The average child comes down with 6 to 10 colds per year, while the average adult gets 2 to 3 colds each year. Of course, if you have school-aged children, you likely get more than this. These numbers, however, only reflect how often we get the “common cold” – other illnesses, such as the flu, are a different story.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracks flu cases and flu strains similarly to how meteorologists watch weather patterns. Wintertime is when the flu most often rears its ugly head, so for this reason, it’s vital that you do what you can to protect yourself and your family during cold weather months.
First of all, have you gotten your annual flu shot yet? If not, then experts at the CDC advise you to get a flu shot as soon as possible, as the shot takes about two weeks to become effective.
Beyond the flu shot, there are a number of ways you can naturally bolster your immunity.
How to Strengthen Your Immune System
1. Wash Your Hands
Washing your hands keeps your immune system from working too hard. In fact, this is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of illness. There’s a good reason why doctors emphasize this missive, and it’s because it works.
Whenever you go into a public place, don’t touch your face. As soon as you touch a door handle, phone, or other “public” item, rub your hands with hand sanitizer or wash them in the bathroom. Yes, I know this can be irritating. However, just imagine how lousy you feel when you get sick, and that should make you realize the extra effort is worth it.
2. Regularly Consume Olive Leaf and Echinacea Extracts
Herbal extracts are created when herbs are soaked in water or alcohol over a period of time. The advantage of extracts is that they preserve the many benefits and active constituents of herbs much more effectively than capsules that you take orally.
I take two herbal extracts regularly: olive leaf and Echinacea. Olive leaf extract is thought to be a powerful antibiotic and antioxidant, and it also stimulates the immune system. There is, however, little scientific evidence to prove this, although some research has shown olive leaf to be very effective in lowering blood pressure.
My husband and I both take olive leaf even if we feel only slightly under the weather. We’ve experienced time and time again the effectiveness of this extract. We even take olive leaf when our allergies start acting up, and our symptoms fade away. You can find olive leaf extract on Amazon or at most health food stores.
Echinacea is an herb that’s more well-known, at least in Western societies, and there is more research to back up the effectiveness of Echinacea as opposed to olive leaf. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, several studies show have shown that Echinacea is effective for boosting the immune system, and it also has antiviral and antioxidant effects. Other studies show that taking Echinacea at the very onset of a cold will reduce the severity of your symptoms and shorten the time you’re actually sick – of course, there are other studies that debate these claims.
I take Echinacea almost every day, and I rarely get sick. I truly believe that it, coupled with the olive leaf extract, works. You can take both Echinacea and olive leaf in a capsule form. However, as I mentioned, you’ll get more benefits by taking the liquid tincture.
These tinctures taste pretty bad; however, I take a dropper full each day by squirting it at the very back of my throat so I don’t taste it as much. You can also put the dropper into a glass of grapefruit juice and you’ll hardly taste it.
3. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
During the winter months, I eat a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables. I usually eat at least one sweet potato per day, as sweet potatoes are loaded with carotenes. Your body does two things with carotenes: It turns them into vitamin A and it uses the rest as antioxidants. Antioxidants help your body fight off a cold and other diseases, and the more antioxidants you get, the stronger your immune system is going to be.
Vitamin A also helps strengthen your skin, the outer membranes of your eyes, your mouth, and your throat. These areas are your first line of defense against infection. The healthier all these areas are, the less likely a virus will penetrate deeper into your body and make you sick.
The easiest way to eat a sweet potato is to simply pierce it with a fork and pop it in the microwave for about five minutes. Once it’s soft and cooked, add a bit of butter and plenty of fresh ginger. Super easy, and super healthy!
There are also plenty of other fruits and vegetables that will help bolster your immune system – anything with high antioxidants like beta-carotenes and vitamins C and E are going to help.
Foods high in vitamin C include:
- Berries (including strawberries)
- Sweet potatoes
- Snow peas
- Red, green, or yellow peppers
Foods that are high in beta-carotene include:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Turnip and collard greens
Foods high in vitamin E include:
- Mustard and turnip greens
- Red peppers
- Pumpkin (see canned pumpkin recipes)
- Sunflower seeds
Mushrooms (especially shiitake) contain beta-glucans, which are complex carbohydrates that help strengthen your immune system against illness and disease.
4. Avoid Sugar
Many people are surprised to learn that sugar may suppress the immune system. This is because sugar limits the amount of bacteria your white blood cells can defend against. Though research supporting this theory has been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, many doctors remain unconvinced.
As part of my own efforts to live healthier this year, I’ve drastically curtailed my intake of white sugar. In the past, I have noticed that eating sugar creates a craving for more sugar. Once I got myself off this “crave-satisfy” daily cycle, I just didn’t want sweets or packaged foods anymore. The cravings are totally gone.
Now, if I eat a cookie or a piece of candy, I get right back into that loop. But by limiting my intake of sugar, I feel better and my body feels much more balanced.
It can be hard to cut sugar out of your diet – I know it was hard for me. But if you stick with it for a few days, not consuming any sweets or sodas and eating healthy, your body will settle down and you’ll feel better. And you just might help strengthen your immune system in the process.
5. Avoid Stress
You probably don’t need me to tell you that when you’re experiencing stress, you feel awful. You get tired and run down, you probably don’t eat healthy or sleep well, and your positive outlook vanishes.
Many of us know from experience that stress weakens our immune systems. This is because when you’re stressed, your body releases corticosteroids, which suppresses the effectiveness of the immune system. The more stressed you are, the more corticosteroids are released, and the likelier you are to get sick.
Want to avoid getting a cold or the flu? Do whatever you can to reduce your stress levels. Make sure you get enough sleep, and remember that, most of the time, the things you’re stressing over are really small potatoes in the larger scheme of things. Work out at home to make sure you get enough exercise (which is itself a great way to reduce stress), meditate regularly to relax and still your thoughts, and reserve some time to have fun once in a while.
Because I’m self-employed, I don’t get sick days, which means if I become ill, I lose income each day I’m unable to work. Therefore, I have extra incentive to stay healthy.
The good news is that preventing illness is quite easy to do. Simple things like washing your hands, eating right, and getting enough sleep really do make a difference. Adding herbal extracts to your daily routine can also help you avoid getting sick.
Do you have any tips and tricks you use to stay healthy during cold and flu season?