“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Benjamin Franklin
With winter and cold weather comes less sun and more sniffles . . . It’s a fact. However, you don’t need to stock up on Kleenex and sick time. We can break the sniffle cycle by keeping our immune systems in a prime supported state. Our health experts have pulled together their favorites when it comes to staying well and strong all winter long, as well as simple prompts on what to do once you start feeling “under the weather”.
Tip 1: Make friends with Zinc.
First, it’s always a great idea, especially during winter months, to keep your internal zinc “reservoir” at an optimal level. Nutritional/dietary zinc is a mineral that is excellent to keep in mind each winter for many reasons.
- Zinc is involved in virtually every biological aspect of immune system function 1,2.
- Zinc deficiency can suppress immune function and as such prevent the growth of white blood cells & lymphocyte production, otherwise known as T cells 3. These miracle cells in your body help to fend off many different types of physiological imbalances.
Clearly, Zinc is exceptionally important to our bodies. However, many of us may not receive enough zinc in our diet, especially vegetarians and vegans. The most concentrated sources of dietary zinc are seafood, specifically shellfish such as oysters and crab, red meat, dark meat poultry, cheese. For those who want to go vegetarian or vegan; legumes, whole grains, and nuts (cashews & almonds), seeds (pumpkin & hemp) as well as quality dark chocolate are fantastic sources. Because many individuals’ diets may lack enough zinc, it can be quite helpful to take a good zinc supplement five days a week. We use and are big fans of Zinc Picolinate.
Tip 2: Unwind & rest up. Literally.
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do to support a healthy immune system. With all the benefits and research supporting the necessity of a good night's rest, there are no excuses any more to justify running on fumes. We recommend cutting out electronics (computers and phones stimulate brain activity) an hour before bedtime. You’ll sleep better with less waking throughout the night and wake refreshed with clearer cognitive function. The amount of sleep a person needs varies depending on their sex, age, etc. - so if you are wondering what your ideal amount of sleep is, ask your doctor or qualified health care provider.
We’re skipping exercise, because it’s winter and who really wants to do that? Totally joking! It’s a great practice (even if it’s indoors) to get in a 20-30 minute workout daily at least 5 days a week. Exercise increases your body’s production of endorphins which increase feelings of energized wellbeing. You’ll feel less anxious, sleep better, have fewer cravings, more energy, and all of that goes to help keep your immune system in prime shape.
Tip 3: Your diet is just as important as getting enough sleep, exercise, and supplements.
We are what we eat right? (Actually we are what we absorb but you get our drift) This has been a popular phrase for a long time and for good reason. Contemporary modernized humans have altered their diets in the last 7 generations than in the previous 25K years. What we consume has a major impact on how we feel during the day, how we sleep, how our immune system functions, and even our long-term health. So how can food impact your immune system specifically?
Well, certain foods like sugar & highly processed foods are noted to challenge our bodies with decreased immune response and this will in turn weaken our longer term immunity. Here are some easy tips on using food to better support immune function:
- Avoid sugar & processed foods – save them for rare occasions.
- Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy protein sources.
- Cook with spices:
- Italian spices – Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, Marjoram and Sage to name a few.
- Indian spices – Turmeric, Ginger, Black Pepper, Cumin, Fennel & Coriander.
- Thai spices – Lemongrass, Holy Basil, various types of Curry, Cinnamon & Clove
- Pungent spices – Garlic, Onions, Scallions and Hot Peppers
- Eat fresh garlic several times a week. Yes, fresh raw garlic! Top it on apple slices because the apples can help to block and mask the dreaded garlic breath.
- Drink plenty of fresh pure water and hot tea, especially green tea. Green tea is antioxidant-rich and contains a compound known (EGCG) that research has shown to protect healthy cells. Green Tea | NCCIH (nih.gov)
Additional tips to keep your system functioning high:
- Wash your hands like a practicing surgeon. Children learn to recite the alphabet song when washing their hands to make sure they wash for at least 30 seconds. If you’re a fast washer, take that out for a spin!
- “Laughter is the best medicine in the world” – Milton Berle
Smile and laugh – it stimulates aspects of immunity 4. Laughing specifically increases your intake of oxygen and releases endorphins. Laughing also can decrease your blood pressure immediately after and both smiling and laughing trigger the release of neuropeptides, which reduce stress. If you’re going through a particularly stressful time, make time for yourself to just breathe deep and laugh. Make a gratitude list daily and take a few minutes to watch a few more funny TikTok videos to support the process.
- Hydrate – hydrate and hydrate some more!! Our bodies need water. Our organs need water. Water is also a key component of your lymphatic system, so it is quite literally needed to help flush toxins and waste out of the system. Try taking your body weight, split it in half and drink that number in ounces and see how it works for you. If you need a super awesome water bottle to carry around all day, we have the PERFECT solution !
