As parents, we’re more mindful than ever about the need to support our immune systems this winter.
By making a few small tweaks to our family’s daily routine, we can help our “innate” immune system do its work. The immune system contains a specialized group of white blood cells that is our body’s first line of defense against colds and the flu, and these cells can be either helped or hindered by the environment we give them.
Here are 5 tips that will limit your exposure to winter bugs and allow your immune system to work at optimum levels:
1. Break up with sugar. The relationship wasn’t working for you anyway. Although it’s tempting to reach for sugary comfort foods during the cold winter months, refined sugar hinders your white blood cells’ ability to protect you from invading microbes. Turn to natural fruit sugars to satisfy your craving for sweets - there are lots of ways to enjoy them that are kid-friendly too: berries topped with yogurt, baked pears with honey and granola, or frozen bananas dipped in nut butter and dark chocolate, just to name a few.
2. Hit the hay. Aim for each member of your family to be in bed at the same time each night and to wake up around the same time each morning (weekends included). The activity of our immune system varies according to our daily circadian rhythm: it wants to rest at night, and so should you. Staying up late (for work or for leisure) can leave you more susceptible to getting sick because your immune system is less active through the night. If falling asleep is a struggle for you, there are a number of natural sleep aids that can help.
3. Drink, drink, drink. Although we may think about hydration more on a hot summer day, it’s easy to become dehydrated in the dry winter months too. An inhaled virus likes to cling to the back of a dry nose and throat – so do what you can to keep mucous membranes moist, which will help to keep the bugs out. Enjoy plenty of herbal tea, soup and smoothies, along with filtered water throughout the day to keep your whole body hydrated from the inside out.
4. Do the D. It’s no coincidence that cold and flu season peaks in the dark winter months when our “sunshine vitamin” level bottoms out. When sunlight touches our skin, it sets off a chemical reaction that stimulates our bodies to produce vitamin D. Since this is much more of a challenge during the winter, when the days are shorter and we tend to spend mire time inside, supplementing with vitamin D is a proven way to reduce the number of days lost to winter illness. And vitamin D is a powerhouse tucked into one tiny tablet - along with calcium it helps maintain healthy bones and teeth, supports muscle and nerve function and it protects neurons to promote healthy cognitive function. Researchers have even found vitamin D receptors in the muscles and heart - which indicates that it supports even more physical functions than we currently understand now.
5. Reach for Zinc. When you feel that first tickle in your throat that tells you a cold or flu bug is lurking, it’s a good time to reach for zinc. Studies have shown that people who take zinc supplements recover from cold symptoms days faster compared to placebo. The most effective way to load up on zinc while fighting a cold is to take them as sublingual lozenges that bypass the intestine.