Benjamin Franklin may have had it right with his famous quote “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When they are functioning at their peak, our bodies ward off germs, but few people make it through the cold and flu season without an annoying head cold or scratchy throat. While we can’t hold our breath all winter, there are several natural prevention tricks for keeping the immune system in tip-top shape year-round.
Lifestyle choices can greatly influence immune function. The seemingly obvious measures to stay healthy as cold and flu season gets into gear include:
Maintain proper hygiene: A clear method of maintaining immune health is hand-washing. Get in the habit of using plain soap with warm water and vigorously rubbing the hands together for at least twenty seconds before eating or preparing food to help cut the risk of spreading germs. Also cover sneezes and coughs with the crook of your arm, not your hands, especially at work, in school, and in other public places.
Get enough sleep: Fatigue causes vulnerability to illness of all kinds. The amount of sleep you need to function may be different from that needed by others of the same age and gender. To encourage adequate sleep, create a comfortable sleep environment, maintain a good diet and exercise plan, and engage in relaxing activities near bedtime.
Engage in physical activity: Even if you are starting to feel a bit under the weather, light exercise can actually boost the immune system. Physical activity on a regular basis can boost immune health by improving circulation of blood and immune cells, making you stronger and flushing various toxins out of the body.
Stay hydrated: Staying hydrated is important to keep your body’s heating and cooling systems operating efficiently throughout the year. The best beverage is plain water, which should be consumed regularly throughout the day.
When to Turn to Foods and When to Turn to Supplements to Help Winter Ailments
Foods should always be the first line of nutritional defense, but in addition to some of the specific nutrients mentioned above, there are several natural immune-boosting botanicals that have been traditionally used to support immunity.
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata): Several human clinical trials suggest the herb andrographis may help in reducing symptoms and severity of respiratory tract infections.8
Echinacea (E. angustifolia, purpurea, and pallida): Echinacea is one of the most widely utilized traditional herbal medicines for easing and decreasing symptoms of common respiratory tract infections; additionally, it is best known for its stimulating effect on immune functions.9 Herbal experts say that when a good product is taken in adequate and frequent doses at the onset of symptoms, echinacea can shorten the duration and severity of a cold.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): A tea of elder flowers is a time-honored European cold and flu remedy, but the scientific research has focused on extract of berries from the black elderberry tree, which are said to produce beneficial immune actions and help fight influenza and other respiratory viruses. In laboratory and animal research, S. nigra had antiviral effects, inhibiting replication of several strains of influenza.10
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Marci Clow, MS, RDN, has been one of Rainbow Light’s research team members for more than fifteen years, using her nutrition, regulatory, and food expertise to develop strategic and effective collateral communication materials for lectures, print, TV, and social media. Marci’s personal interests in nutrition include solution-oriented, real-food approaches to childhood obesity as well as bridging the gap between alternative and allopathic medicine. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is active in several practice groups, including Dietitians in Business and Communications, Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine, and Nutrition Education for the Public.