Are you ready to be healthy this winter? Sore throats, nasal congestion, and coughs have already been a big concern for both children and adults this year.

Drier air from the cold weather and more time indoors are two potential factors that may contribute to the increased spread of germs, leading to more colds during the winter months. Additional considerations such as increased stress levels, as well as poor eating and lifestyle habits, can dampen our immune response and increase our chances of illness.

It’s important to know there are effective strategies to fight colds and stay healthy this season.

Follow a balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids

The importance of following a balanced diet can never be stressed enough. This includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and good-quality proteins such as lean meats, fish, nuts, and seeds. It is best to avoid foods such as sugar, saturated and trans fats, and packaged and processed foods, which can negatively impact the immune system. Don’t forget to each plenty of specific foods that have antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties, such as garlic, ginger, oats, and mushrooms.

Staying well-hydrated helps flush out any germs and keep your body systems working in tip-top shape. Drink water, diluted fruit juices, broths, and herbal teas to stay hydrated and reduce nasal and chest congestion. If possible, avoid beverages that may be dehydrating such as coffee and alcohol.

Get lots of rest

It’s important to get at least 7−8 hours of sleep each night. Research has shown that sleep has a strong influence on the immune function.[1]  In a study of 164 healthy adults aged 18−55 years, participants getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night were at an increased risk of developing a cold compared to those getting seven hours or more of sleep.[2] High stress levels can negatively impact sleep, while stress hormones can directly inhibit the immune system and increase your exposure to illness.

Try incorporating stress-reducing activities such as an exercise program, meditation, journaling, deep breathing, or any activity that you enjoy to help reduce stress and promote sleep.

Boost immunity

Mushrooms, especially Japanese mushrooms such as shiitake, are great immunity boosters. Shiitake mushrooms can support a healthy immune system, improve the immunity of the gut, and decrease inflammation in the body. [3] These mushrooms also have antimicrobial properties that can benefit a weakened immune system.[4]

Garlic is another potent immune booster. [5] It has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, and immune-boosting properties that help kill germs that may cause the common cold.[6]

Keep your adrenals in check

A healthy immune system is directly related to healthy adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands produce hormones that can impact your immune system, specifically cortisol. It is important to maintain balanced cortisol levels, not too high or too low, to support a healthy immune system.

To support your adrenal glands, eat a balanced diet to maintain a healthy body and keep blood sugar levels in check. Choose lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Follow the new Canada’s Food Guide to take a step in the right direction by balancing your plate and increasing your vegetable intake. Incorporating foods that are rich in vitamin C, B vitamins, and magnesium will also help support healthy adrenal glands.

To balance your hormones, a great food rich in healthy fats is avocados. Avocados contain essential amino acids, antioxidants, and some healthy fats to help balance hormone production. To attend to your adrenals, try eating 1 serving (½ cup) of this fruit per day.

Avoid sugar

When you eat sugar, it can negatively affect the functioning of your body’s immune cells. Sugar can dampen your body’s immune cell response to bacteria, and this effect can last several hours after consumption.

Researchers in the 1970s came to this conclusion after observing subjects’ blood before and after consuming a large dose of sugar. They placed the blood in a petri dish and then inoculated it with bacteria. Upon microscopic inspection, researchers found that following a large dose of sugar, white blood cells called neutrophils were much less effective at destroying the bacteria.

If your sweet tooth is yearning for a treat, fruits such as kiwi, apples, and oranges are great options. They also contain high levels of vitamin C, which further supports your immune system.[7]

Clear your lungs with ginger

According to Ayurvedic medicine, ginger warms the body and helps break down the accumulation of toxins in the organs, particularly in the lungs and sinuses. Ginger also helps cleanse the lymphatic system. It has traditionally been used to suppress coughs and to relieve bronchitis and the common cold.

Exercise and stress relief

Exercise:
Regular, moderate exercise, such as a daily 30-minute walk, can benefit your immune system’s ability to fight infection. Physical activity is believed to support a healthy immune system in a few possible ways. It may help clear bacteria from the lungs and airways; increase the circulation of white blood cells in the body; inhibit bacterial growth due to an increase in body temperature; or slow the release of stress hormones in the body.

Exercise is beneficial, but do not overdo it. If you currently exercise regularly, continue to do so. If you are new to regular exercise or do not exercise at all, it is not ideal to begin during times of weakened immunity.

Stress:
Stress is a normal part of daily life. However, when your body’s stress response is constant, the fight-or-flight reaction goes into overdrive, causing an increased exposure of cortisol and other stress hormones on the body. Immune cells lose the ability to respond normally, causing an increase in inflammation in the body. Chronic stress can lead to an increased susceptibility to illnesses related to a weakened immune system.

