There’s no definitive reason people sniffle more during winter months. Some experts speculate it’s because we’re spending more time indoors, where we miss out on vitamin D, making us more susceptible to disease. Others say the body uses more energy to stay warm—energy it could otherwise put toward fending off infection. What experts do know, however, is you can maintain immunity naturally with diet, lifestyle, and a proper supplement routine. Consider these tips to stave off and shorten the duration of illness.
Christopher Johnson, ND Thrive Naturopathic, Alexandria, Virginia
- Incorporate immunity-boosting foods. Foods like ginger and garlic contain antioxidants such as vitamin C and selenium, and 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 mg 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 1 to 2 teaspoons of the extract twice daily for prevention; increase your dose to four times per day if you start feeling sick.
- Prioritize exercise and rest. 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 per week strengthens immunity. Also, getting adequate rest helps your 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 Lam, Licensed Acupuncturist, Mandala Integrative Medicine Clinic, Boulder, Colorado
- Practice deep-breathing exercises. Doing yoga or tai chi several times per week can deepen the breath, allowing organs to function more efficiently and boosting immunity. During your practice, concentrate on <i>pranayama,<i> a focused and controlled type of yogic breathing: Slowly inhale and exhale through your nostrils, expanding your belly rather than your chest.
- Add herbs. Incorporate the root herb astragalus in your supplement routine, especially if you’re an older adult. 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. Your body naturally drives you to eat heartier foods like sweet potatoes, beets, and winter squashes in the 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.
Barbara Bapst, RD, Owner, Carolina Nutrition & Wellness, Charlotte, North Carolina
- Balance your 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 ten servings of alkalizing foods per day to optimize your body’s immune response and overall function. Spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower are great choices, along with almonds, olive oil, and grapes. Drink plenty of water and green tea to keep acid in check.
- Up antioxidants. Antioxidants help your 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 your morning smoothie. To supplement your diet, you can take 400 to 600 mg of curcumin—the active ingredient in turmeric, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory spice—with each meal.
- Focus on kids’ immunity. Although it’s tricky to get children to eat the recommended three to five servings of immune-supporting fruits and vegetables per day, encouraging kids to sit down at the table for every meal can help. Get them excited about eating healthy foods by involving them in dinner preparation or helping them plant herbs on the windowsill. Incorporate pumpkin and carrot purées into sauces or stews to increase their nutritional power.