Tips for a Happy and Healthy Immune System

Getting your troops through cold and flu season
sick boy in bed with thermometer and teddy bear
Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock.com

Cold and flu season is upon us!  Instead of sitting around hoping to not get sick it’s helpful to become familiar with some steps you can take to support your immune system so you and your family can weather the season.

While basic hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough are great things to do to avoid “catching a bug”, let’s think a little deeper. Not all bugs are bad. In fact, exposure to bugs strengthens and trains the body’s immune system. What we want is to have contact with “bugs” but also have an effective and efficient ability for returning the body to health when they throw it off kilter.

This season, toss the antibacterial soap, stop worrying about avoiding germs (but do take basic measures), and instead spend your energy on strengthening your immune system so that it can deal with the nasty bugs that come your way swiftly and efficiently (please consider, though, if your child is immune-compromised or if there are particularly virulent bugs floating around your school or workplace do take extra precautions. Some bugs will lay you our flat even if you have a super healthy immune system!).

Probiotics: the good bugs in your immune system

70-80% of your immune system is housed in the lining of your digestive tract. The remaining is circulating in the blood stream. It is primarily the bacteria in the gut that communicate with the immune cells in the blood to control immune function. This means that the long term ticket to strong immunity is tip top digestive health. A good probiotic, sufficient fibre in the form of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kombucha, adequate protein and the nutrients suggested below are the ingredients for strong digestive health. I have used water kefir and kefir soda in my family for many cold and flu seasons and have found it to be a great way to ward off sickness and keep the bowels running smoothly. Try some of these recipes!

Antioxidants and phytonutrients

Antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, selenium and zinc all help to reduce a major stressor on the body - free radicals. Free radicals are formed in the body via natural process and destabilize healthy cells, including immune cells. These antioxidants which you’ll find in fresh, whole foods such as avocado, berries, greens, eggs, nuts, seeds, and sardines bind to the free radicals so they can not do damage. The result? A more robust immune system.

Medicinal mushrooms and herbs

There are many herbs that support immune health. Astragalus, codonopsis and elderberry are a few of my favourites.  A simple elderberry syrup made by simmering whole dried elderberries in water and adding honey can serve as a great immune tonic at this time of year. Astragalus and codonopsis are two mushrooms that you can find in tincture or capsule form.

Cut the crap

Sugar feeds pathogenic bacteria in the gut and may paralyze the immune system for a while. So sugar and processed carbohydrates are not your friend this winter. Chemicals like those found in household cleaners, soaps and personal care products also destabilize cells and interfere with immune function. Replace them with less toxic options to relieve this stress on the body so it can function at its best.

Suggested supplements

Life is busy and sometimes supplements are helpful, especially if your body is under stress as it can be during seasonal transitions.

Here are four supplements I have found that just about everyone can benefit from during cold and flu season. If you're thinking about supplementation, always remember to seek the advice of a qualified health professional, especially when medications are involved.

A good quality cod liver oil

To provide essential fatty acids, and vitamins A and D; all nutrients that are difficult to get in high enough amounts through a typical diet and are supportive of immune function and digestive health.

A good probiotic

To bring in the helpful bacteria that are key for good digestive balance. Choose one that contains multiple strains and at least 10 billion units of bacteria (CFUs). 

Magnesium

While magnesium it is not typically associated with immune function, it is involved in over 300 different chemical processes in the body. Without magnesium, functions, including immune function, start breaking down. Magnesium can also work as a gentle laxative if you suffer from constipation (and, as mentioned above, you’ve got to get rid of your constipation if you want your immune system to function well).  Chose magnesium citrate or glycinate or use a topical magnesium oil spray for better absorption. You can also put magnesium in the bath by using Epsom salts.

Zinc

Another mineral used for just about every chemical process in the body. It is also a great immune builder.  A low dose of zinc, no more than 15mg a day, helps support the immune system during times of stress.

Try these out this cold and flu season and stay on top of your game as a family! Here's a helpful healthy recipe that covers all of the important immune boosting nutrients! Enjoy. 

Salmon Burger recipe

  • 1 can wild sockeye salmon (with skin and bones)
  • 1 can sardines (the kind in water, not oil)
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 1/2 c chopped greens
  • 1/2 c pureed sweet potato or pureed pumpkin
  • 1/2 c ground sunflower seeds
  • salt and pepper

Mix everything in a bowl.  Shape into patties and arrange on an oiled cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

*Originally published September 15, 2016