Some ways to reduce stress levels include meditation, deep breathing, and light exercise such as walking or yoga.

Nutrients to the rescue!

A variety of key natural health products support the immune system and help to fight infections. Learn more about these products to determine if they are suitable for you.

Vitamin C and zinc
Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration of common cold symptoms, [8] while zinc is essential for the cells of the immune system. These nutrients support immunity through antimicrobial and natural killer cell activities and lymphocyte production. A large number of randomized controlled intervention trials have shown that adequate intake of vitamin C and zinc improve symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections, including the common cold.[9]The recommended amount of vitamin C for preventing the common cold is 600−1000 mg daily, whereas 1000−3000 mg daily is required for the treatment of the common cold. Adequate levels of zinc range from 15−25 mg daily.

Vitamin D
It is believed that the increased incidence of the common cold and pneumonia during winter is partly due to decreased exposure to sunlight, which can lead to lower levels of Vitamin D. [10] Increasing evidence indicates that Vitamin D3 provides protective effects during an infection. Vitamin D3 has been shown to stimulate the immune system and disease-fighting cells, such as macrophages and T cells.[11] How much vitamin D do you need to take? The Vitamin D Council suggests that a blood level of 50 ng/ml is the ideal level to aim for. Speak to your health care practitioner about testing your vitamin D levels to find out if you are in need of this important nutrient.

Probiotics
Although probiotics provide numerous health benefits, they can also play an important role in stimulating various aspects of the immune system.[12] In addition, probiotics reduce the side effects associated with antibiotics, such as diarrhea. [13]

For general good health, most experts recommend 6−10 billion colony forming units (cfu) each day. For specific but minor health problems, a dose of around 20−30 billion cfu daily is often suggested.

Echinacea
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) is a great immune-supportive herb that can help your body fight off colds. Plant compounds in echinacea have been shown to stimulate immune function, helping the body fight off infections, especially of the upper respiratory tract, as well as helping reduce cold symptoms.

Oregano Oil
Considered an important remedy in any medicine cabinet, oregano oil has potent antimicrobial actions due to the presence of the compounds carvacrol and thymol, making it effective against bacteria and viruses.

At the first sign of a viral infection, take 3−6 drops in juice and continue at a maximum of 3 drops per hour for a maximum of 10 hours. Gargling before swallowing will also help with sore throats!

Now are you ready to be healthy this winter? Balanced eating, stress management, and proper nutrient intake are key factors to maintaining a healthy immune system. Take the time to find out what you need to do to effectively fight the cold season.

References:

    [1] Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J. Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Archiv. 2012; 463(1):121-137.

    [2] Prather, AA, Janicki-Deverts D, Hall MH, et al. Behaviorally assessed sleep and susceptibility to the common cold. Sleep. 2015; 38(9):1353-1359.

    [3]Dai X, Stanilka JM, Rowe CA, et al. Consuming Lentinula edodes (shiitake) Mushrooms daily improves human immunity: a randomized dietary intervention in healthy young adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015; 34(6):478-487.

    [4] Ciric L, Tymon A, Zaura E, et al. In vitro assessment of shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) extract for its antigingivitis activity. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2011; 2011:507908.

    [5] Arreola R, Quintero-Fabián S, López-Roa RI, et al. Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. J Immunol Res. 2015; 2015:401630.

    [6] Jonkers D, van den Broek E, van Dooren I, et al. Antibacterial effect of garlic and omeprazole on Helicobacter pylori. J Antimicrob Chemother. 1999; 43(6):837-839.

    [7] Sanchez A, Reeser JL, Lau HS, et al. Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. Am J Clin Nutr. 1973; 26(11):1180-1184.

    [8] Shaik-Dasthagirisaheb YB, Varvara G, Murmura G, et al. Role of vitamins D, E and C in immunity and inflammation. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2013; 27(2):291-295.

    [9] Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nutr Metab. 2006; 50(2):85-94.

    [10] Borella E, Nesher G, Israeli E, et al. Vitamin D: a new anti-infective agent? Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2014; 1317:76-83.

    [11] Prietl B, Treiber G, Pieber TR, et al. Vitamin D and immune function. Nutrients. 2013; 5(7):2502-2521.

    [12] Yan F, Polk DB. Probiotics and immune health. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2011; 27(6):496-501.

    [13] Liu L, et al. Systematic review of combined Bacillus subtilis and Enterococcus faecium for prevention and treatment of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Medical Journal of National Defending Forces in Southwest China. 2012; 22(11):1196-1200.