- Delete the word stress from your vocabulary. We know that’s hard, but by eliminating your largest stressors (or at least mitigating them), your body will thank you.
- Finally, use a Neti Pot regularly (We’re going to talk about this one a bit later.)
Rebounding from being “under the weather”
The phrase “under the weather” is an old maritime expression used by sailors. Shipmates who were not feeling well were sent below deck to rest in order to stay . . . “under the weather” above deck. If the winter blues have you “under the weather”, its okay, here are some tips also to help buoy basic immunity when you need to go below deck.
Tip 1: Reach for a Neti Pot.
We all know how important it is to wash our hands in order to prevent the spread of these pathogenic critters, but did you know it's just as important to wash your nose? You read that correctly!
Wash your sinuses using a Neti Pot or other suitable nasal irrigation device. Nasal irrigation has been used for thousands of years to remove bacteria from sinus passages. Our sinuses are biologically designed to filter pathogenic material out of the air we breathe. The nasal passages are one of our body’s first defenses against airborne pathogens. So cleaning your nasal passages daily is a great way to ensure that your sinuses remain uncongested and clear from airborne pollutants, pollens and immune challenging pathogens we may come into contact with.
Neti Pots typically come with saline packets when purchased. You can also purchase additional packets separately or use pharmaceutical-grade salt (99.99% pure sodium chloride) but do not use typical table or sea salt. Also make sure the water being used is purified, using either distilled or boiled water that has been cooled. Never fill your Neti Pot with water straight from the tap unless you know it has been properly and completely purified.
By using a Neti Pot, you can remove excess mucus and also soothe dry and irritated nasal passages. Daily Neti Pot use is also great as a preventative measure as well, so make it a habit, just like brushing your teeth.
Tip 2: Hydrate more!
When you’re feeling rundown, everything you do to bolster your immunity becomes even more important. For instance, increasing your intake of water/liquids is very important to healing quickly. Drink/eat lots of thin soup with spices, pulling from the list above. Not only will soups be extra hydrating, but many spices can help with congestion and other symptoms based on the properties of the ingredients.
Drinking teas are another great way to hydrate while consuming ingredients that can help you mend faster. For instance, tea with fresh lemon, honey, and ginger (fresh preferred) is an amazing tasting blend that can provide real support for your system. Licorice tea is another fantastic tea to keep handy. Licorice has way WAY too many virtues to list in this post but here is a link to the American Botanical Council’s website that goes into details regarding this herbs benefits: Licorice root - American Botanical Council (herbalgram.org)
Tip 3: Eat lightly & smartly.
When you’re not feeling great, it’s best to hydrate more, eat less and rest. Focus on eating lightly and not too late at night. Consuming food late can have a negative impact your sleep, which in turn can keep your immune system off balance. Eating healthy foods that are rich in Vitamin C and zinc is a great idea - such as leafy greens and broccoli (which both have zinc) and citrus fruits for added Vitamin C. If you don’t have an appetite, drinking orange or grapefruit juice will also help and of course fresh is better.
This is a go-to immune supporting tea we are incredibly fond of that can keep you warm in the cold and throw a log on the immune systems fire. It’s as wonderful for a cold winter’s day as it is for your defenses.
Bold Brew Tea
- 1 Lemon (cut into 4 pieces or slices with juice from the Lemon added)
- 2 teaspoons of freshly peeled & grated Ginger
- 2 ½ cups of boiling water
- 1-2 teaspoons of fresh honey (or to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon Cinnamon (optional)
- pinch of ground Black Pepper (optional)
Add Lemon slices/juice, fresh Ginger, and Cinnamon and Black Pepper (optional), to your boiling water. We like to simply drop the ingredients into our kettle after the water boils, or you can split the water between mugs along with the ingredients.
Let the Lemon, Ginger, and Cinnamon and Black Pepper steep for at least five minutes. We recommend closer to 10. After, use a strainer to pour the liquid into your mugs. Then add honey to taste and sip as it cools.
(*) - This blog is intended for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
1 Wessels I, Fischer HJ, Rink L. Dietary and Physiological Effects of Zinc on the Immune System. Annu Rev Nutr. 2021 Oct 11;41:133-175. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-122019-120635. Epub 2021 Jul 13. PMID: 34255547.
2 Wessels I, Maywald M, Rink L. Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 25;9(12):1286. doi: 10.3390/nu9121286. PMID: 29186856; PMCID: PMC5748737.
3 Hojyo S, Fukada T. Roles of Zinc Signaling in the Immune System. J Immunol Res. 2016;2016:6762343. doi: 10.1155/2016/6762343. Epub 2016 Oct 31. PMID: 27872866; PMCID: PMC5107842.
4 Bennett MP, Zeller JM, Rosenberg L, McCann J. The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Mar-Apr;9(2):38-45. PMID: 12652882.