Winter is always the season when we feel like we need to support our immune system against seasonal infections. This year we feel this more than ever! Together with a group of wellness experts, we’ve created a set of Top Tips for boosting your immune system this Winter.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You MUST consult a doctor or health-care professional before consuming ANY supplements, herbs or oils. Each person has individual health issues or conditions specific to their own individual body – what may be health-boosting to someone, maybe dangerous to another.
We have divided our tips into four sections: Nourish, Water, Rest & Relax and Move because, at the most fundamental level, this is how we all support and boost our immune systems. But please read on to take a deeper dive into how you can feel the best you can this Winter.
Written by: Elena Cimelli, Nat Leeman, Harriet MacMasters-Green, MaryAnne Shiozawa, Katharine Smith, Daniela Turley
1. Eat Your Antioxidants
Katharine Smith, a Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach, tells us: antioxidants help to support your body's natural defence against unwanted infections. And she says the best way to get these antioxidants into your body is to make sure your diet includes the foods that contain them. Aim to eat around 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and if you aren’t managing that, then look at taking (preferably whole-food based, rather than synthetic) supplements – ensuring you consult your health-care professional first. Top on your list are:
supports the liver and found in orange, yellow and dark green leafy vegetables – apricots, carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash, broccoli or kale – 5000ius as part of a complex or fish oil supplement.
found in a variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables including citrus fruits and berries as well as broccoli, cauliflower and peppers. Your first port of call should always be through your diet – supplements shouldn’t take the place of healthy eating; they should supplement it. However, to give your immune system a really powerful boost, you can take extra doses of liposomal Vitamin C – 2000mg per day
is also an antioxidant so add nuts, seeds and dark leafy green vegetables to your diet.
A bonus antioxidant is Garlic, which has anti-oxidant properties and has been found to be both anti-bacterial and anti-viral. Crush the garlic and leaving it 10 minutes before eating to allow the important Allicin to be activated. Note that heating garlic will reduce its super powers so use raw where possible or try adding at the end of cooking rather than the beginning.
2. Other Fantastic Immunity Boosting Nutrients:
is a really important for your immune system, so much so that the UK government advises that we all take a supplement of vitamin D3 in winter - the sun in the UK isn’t strong enough to activate its natural production in our skin. Recommended daily doses of Vitamin: 4000ius for adults and 1000ius for children.
supports reducing inflammation in the body. Including oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines or salmon in your diet will support the production of these wonderful compounds. For Vegan or Vegetarian diets, flax or pumpkin seeds, hemp and dark green leafy vegetables contain alpha-linolenic acid, which can be converted - though higher levels would be needed (5000mg).
if deficient can cause immune dysfunction so well worthwhile keeping your levels topped up. Good sources include Brazil nuts and seafood – 200mcg per day.
is needed for the normal development and function of immune cells and actually inhibits the common cold replication (when tested in a petri dish). You can find good levels in pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, egg yolks, grass-fed beef, seafood and whole grains – 20mg per day.
3. Traditional Herbs
NYC and London based Medical Herbalist Daniela Turley has anecdotally seen those paying special attention to their immune system and supporting immune health with the proper balance of immune supporting herbs, sleep and overall healthy lifestyle are seeing more mild symptoms if they are impacted by Winter viruses. (Contact Daniela for medical advice before taking any medicinal herbs.)
Herbs that have traditionally been used for immune support include:
Licorice a commonly used botanical medicine has multiple mechanisms of action, including inhibition of viral replication and inhibition of pro-inflammatory cytokines, prostaglandins, and nitric oxide. Licorice is known to have a steroid like action.
This is a traditional Chinese herb and is widely used by Medical herbalists including Turley and functional medicine doctors. It has been used to support the immune system in China. Astragalus extract could move the immune system into a less inflammatory state.
Echinacea has been shown to increase white blood cell count in animal studies, important in our immune system. Echinacea has also been traditionally used to boost the immune system and encourage blood oxygen.
Isatis, common name Woad, is a herb traditionally used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where it is widely used as an antiviral herb for support treatment in early viral infection. In China, it has been shown to have potential antiviral effects against the related coronavirus SARS-cov showing SARS-cov protease inhibitor properties. Furthermore, studies show Isatis to have antiviral effects against Influenza virus.
Beta glucans or medicinal mushrooms
β-Glucans are plant chemicals found in mushrooms and other foods such as oats. They have been long known to have a positive effect on the immune system. Studies conducted with shiitake extracts in vitro and in animal models reveal immunostimulatory, increasing innate immunity and antiviral effects.
Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in high amounts in nettle leaf, red onion and apples. It is known for its anti-inflammatory effect.
4. Essential Oils: Diffused, Topically or Internally
Nat Leeman, who has a doTERRA Essential Oils business, has been using essential oils with her family and with her customers to support their well-being and lifestyle. Here she talks about her first experience of using On Guard:
“I used this when I felt like I was getting a sore throat and amazingly within a minute my sore throat left. It came back an hour or so later and I used it again and again it disappeared. This happened a few more times before bedtime where I took a few drops in a small glass of water and the next morning I had no sore throat, no sniffles, runny noses or coughs - nothing. On Guard quickly became my best friend during the winter.”
