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The cold season is coming, and if you want to prevent the kind of cold that stays ad eternam, you better get prepared for it. Learn how to strengthen your immune system naturally for winter (and if you read this in 2020, for COVID-19)!
You know that winter is coming when you wake up every morning with a soar throat. If you’re one of those people or those for who winter means a runny nose, this blog post is for you.
Immune system: what it is for
The immune system is a herd of cells that put themselves together to detect and fight pathogens (viruses, bacteria, parasites).
When the immune system is weak, it struggles to recognize these pathogens and demolish them. Therefore, the body isn’t protected and is more prone to get infected.
How to recognize a weakened immune system
A weakened immune system can show in many different ways. Your defenses could be lacking strength if you:
- have repetitive infections (UTI and vaginitis count too)
- take time to heal injuries (cuts, burns, scrapes)
- easily get sick or have colds
- are always fatigued
This can happen at any time of the year, but the immune defenses especially tend to weaken during the cold season.
Why immune defenses weaken in winter
The main reason why we tend to get sick in the winter is because of vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D helps synthesize the cells responsible for fighting the pathogens wanting to harm us.
The body produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Since days get shorter in winter, we have less access to the sun and makes it common to have a deficiency.
Besides vitamin D, a study (1) found that the immune system could actually slow down as it is exposed to lower temperatures.
How to strengthen your immune system naturally
If you’re here, it’s probably because you want to prevent getting sick this winter, just like every. single. year. So, what’s the plan?
To make it very simple (and complicated at the same time), everything stands in your lifestyle.
1. Up your vitamins and minerals!
Probably the most neglected point of them all; your diet. If you’ve been here before, you already know that I consider food as medicine since it has such a huge impact on how you feel physically and mentally.
And for good reason, because each vitamin and mineral has a specific role in the body. So make sure you focus on unprocessed foods that are rich in nutrients – and skip the fast food as much as you can (sorry not sorry).
Let’s be clear on one thing; every single vitamin and mineral is essential and contributes to a healthy body. However, some of them have specific antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
Vitamin A stimulates antibodies production, which are aimed to recognize and neutralize pathogens. It, therefore, plays an important role in enhancing and developing the immune system (2).
Vitamin A is found in green and orange veggies such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and leafy greens.
You might want to try this rich in vitamin A recipes:
Besides being a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps prevent and treat infections, notably by enhancing the capacity of immune cells (3). It is important to get if from your diet since the body can’t make it on its own.
Vitamin C is found in kiwis, bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, and cruciferous
You might want to try this rich in vitamin C recipes:
As said before, vitamin D is essential for a strong immune system. Mostly produced when the body is exposed to the sun, vitamin D can also be found in certain foods.
Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, eggs and avocados
You might want to try these rich in vitamin E recipes:
Another vitamin that acts as an antioxidant is vitamin E. Its ability to protect the body from infectious diseases was also proven in a study made in 2018 (4).
Vitamin E is found in wheat germs, hazelnuts, almonds, olive oil, sunflower seeds.
You might want to try these rich in vitamin E recipes:
Zinc is the mineral that contributes the most to the immune system since it helps developing immune cells and possess anti-inflammatory properties.
Zinc is found in meat, shellfish, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), seeds, and nuts.
You might want to try these rich in zinc recipes:
Another mineral that plays an important role in the immune system is selenium. It has been subject to several studies and might be particularly efficient to hamper the development of HIV (8), which is an infectious disease as well.
Selenium can be found in brazil nuts, fish, ham, mushrooms, and whole wheat grains.
You might want to try these rich in selenium recipes:
I get my supplements and superfoods on iHerb.com since there’s a lot of variety for cheap prices. You can get 5% off of your orders by using the code CBY2374 at checkout!
2. Move your body baby
No, physical activity is not only good to improve your aesthetic, but your health too! Several studies found that exercise contributes to strengthening the immune system.
In fact, moving your body improves blood circulation which encourages white cells to pass through tissues. This, my friend, motivates cells to go chase those viruses.
However, it is still important to keep a good balance since overtraining could lead to the opposite effect. Too much exercise = too much stress in the body = immune system weakening.
According to a study (9), the optimal time would be from 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity training. Walking, pilates or dancing would work perfectly!
3. Getting enough sleep
Sleep is another factor that contributes to your health and wellness since the body regenerates while sleeping.
It is when in the arms of Morpheous that your body produces many sells which mandate is to destroy pathogens and reduce inflammation caused by infections. (10)
If you don’t sleep well or enough, your body will struggle to protect itself from external attacks. You will therefore be more prone to get sick and recover from a cold.
So avoid screens before going to bed and get your 8 hours of sleep per night, your body will thank you!
4. Reduce stress
We already know that stress is not a good idea for mental nor physical health. Now, we also are aware that stress can be detrimental to our immune system.
When stress becomes chronic, it slows down the immune mechanisms, making cells dividing themselves more slowly. Fewer cells means fewer chances to fight against pathogens and more risk to get ill. (11)
Stress doesn’t only come from a single event such as an exam or a job interview. It can also be physical and emotional, so there are different ways to treat it according to its source.
I go through the different types of stress and how to treat them in this article.
5. Get help from plants
Finally, the immune system can be strengthened with the help of plants.
Echinacea is actually the first plant recommended to strengthen the immune defenses. It could be especially effective for preventing and treating respiratory infections such as the common cold (13).
Astragalus is a medicinal plant that has been used for years in Chinese medicine. It might help to strengthen defenses by producing antibodies.
Mainly known for its vitamin C content, acerola is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial. It might help prevent and fight infections by eliminating toxins and free radicals. It is either available in capsules or in powder, which is perfect to add to smoothies!
You get it, it is completely doable to to strengthen your immune system naturally! Our immune defenses strength depends on many factors, and we always go back to the same thing. Taking care of your diet, mental health, and physical health is paramount to be healthy.
There is not a single point mentioned that is more important than the other. What does matter is to introduce a bit of everything into your lifestyle and find your own balance to be happy and healthy all-year-round!
What are your tips on staying healthy on winter? Let me know in the comments below!