to 600 milligrams of curcumin—the active ingredient in turmeric, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory spice—to meals.
Focus on kids’ immunity. Although it’s tricky to get children to eat enough immune-supporting fruits and vegetables every day, encouraging them to sit down at the table for meals can help. Get kids excited about eating healthy foods by involving them in vegetable gardening, planting herbs in windowsill pots and preparing dinner. Incorporate pumpkin and carrot purées into sauces or stews to increase their nutritional power.
Jenna Blumenfeld is a managing editor with New Hope Natural Media (newwhope.com) in CO.