How to Prep your Immune System for Flu Season
With flu season upon us, and the unprecedented pandemic we’ve been experiencing, you’re probably asking yourself, how can I prepare my immune system for the cold season? It’s a great question to ask, for if you can stay well this fall and winter you’ll not have to worry yourself and others, as we live in these precarious times. And lucky for us, there are so many effective ways to really upgrade your immune response, and prep the system as the seasons change. We all want to teach our bodies how to best defend itself against external pathogens like viruses, parasites, and unwanted bacteria.
Here are some of the most wonderful and effective ways to prep your immune system for flu season.
Boost gut health
Did you know that your immune system lives primarily in your gut? It’s true. Your gut health is paramount to overall immune health, because 80% of your immune cells actually reside within your gut. And it’s here, in your gut, where the body decides what to take in and what to push out. Thus, boosting gut health is one of the absolute best ways to boost your immune health. Wondering how to do this? Here’s how:
Eat prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods.
These are the fermented foods you can buy from the grocery store, or even from a local farmer. They’re the most effective foods for building your gut health and the immune cells within it. Think sauerkraut, kim chee, kefir, kombucha, pickles, natto, miso, buttermilk, and tempeh.
Take a high-quality probiotic supplement
You’ll want to take a probiotic that has many strains. Ideally, you’ll find a supplement that contains 30 colonies of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.
Don’t take antibiotics or pharmaceutical meds
Did you know that simply by taking an antibiotic for a week, you’re setting your gut immunity back several months? It’s true. Your gut health takes several steps back when you flood your gut with an antibiotic. Even over-the-counter NSAIDs damage gut health and lower our gut immunity. It’s amazing how little is ever said about this within the conventional medical system. That said, whenever your doctor suggests antibiotic treatment or a pharmaceutical drug, make sure you ask about alternatives, or see a naturopath, or doctor whose beliefs are in line with yours.
Take a few immune boosting supplements
A few supplements are incredibly effective for prepping your immune system for flu season. They are: vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D. These are the supplements I suggest you have on hand in your medicine cabinet at all times. Many of us are deficient in both vitamin D and zinc. Taking one supplement (15-30 mg a day of zinc and 2,000 IU’s daily of vitamin D) each morning with breakfast is a great way to keep healthy levels of these immune boosting nutrients in your system. You don’t have to take the vitamin D during the summer months if you’re getting out in the sun daily. During flu season however, it’s a really good idea to supplement with vitamin D.
As for vitamin C, you’ll want to take anywhere from 1,000-1,500 mg each day. Vitamin C is a potent immune booster, and perhaps the most important supplement for immunity. Vitamin C fights free radicals, and protects your body from various infections. Take a vitamin C powder in your morning glass of water, or take your supplement in the form of a pill with your breakfast each morning.
Bask in the sun
Your body needs sunlight. And as the seasons change, we’re going to get less and less of it in the Northern hemisphere. This means you need to get your vitamin D from natural sunlight whenever the sun creeps out. The vitamin D that comes from the sun is the absolute healthiest source of vitamin D for your body and mind. It helps you fight infections and ward off viruses.
Eat naturally antimicrobial foods
Certain foods naturally have antimicrobial and antiviral properties. You can think of them as superfoods for your immune system, and you’ll want to make sure you’re eating plenty of them during flu season to keep the flu, colds, and viruses at bay. The best antimicrobial foods are:
Any local honey is going to be beneficial when it comes to boosting your immunity during flu season. But, manuka honey is believed to be the absolute best, as this study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests. In fact, many studies worldwide have been published about the vast array of health benefits that come from eating Manuka honey. You can even do more than just ingest it. Applying it topically to wounds can speed up the healing process if you have a bacterial infection. While Manuka honey is expensive, it’s worth it. For nothing’s more important than your health. Nothing.
Oregano oil has been used throughout history as an antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal remedy. Like Manuka honey, you can ingest it, or apply it topically. And like garlic, it’s been used to prevent and fight off yeast infections. Topically, oregano oil has a reputation of healing MRSA, a staph infection that’s resistant to antibiotics.
I’ve always been a big garlic eater. Not sure why, but my body has always craved it. Perhaps it’s because garlic is a true superfood. It has both antiviral and antimicrobial properties that help fight off infections. You can eat raw garlic as a natural preventative, and also as a healing remedy if you do get sick. It’s the allicin in garlic, a potent sulfur compound that makes garlic such an effective healing remedy for anything from yeast infections to more serious conditions like SIBO (small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
One way to eat it raw daily is to make a Greek salad dressing with raw garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper. Another way is to simply take an allicin supplement. If you do opt for the raw garlic, aim to eat one clove each day. You can also make an immune boosting tea with garlic, ginger, lemon juice, and honey. Or simply chop up a clove to have on hand and divide it amongst your meals throughout the day.
