Firstly let’s look at some of the reasons why colds and flu are more prevalent in winter:
- Researchers have discovered that immune cells’ response is weaker in cooler temperatures which makes us more susceptible to invading pathogens
- In warmer conditions, infected cells commit intentional suicide to protect the body. In cooler conditions this protection mechanism is slowed down.
- In winter people tend to spend more time indoors, which means that they get less exposure to sunlight, resulting in lower Vitamin D levels. Researchers have found that if our immune system’s natural killer cells or T-Cells cannot find enough vitamin D in order to be active and become potent destroyer of pathogens, we are vulnerable to infections and diseases.[i]
- Spending more time indoors also means we are getting less exposure to fresh air which can help increase the amount of oxygen our white cells get to enable them to function properly by fighting and killing bacteria and germs
- Staying indoors longer in winter can result in depriving us of the exercise we need to boost circulation and help move our protective immune cells around our body.
Clearly there are several factors that can compromise our immune system more in winter than during the summer months. So what steps can we take support our immune system in winter to help prevent catching a cold or flu.
Eating healthy, antioxidant-rich foods such as vegetables, fruit and lean protein is an important part of maintaining good immune system and it can help ward off colds and flu. Avoid eating foods which can cause inflammation and put the immune system under stress. These may include processed sugar, processed snack foods, processed meats, vegetable oil, gluten, dairy, food additives including food colouring and preservatives.
Examples of foods which can help boost your immune system include brightly coloured vegetables, garlic, omega 3 fatty acids, nuts, berries, mushrooms, Greek yogurt, poultry and lean meat.
If you are up to it you could try crunching a clove of garlic in your mouth for 15 minutes and swallowing it.[ii]
Make sure you exercise in winter and don’t adopt a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise helps boost circulation and stimulates the lymphatic system which helps to eliminate toxins and waste. Exercise increases your energy levels and can help improve your sleep and has many other health benefits.[iii] Exercise also helps boost your immune system and the good news is that moderate exercise will suffice.[iv]
Wrap a scarf around nose and mouth in cold weather
Wrapping a scarf around nose and mouth in cold weather raises the temperature inside the nose which enables the immune cells in the nose to function optimally and carry out apoptosis (suicidal cell death) and so protect the body from viruses.[v]
Being in stress suppresses the body’s immune system making it more difficult to ward off biological intruders, such as flu viruses and infections. If stress levels remain high the body can struggle with health issues including cold and flu like symptoms.[vi]
Deep breathing, listening to soothing music, exercising regularly, going for a walk, spending time in nature, meditating, Yoga, Tai chi, laughter, getting adequate sleep, keeping a positive attitude and accepting that there are events beyond your control, being grateful, managing time effectively, chewing gum, having a massage and avoiding things that stress you are some of the things you can do to avoid getting stressed.
Try to spend time in the outdoors particularly at beach or in the forest where the air has high amounts of negatively charged ions. Breathing air containing high amounts negatively charged ions has many health benefits including enhancing the immune system and improving sleep.[vii] [viii]
Suck on salt or Gargle with warm salt water
A sore throat is one of the first signs of a cold or flu. Sucking on a piece of Himalayan rock salt for up to 5 minutes and then sipping on water several times a day may help to ward off an impending cold.[ix] As an alternative to sucking on rock salt you can try gargling with a salt solution made up of ½ a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water three times a day. This will ease the inflammation and loosen mucous, which can help to flush out germs.[x]
Drinking sufficient water each day, typically around 1.5 to 2L for an average adult can help the body flush out toxins and keep your immune system strong.
Take Supplements and Herbs known to boost the immune system
Zinc & Vitamin C: Both Zinc and Vitamin C on their own are important nutrients for the immune system to fight off invading bacteria and viruses but synergistically their efficacy is greatly increased.[xi]
Astragalus: In Chinese medicine, astragalus is an important immunomodulatory herb and it also acts as an antioxidant. Studies have shown that astragalus promotes antibody production and B-Cell proliferation. In the United States it is taken to prevent the common cold.[xii]
Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is associated with susceptibility to influenza. A study done recently showed that high dose Vitamin D is suitable for the prevention of seasonal influenza.[xiii] If you spend a lot of your time indoors and don’t expose yourself sufficiently to the sun during the summer months without sun cream, supplementation with Vitamin D is a must.