DoTERRA’s On Guard essential oil blend contains Wild Orange Peel, Clove Bud, Cinnamon Leaf, Cinnamon Bark, Eucalyptus Leaf, and Rosemary Leaf/Flower essential oils, known for their positive effects on the immune system when ingested. It can also be used on surfaces throughout the home as a non-toxic cleaner. When diffused, it helps purify the air, and can be very energizing and uplifting.
Diffusion: Use three to four drops in the diffuser of your choice.
Internal use: Dilute one drop in 4 fl. oz. of liquid.
Topical use: Apply one to two drops to desired area. Dilute with doTERRA Fractionated Coconut Oil to minimize any skin sensitivity.
5. Love Your Gut
70% of the immune system is in the gut so taking a probiotic to boost levels of beneficial bacteria will improve the gut environment, its function and your ability to absorb the nutrients in your foods. If you haven’t already give live yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi or sauerkraut a try.
6. Keep hydrated
Dry mucus membranes allow bacteria to form more of their biofilms, which can lead to us getting unwell, so keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
The NHS recommends 8 glasses a day (about 2 litres), however, the general recommendation from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) a day for women and 5.5 cups (3.7 liters) a day for men. So use the 8 glasses as a minimum and any more is great.
If you’re not a fan of plain water, you can add a drop of lemon, wild orange or peppermint essential oils to add flavor (without the added sugar). Aim to cut down on / out alcohol and caffeinated drinks, as these will reduce your hydration. Being properly hydrated helps with sleep – and sleep allows the body time to heal and repair itself.
7. Cold Showers
The Wim Hof Method has gained in awareness and popularity over the past few years. One of the key components to it is cold therapy, and one of the most accessible forms of this is taking cold showers.
Scientific studies have found that taking a cold shower increases the amount of white blood cells in your body, which protect your body against diseases. Researchers believe that this process is related to an increased metabolic rate, which stimulates the immune response.
However, it is not easy to step straight into a cold shower! I have been working on this over the past year and I’ve found the best method for me is to start with my hot shower first, where I wash myself. Then, when I first started, I would turn the dial to half-way between warm and cold and try that for 30 seconds or so, then work my way up to 1-2 minutes. Now, most days I can go straight to the cold temperature, though sometimes I start with a half-way blast just to ease me in. I would gradually work your way to colder and colder temperatures as your body adjusts.
REST & RELAX
When you sleep or relax this is the time your body heals. We need the body to be in the nervous system’s rest and repair mode for healing to take place for your immune system to work at its best, so incorporate some down time during the day, try to avoid or reduce stress levels and get a good night’s sleep!
9. Practice Gratitude
For Dr MaryAnne Shiozawa one key element to building a strong immune system is to practice gratitude. This phrase can seem totally unachievable, especially when you’re tired and exhausted, but you have the power to shift one thought at a time. Take small steps in celebrating one thing. Just one thing. There will be one thing that felt good today.
Maybe you did your hair and it looks great? Maybe you made your bed, and it created thoughts about how nice your room feels? Maybe you prepared and cooked a delicious meal for your family and they loved it? These are the simple things in life that you can actively be grateful for.
Those thoughts and emotions can activate different parts of your brain, which will then release hormones in your whole body that supports your health - Oxytocin, Endorphins and Serotonin.
Breath-work (known in yoga as pranayama) provides a myriad of benefits to the body. There are many types of practices but essentially, intentional breathing gives our blood a real boost of oxygen and helps to generate circulation and strengthen our immune systems, Harriet MacMasters-Green tells us. We can practice breath awareness seated, lying down and also through conscious breathing during yoga practice.
Every day, 2-3 times a day, stop and take a few active conscious breaths in your nose, and out your mouth.
One breath work example is called Coherent Breathing, (inhaling for 6 seconds and exhaling for 6 seconds) It can be helpful to place one hand on the heart and one on the belly to really ‘feel’ into the connection to your breath. Even 60 seconds will provide your parasympathetic nervous system with much needed release.
An alternative to Coherent Breathing is to place both hands one on top of the other and place them first on your chest. Focus ALL your attention on your hands and your breath, the movement, and the energy as you breathe in the nose and out your mouth. Repeat two or three times. Next move your hands to your diaphragm (the point where your bottom ribs meet), and repeat – remember to focus your attention on where your hands are. Finally move your hands to your belly button, and repeat.
This activates your 'rest-and-digest' nervous system (parasympathetic nervous system) in an instant, which will help you sleep better, digest better, and heal better. Do this every day.
11. Blue-Light Blocking Glasses
Blue-light blocking glasses are great to ease the strain of the eyes. The light coming from devices and computers all day mean brain connections have to process much more for the eyes to function. This can lead to lower energy, anxiety, and other health issues such as poor sleep. For kids in particular, their brains are still rapidly developing, and it is not normal or natural to spend hours and hours on digital devices.
