Top 7 Essential Ways To Boost Your Immune System This Autumn
We’ve never lived in a time when building our immunity has been more important. Nor have we ever lived in a time when this topic has ever been more at the center of our awareness. But, with the proper knowledge and wherewithal we can stay calm, grounded, and healthy as we navigate these challenging times together. In order to do so, we should all do what’s best for our bodies and minds as we truly care for our immune defenses. For when our immunity is bulletproof, we can weather any storm.
Here are my top essential steps we should all take to bulletproof our immune systems, while staying positive and inspired as the season changes.
Eat a nutrient-dense diet
The first thing I want us all to do is to throw out all the packaged, processed foods in the house. These foods take up space and do more harm than good. We want to replace these fake foods—and yes, they are fake—with foods that come straight from the source of Mother Nature. This simply means, we’re focusing on eating a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet, rather than a man-made, processed and refined one, which has very little nutrient load.
Cut out the fake foods
It’s amazing how many of us subsist on fake foods like cookies, crackers, white breads, cakes, pastas, refined oils, candy, chips, and the like. Consuming these foods does nothing to build our immune defenses, and actually does detriment because we fill up on these foods rather than the ones that actually bring us life energy. They also dampen our immune system for hours after we consume these nutrient-deficient foods. And if you’re really going to be uber-healthy, you may even want to cut back on caffeine and alcohol. I drink both in moderation, myself. But, if you’ve been overdoing it with these dehydrating drinks, you may want to reconsider and substitute with herbal and green teas, and sparkling waters.
Buy nutrient-rich food from your local farmers
In addition to eating a whole foods diet, you’ll want to eat a seasonal one. Shop at your local Farmer’s Market to ensure you’re getting the absolute healthiest food on the planet. If it costs a little more, no biggy. I find that shopping at my local Farmer’s Market is cheaper than going to Whole Foods, and makes me feel so much better by supporting my local farmers rather than a huge corporation. Knowing where your food comes from not only puts your mind at ease. It also puts your body at ease.
We’re so lucky to have such healthy and delicious food available to us. So many people in poverty get sick and are more prone to infections simply because they don’t have access to nutrient-rich foods. Nutrient deficiency is a major problem across the globe, and if you’re reading this article you likely have access to the best foods possible. So, take good advantage of that to boost your immune system this autumn and winter.
Focus on eating plenty of vegetables. I like to go to my favorite farmer, give her $10 or $20, and just tell her to fill up my bag with whatever produce she has on hand, or wants to get rid of. Foods like carrots, kale, sweet potatoes, and red bell peppers naturally contain lots of vitamin C, which is the most important vitamin for our immune system.
Eat good sources of protein
High-quality sources of protein are essential for proper immune function. As with nutrient deficiency, protein deficiency can greatly increase your risk of getting sick (and even dying in severe cases) from infection. And while most North Americans eat enough protein, many vegans, vegetarians, and elderly people don’t.
You may want to freeze pasture-raised meats purchased from your local farmer, and enjoy them throughout the fall and winter. Grass-fed meats are full of omega-3 fatty acids, as are fatty fish, all of which you’ll want to eat as healthy sources of animal proteins to keep immunity strong. Stock your pantry with legumes. I’ve got plenty of canned black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, and chickpeas stashed away for the winter. I also have dried lentils and cans of sardines on the shelves.
My go-to sources of healthy proteins are:
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Wild-caught salmon
- Grass-fed beef
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Non-GMO soy based tofu and tempeh
- High-quality poultry
- Canned sardines in olive oil
Cook with ginger, garlic, onions, and drink plenty of fluids
I love to make immune-boosting soups and stews in the fall and winter. My soup base always consists of olive oil, onions, garlic, turmeric, and sometimes ginger—all of which are potent immune boosters. You may also want to serve each meal with a starter of bone broth. Bone broth is full of nutrients to keep you thriving as the colder months set in.
In fact, all warm fluids need to be consumed more to protect immune function. Make sure you sip on plenty of filtered water, and soothing herbal teas such as green tea, turmeric tea, ginger tea, and garlic-honey-lemon tea. So many herbal teas exist, so find your favorite and enjoy it as a healthy and comforting beverage that will no doubt heighten your immune defenses.
You’ll also want to pay attention to sugary drinks, and leave them out as often as possible. I’ll often find myself sipping too many pumpkin spice lattes at my local coffee shop. While these drinks are comforting and bring me much pleasure, many are laden with sugar, and I need to be aware of this, and not get too carried away.
Boost your immune system with a few supplements
The best immune boosting supplements are the ones that provide your body with that extra punch of vitamins and minerals that you might not be getting from food sources. Think vitamin C, vitamin D, a multivitamin, a probiotic, a fish oil supplement, and zinc. Food sources are always best, so eat vitamin C-rich foods, fermented foods (if you don’t want to take a probiotic), and fatty fish if you don’t want to take fish oil.