Probiotics: Good bacteria found in probiotics helps defend against infection and strengthen the immune system. In particular Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium longum are most effective at enhancing the immune system and protecting against infections and colds.[xiv]
Echinacea: A study has shown that echinacea is a wide-spectrum immunomodulator that modulates both innate and adaptive immune responses.[xv] As well as having immunomodulatory properties, Echinacea also has antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects making it a great preventive and treatment option throughout the flu season.
Mushroom: Mushrooms are increasingly being recognized for their ability to strengthen the immune system and are a great way to boost long term immunity for the colds and flu season. Only around half a dozen stand out and they work better in blends than one variety alone.[xvi] Turkey tail, Shiitake, Cordyceps, Reishi and Maitake are some of the most commonly used.
Garlic: Garlic has been shown to be promising as a treatment for preventing colds and flu. Studies have found that found that it also reduces the severity of symptoms and how long you remain ill. Garlic supplements are commonly available as a powder or an aged extract. Both the powder and the aged extract do not contain allicin, the active ingredient in garlic, but the powder has allicin potential and the aged extract retains its medicinal qualities.[xvii]
Reduce your toxic load
Today we live in a chemically overloaded world where we are constantly being bombarded with toxins. They are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the products we use, and on top of that there is an ever increasing amount of EMF’s we are being exposed to. Minimizing exposure to these toxins is one way to reduce your toxic load so that your immune system is less compromised. Choosing to use personal care and household products made from natural, nontoxic ingredients and opting for organic food are some things you could do.
Removing toxins from the body by doing a detox is another way to lighten your toxic load. One of the best ways to detox is by having an infrared sauna. To help your body eliminate toxins more effectively it is important to support your liver, kidneys, colon and skin, which are the organs responsible for removing waste.
Homoeopathy works well because the remedies stimulate the immune system. A sore throat is often the first sign of an impending cold or flu and a weakened immune system. To help prevent the cold or flu from manifesting you can consider alternating the tissue salt Ferrum Phos with Aconite in cases of rapid onset and Ferrum Phos with Gelsemium for cases with slow onset. If you are prone to frequent colds and flu, a fortnightly or monthly dose of Anas barbariae 200c may be a good form of prevention.
Essential oils can also be used to help ward of a cold or flu. The Thieves® essential oil blend has been found to support the immune system, especially during cold weather months. It was created by Gary Young in the early 1990’s while researching Essential Oils. A homemade recipe can be made up using the following formula:
To a dark glass bottle add:
40 drops Clove essential oil
35 drops Lemon essential oil
20 drops Cinnamon essential oil
15 drops Eucalyptus essential oil
10 drops Rosemary essential oil
Diffusing the Thieves® essential oil blend or the homemade recipe for a few hours each day in a diffuser helps keep the immune system to stay strong. Alternatively for immune support you can dilute 1 drop of Thieves® oil or the homemade recipe with 4 drops of a carrier oil and apply to the bottom of the feet twice a day.[xviii]
doTERRA’s On Guard® protective blend, which contains Wild Orange Peel, Clove Bud, Cinnamon Leaf, Cinnamon Bark, Eucalyptus Leaf, and Rosemary Leaf/Flower essential oils, is also a great blend which supports immune function. On Guard® protective blend is available in beadlet form, which is one of the things I take to support my immune system.
I alternate between taking an On Guard® protective blend beadlet and sucking on Himalayan rock salt at the first sign of a cold or flu, and I find this is effective in preventing the cold or flu manifesting. In order to help prevent coming down with a cold or flu in winter or to reduce its severity it is very important to maintain a healthy immune system. The tips in this article are a great way to do this naturally and they can help prevent coming down with a cold or flu.