Winter is upon us, and that means... no, not snow days and hot cocoa... well, that too- but it also means cold and flu season. We all want to stay well, in the winter time- especially when we have kids (and especially when we have kids in school- little unintentional germ factories, they are!). "How do we prevent being sick all winter?!" is a question I get asked EVERY year, and though some of it is unavoidable, there is SO much we can do to put our best foot forward when it comes to winter wellness. So in this month's video, I'm going to talk Winter Wellness 101. First, I'll share a little about what the immune system is, then I'll dig into three facets of winter wellness:
1. Prevention (what you can do to strengthen your immune system)
2. Things you can do if you do get sick, to lessen the severity.
3. Specific Supplements + Wellness Practices I recommend for winter health.
Scroll down for my printable Power Up your Immunity mini-guide! 🖥 Watch this month's video
What is the immune system? In short, the immune system is a system of both organs and cells that protect and neutralize pathogens from entering and/or harming the body. It’s inevitable that pathogens will get in; a strong immune system means we can readily fight them. A weakened immune system means the body’s defense mechanisms are low or weak, and therefore, it has a harder time fighting off potential pathogens, leading to illness.
NOTE: It is important to note that getting sick can be GOOD, especially for kids, unless you are immunocompromised. Your body needs to build the strength necessary to fight off of pathogens. There is a reason we protect babies so heavily from illness: they are born without the same defense mechanisms we have, simply from being on this planet around people.
Think of it as an army, where the front line are young and undertrained. They need to build up strength, in both body and numbers, to efficiently and effectively fight the opposition (aka pathogens or illness).
The immune system includes a variety of different parts, from different organs, including our skin (believe it or not, we actually have microbes on our skin, that help protect us from invaders), our salivary glands and mucus membranes; our stomach acid and then our gut, which is a HUGE portion of our immune system. 70-80% of our immune system is housed in our gut; it’s so vital it’s actually considered to be outside of the body, as it protects the inner organs from outside pathogens. Then of course, there are immune cells throughout our bodies.
So let’s talk prevention: Strengthening our immune system.
What causes a weakened immune system?
Diet of heavily processed or sugary foods- high levels of blood sugar actually cause weakened immune system, so can inadequate protein intake.
Frequently taking antibiotics- medical OR natural
Lack of sleep
Toxins such as alcohol and those in our environment.
How do we strengthen it?
Reduce stress and sleep as much as possible. Your body needs rest!
Boost your digestive health with probiotics and pre-and-probiotic foods.
Focus on real foods + get protein at every meal and snack.
Go easy on the antibiotics
Strengthen your armies with components they need to fight: (will go into supplements more, but here are three components that are essential to immunity):
Vitamin D: Research has shown low levels of Vitamin D correlates with higher instances of cold and flu. An estimated 80-90% of North Americans are low. I recommend testing here, to know what you need to supplement (more on supplementation below).
Zinc: EVERY cell of the immune system is supported by zinc! Zinc rich foods include nuts and seeds, legumes, seafood and eggs.
Vitamin C: helps to strengthen the overall immune system and repair damaged tissue. Citrus, bell peppers, broccoli, kale, are all high in Vitamin C.
Add in immune boosting foods:
Bee products (honey, bee pollen, propolis)
Mushrooms (Chaga in particular, but a variety is good)
Vitamin C + Zinc-rich foods
What to do if you *get* sick
A few simple tips:
REST. Rest is how your body re-sets and fights! It can't fight well if you're using your energy for other things. Do what you need to to REST and allow your body to fight.
Don’t kill a fever immediately. This means your body is fighting the pathogens! Follow your doctor's advice if it gets over 102 (for adults), but you don't need to immediately kill it.
Don’t worry about eating if you're not hungry. Really! Liquids like smoothies, fresh juice and bone broth can be helpful to stay hydrated and fueled if food truly doesn't feel appealing. Often times your body is using it's resources to fight illness, so digestion is slowed. Eat what you can: broth-based soups, crackers, bread, etc.
Get in lots of liquids- add in citrus or a dash of apple cider vinegar if you can handle it, for the Vitamin C and enzymes (especially if you have tummy issues).
Take illness-lessening natural supplements: A few of my favorites include: Echinacea (needs to be taken right at the start of illness); Elderberry (I prefer liquid, and follow the directions well for the first few days), and Oil of Oregano (powerful natural antibiotic- this is *not* a preventative measure as too much can act like an antibiotic and kill off good bacteria).
Supplements for adults + kids:
Daily supplements I recommend during cold + flu season:
1. Vitamin D (1,000 iu to start for adults- 400iu for kids. Get tested to determine if you need more).
2. Elderberry (Follow package, use one month on/one month off for immune boosting)
3. Probiotics (For gut health; switch every 60-90 days for a variety of bacteria)
4. Food-Based Multi-vitamin (Think of this as insurance! Especially for kids).