You’ll still want to supplement with vitamin D3, as sunlight (and fish oil) are the only natural sources of it, and sunlight is undeniably rare during North American winters. As for zinc, the best food sources are: pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, sesame seeds, oysters, beef, pork, lamb, shellfish, chickpeas, lentils, and legumes, cashews, pine nuts, milk, cheese, bone broth, eggs, and whole grains like quinoa, oatmeal, and rice. And lucky for us chocolate lovers, high-quality dark chocolate can be eaten in moderation as a good source of zinc.
If you do choose to a take supplement, here’s the recommended daily amount for each:
- Vitamin C - 500-1,000 mg per day (I like to add a powdered version to water or even a smoothie)
- Vitamin D - 1,000 (for children) - 5,000 mg per day (in the winter)
- Multivitamin - look for one that contains the active forms of B vitamins
- Zinc citrate - 30 mg each day
- Probiotics - take one that contains anywhere from 5 - 10 billion organisms per pill
- Fish oil - Cod liver oil is a good choice, as are other high-quality fish oils. They’re great for the winter because they actually feed the body with vitamins A and D—potent immune builders.
Take herbs and drink herbal teas with antiviral properties
Nature is full of immune-boosting plant medicines. Having studied naturopathic medicine extensively, I’m a firm believer in these all-natural remedies. Some of these herbs you can eat whole, while others you’ll want to take in tea or supplement form. Here are my favorite herbs that will support your body’s immune defenses against viral infections:
Turmeric is my favorite spice for its vast array of health benefits. If, for some reason, I had access to just one supplement, this would be the one. Not only is it a powerful anti-inflammatory, it also has potent antiviral activity. It’s the curcumin compound found in turmeric that gives the body all this healthy goodness. Studies like this one, published in 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, explain how curcumin protects the body from all kinds of viral pathogens.
Note: It’s best not to take a turmeric supplement if you’re taking pharmaceutical blood thinning meds.
Oregano is one of the edible antivirals you can add to your favorite dishes. And if you don’t cook with it, there’s oregano oil you can supplement with. Many studies have shown how oregano oil protects against various viruses. This study, published in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology, explains how Mexican oregano essential oil helps ward off various animal and human viruses. Take an oregano oil capsule if you choose to supplement.
Sage, like oregano, can be enjoyed in its raw form. You can even fry up sage leaves into sage chips, and enjoy them as an appetizer. Sage has been used throughout the ages to help treat viral infections. This study, published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, explores sage and its many medicinal properties.
Lemon balm is a nice antiviral herb to drink as a tea. The next time you go to your local health food store, look for lemon balm tea. If they don’t carry it and you want to support your local store, ask them to order it for you. Otherwise, opt for online.
I love rosemary and often forage around my neighborhood for a rosemary plant, then pull off the leaves and make a tea from them. This herb grows well, so I never feel bad plucking off some for myself when I see it. The oleanolic acids found in the rosemary plant and its essential oil is what gives it its potent antiviral properties.
Fennel is another great herb with which to cook. It’s long been used in Mediterranean dishes and acts as both an antiviral and anti inflammatory. While done on animals, this study, published in the Korean Journal of Physiological Pharmacology, found fennel to be particularly beneficial in helping to fight against viral infections.
Did you know that good ol’ fresh basil has antiviral activity? I sure didn’t until I did a bit of research to write this article. I happen to love basil, and make caprese salads all summer long. Basil is a popular plant-based remedy. Holy basil (tulsi) in particular, is believed to fight against infection. You can buy holy basil tea at your local health food store. It’s tasty and perfect for sipping throughout the day. And if you’re looking for a bit of science, a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggests tulsi plays a significant role in increasing immunity.
Ginger root consists of high concentrations of plant compounds known to protect the immune system. Ginger boasts great antiviral activity, and can be consumed in a variety of ways. You can cook with ginger root, make ginger teas, purchase already made ginger teas, or take it as a supplement.
We’ve talked about cooking with garlic, but what about taking a garlic supplement? If you don’t like eating this potent antiviral food, you should consider taking a garlic capsule. This is one of the cheapest ways to boost your immune system and protect yourself from viral infections. And if you’re interested in the science behind garlic as an antiviral natural remedy, check out this study, published in the Journal of Immunology Research.
Native Americans have long used Echinacea as an herbal remedy. Its flowers, roots, and leaves contain many health benefits. A study published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology took a look at Echinacea in terms of its ability to fight infectious diseases. The findings were positive, and echinacea has been shown to stimulate a variety of immune functions needed to fight infection.
If you pick and choose from this list of healthy habits, or best of all, take all of them into consideration, you’re bound to stay much healthier this season than most people. All you need is the know-how, and you can be your own doctor. After all, nobody knows your body better than you do!
Stay healthy and be well!