Pela Vision sell biodegradable blue-light blocking glasses in adult (and teenage) size https://pelavision.com, providing you an eco-friendly option. For kids, I haven’t found a biodegradable brand yet, but a couple to look at are:
BluBlox.com, but they are an Australian company and the delivery costs are high due to import fees
You can find some from Amazon as well
12. Move Your Body
The more you move your spine, the healthier your brain and overall health will be. There are many studies that show evidence that regular exercise throughout life greatly reduces the risk of chronic diseases and mental illness such as Alzheimer's in the elderly.
If you have access to one, bounce on a trampoline, or a trampoline-rebounder (the smaller ones you can have inside). Rebounding motions stimulate the lymphatic system, which helps flush out toxins and fight infections in the body.
Many, if not all, yoga poses are beneficial to your immune system by improving the circulation to and from our organs, removing blockages and build ups and allowing toxins to pass through and out your body.
Move your spine, cat-cow movements on your hands and knees, or simple side bends. Do stretches.
Walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes five times a week has been shown in many studies to have a beneficial effect on the immune system. One study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less[i]. This is because walking increases the amount of white blood cells (which fight infections) circulating around your body[ii].
14. Standing Desks
With so much time in front of our computers for work, and school, and socialising too, lifting up the computer screen means your neck and eyes are neutral and not looking down. Poor posture can lead to damage to your spine, reduced lung capacity and digestive problems, all of which suppress rather than boost of body’s immune response.
There are also additional benefits, such as lowering your blood sugar levels, lowering your risk of heart disease and reducing back pain. But as with the cold showers, it can feel better to ease into it, by getting an adjustable desk, which can be standing or sitting.
If you still prefer sitting down, then make sure your screen is inline with your eye sight, so your neck and eyes are looking forward and not down.
And that’s a wrap!
I hope you’ve found our 14 top tips on boosting your immune system interesting and helpful. And I hope that you and your family are able to feel as healthy and energised as is possible this Winter.
If the detail is all too much at the moment, just remember our four pillars: Nourish, Water, Rest & Relax and Move.
And if you’d like further information on anything we’ve mentioned, please head to the webpages of this blog’s contributors, or feel free to contact me and I can put you in touch.
As always, any questions, please just shout.
With love from our family to yours,
Stay safe and keep well,
The Contented Company is a Twickenham-based mum-run family business, offering a wide range of eco-friendly and zero-waste products, helping support your family get closer to plastic-free and zero-waste living, in addition to a focus on Intentional Nutrition through diet. Elena co-authored The Contented Calf Cookbook for Breastfeeding Mums, and went solo to write The Contented Kid Cookbook of Treats & Eats. Her focus is on health: of ourselves, of our family and of the planet.
Nat runs a Health & Wellness Business, as a DoTERRA Essential Oils Consultant. Essential oils offer a variety of benefits. The diversity of essential oils makes them a helpful way to maintain health, even for those who have specific health concerns, seek diverse health benefits, or experience sensitivity. Using essential oils for health benefits has become popular because it allows the user to tailor the experience to their specific wants and needs, rather than settling for a generic solution.
Harriet is a trained actress and dancer, and began practicing yoga in her late teens. Since then, her faded mat has never been far from her side. Harriet truly believes that inviting yoga into her life has proved both a soothing and sensory companion and a sacred space in which to nourish her soul.
“I passionately believe that Yoga is for ‘Every Body’ and that everybody deserves the opportunity to have Yoga in their lives. You don’t need to practice for hours each day, but allow yourself a few minutes of quiet mindfulness within that precious time. This will help support your parasympathetic nervous system which will almost certainly lower the over stimulated mind and body. To move mindfully or sit for a few minutes to calm any feelings of anxiety and exhaustion is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. No one deserves this time more than you.”
Dr MaryAnne Shiozawa
“I have been practicing as a Doctor of Chiropractic (mostly in America), for over 23 years, with a special interest in pediatric and pregnancy care. I help families live healthier lives by serving them with the best of my abilities through family chiropractic care.”
Dr MaryAnne is an active member of the United Chiropractic Association (UCA), the International Chiropractic Association (ICA), and the International Chiropractic Paediatric Association (ICPA). She is also Webster Technique Certified by the ICPA.
Katharine is a Nutrition and lifestyle Coach, who works with women who are fed up of being pulled in different directions, may be feeling overwhelmed but want to feel amazing. She helps women who are already carrying the world on their shoulders learn how to prioritise themselves again (without having everything around them fall apart)! Katharine is a member accreditation with the UK Health Coach Association (UKHCA) which ensures its members are up to date with the latest research and have the best standard of practice in my clinic.
“Good health is a precious commodity, I have made it my mission to help as many as possible get back to good health and stay there.”
Daniela Turley BSc. (Hons.) MCPP, AHG has been treating people using Herbal Medicine and nutritional medicine for 20 years in North America and Europe.
Daniela has lectured on Herbal Medicine in multiple countries and currently lectures at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London. She is a member of The American Herbalists Guild, and The College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy.
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The Benefits of Walking for the Immune System
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7 benefits of walking and how it can improve your health
8 Ways Poor Posture Damages Your Health