Drink green juice
Some mornings, I’ll walk to my local Whole Foods, which is just down the street from my apartment. I’ll typically get a coffee, and sit across the street to people watch. But, whenever I’m feeling a cold coming on, or maybe my immune response is working overtime because of allergies, I’ll treat myself to a green juice—one that contains cucumber, celery, spinach, romaine, kale, lemon, and parsley. This delicious morning drink is the perfect treat to prep the immune system for flu season.
Alleviate stress to the best of your ability
It’s too bad we’re living in such a stressful world these days. There’s so much fear mongering out there, so much strife, and of course, the pandemic, which has gotten most of us more stressed out than ever—on so many levels. Unfortunately, stress is the thing that lowers our immune system the most. When we’re chronically stressed out, the body constantly releases the primary stress hormone (cortisol) into the bloodstream. And cortisol wreaks havoc on our immune response.
This means, we all need to find healthy ways to alleviate stress. I practice 10-15 minutes of meditation in the morning, and when the schedule allows, in the afternoon, too. I also walk and bike everywhere. Living a car-free lifestyle naturally reduces stress levels, and if you can’t get rid of your car, try to use your legs for transportation whenever you can.
Lowering stress levels via meditation is an excellent way to prep your immune system for flu season. Numerous studies show the beneficial effects a regular meditation practice has on the nervous system. This particular study, published in The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine explains just how meditation helps to boost the immune function of your gut. Who would have thought meditation could actually support a healthy gut? It’s amazing how connected the body and mind really are!
Exercise your butt off
We all know that exercise is inherently good for us. It brightens the mood and lightens our days. Exercise helps us maintain a healthy weight and lose weight when needed. It also works our heart muscle to prevent the leading killer today—diseases of the cardiovascular system. Regular exercise also helps prep the immune system for flu season. And we must keep moving even during the winter. This study, published in the journal Physiological Reviews, takes a good look at the positive effects exercise has on the immune system.
Take to the sauna
Sweating, in whatever way you possibly can, does wonders to boost the immune system and detoxify the body. When we increase our body temperature, we make it more difficult for viruses and unhealthy pathogens to live. One effective way to do this is to take to the sauna, and even better, an infrared sauna. Northern Europeans have been using saunas for decades as a form of preventative medicine. Plus, it’s highly relaxing. And anything we can do to de-stress will help prep our immune systems for flu season.
Eat your mushrooms
Mushrooms are a true immune boosting superfood, and they’re even believed to fight cancer. Whether or not that’s the case, they absolutely help prepare your immune system for flu season. And studies like this one, published in the Annals of Translational Medicine explain the many health benefits of shiitake and maitake mushrooms, and their potent ways of enhancing our immune response.
You can take a mushroom supplement, or eat the following mushrooms whole. Add them to salads, make soups of them, saute them in olive oil, etc. Get creative and enjoy these superfoods throughout the fall and winter months.
Reishi mushrooms are great as a natural form of protection from viruses. They’re not edible however, and need to be taken as a supplement.
Shiitake mushrooms are great in a stir fry. They’re the perfect treat for flu season because they boost immunity by strengthening your white blood cells.
Maitake mushrooms are wonderfully tasty, and can be eaten on a bed of rice with a little soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, and sriracha. Experiment with these immune boosting mushrooms during flu season as they have potent antibacterial properties.
Chaga is known as the king of medicinal mushrooms, and it’s become famous in health circles for its anti-cancer properties. Take chaga as a supplement in powder or capsule form.
Rest, recover, and get your zzzz’s
If you’re sleep deprived, you’ll definitely want to pay attention. Your immune system depends upon healthy sleep cycles, and one of the best ways to prep your body for flu season is to simply get deeper and better sleep. One way to do this is to set a sleep schedule and stick to it. The body loves routine, and when it comes to sleep, it’s best to get your routine in sync with Mother Nature’s natural rhythm. This is your circadian rhythm, and it needs to be aligned with the circadian rhythms of nature. This means you go to bed around 10pm and wake up around 6am, and then stick to this schedule, more or less.
When you’re chronically sleep deprived, your T-cells don’t work as well, which decreases your immune defenses. What’s more, lack of sleep over time increases inflammation in the body, which is directly linked to decreased immunity. All that said, make small changes to your sleeping habits, and you’ll see positive results over time. Sometimes, taking to your bed is the best thing you can do to stay well.
May you all stay well this flu season. Take care of yourself and hibernate for the winter!