Between the change in the weather, the stress of the holidays and giving into less-than-healthful party food, it’s no wonder so many people fall prey to viruses and bacteria at this time of year.  It’s never too late to focus on boosting your immune system to beat the winter bugs going around.

Here are a few things you can do:

1.  Expose yourself to sunlight. Vitamin D is essential to our immune system and the most significant source of it is sunlight.  In fact, the winter flu very often is a result of Vitamin D deficiency from a lack of sun exposure. [1] Getting enough sun at this time of year can be a challenge for anyone living far from the equator.  If you are unable to get even a little sun each day, consider a cod liver oil supplement as an alternative source of Vitamin D.

2.  Get enough rest. Don’t fight nature.  Winter is our time to rest and replenish our energy.  Never underestimate the power of sleep and its restorative and healing benefits.  Try your best to get in your 8 hours.

3.  Eat heathfully with an emphasis on immune-boosting foods, such as:

  • Homemade chicken soup
  • Japanese mushrooms
  • Traditionally fermented foods (e.g. kefir, kimchee, miso)
  • Pumpkin seeds (loaded with Zinc)
  • Beta-carotene rich foods (e.g. carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash)
  • Vitamin C-rich foods (e.g.  kale, broccoli, spinach)
  • Fresh garlic
  • Echinacea or astragalus tea

4.  Avoid sugar. Sugar will suppress your immune system almost instantly.   Be on the lookout for hidden sugars in your foods such as flavored yogurts, muffins, breakfast cereals, bottled salad dressings, as well as the obvious soda and sweetened beverages, desserts and candy.  Eliminating this good-for-nothing substance is one of the best things you can do for your health, both in the short-term and long-term.  And before you turn to artificial sweeteners, think again — these are even more acid-forming to the body and more toxic than cane sugar.

5.  Keep your hands clean. When you touch people, surfaces and objects throughout the day, your hands pick up a lot of germs. These germs can then enter your body if you touch your mouth, eyes or nose.  Although it’s not realistic to keep your hands germ-free, washing your hands frequently with regular soap and water can help cut down on the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.  There is some concern about the potentially harmful effects of certain ingredients in antibacterial soap, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Medical Association.

5.  Reduce stress and anxiety. I know, easier said than done.  I have a teenager in the house, too.  But allowing stress and negative emotions to make themselves at home in the body will create toxins which suppress the immune system.   Happier people are shown to succumb to illness less frequently than unhappy people.

[1] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007 Sep;86(3):714-7

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