You eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. Or, at least you try. Yet, every winter, despite your best efforts, a nasty bug seems to get the best of you. What gives?
While diet and lifestyle are two of the most important keys to good health, there are a few other tips and tricks you can try to help boost your immune system and your odds of staying well this winter.
We’ve compiled our list of the best natural wellness aids to help keep you from getting sick, and speed your recovery if you’re already under the weather.
TO HELP STAY WELL:
The best way to use coconut oil for immunity is not to wait until you’re laid up with tissues stuck in your nose, but rather to simply incorporate a teaspoon into your daily routine. This won’t be difficult since you can put coconut oil in just about anything, from coffee to cookies. For double antibacterial action, you can use coconut oil as a full-body moisturizer. Your skin will be soft, shielded, and you’ll smell like Panama Jack!
In addition to vampires, garlic has been shown to work against bacteria, viruses, and fungi in lab tests. One clove contains more than 100 sulfuric compounds, which kill microbes. Raw, crushed garlic is most beneficial for health, since heat and water deactivate the sulfur enzymes. As winter descends, make it a point to eat some raw garlic every day. And after, maybe a piece or two of this.
TRICLOSAN-FREE HAND WIPES
Research shows that washing your hands is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself during cold and flu season, but sometimes a sink isn’t always handy. Hand wipes are a great way to keep the germs at bay. When shopping for wipes, steer clear of those that contain Triclosan. Animal studies have shown that this chemical – often added to antibacterial soaps and body washes – may alter hormone regulation, and possibly contribute to making bacteria more resistant to antibiotics. The FDA is investigating the safety of this ingredient, which is currently banned in the state of Minnesota. To stay on the extra-safe side, we like EO® natural hand sanitizer wipes, which use organic ethanol and essential oils.
Medicinal mushrooms have been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years. They’re packed with vitamins and minerals, as well as naturally-occurring chemical compounds called beta-glucans, which have been shown to enhance immune function. You can add Shiitake, Enoki, and Maitake mushrooms to your diet for regular immune support. Cordyceps, Reishi, Lion’s Mane, and Turkey Tail mushrooms are strictly medicinal, and can be purchased in dried, liquid extract, or capsule form.
VITAMINS A & D
Vitamin D3 is critical for our immune function. Our bodies produce this nutrient when our skin is exposed to sunlight – which could play a role in why many people get sick in the dark, winter months. Vitamin A is also vital for immune health, and some research suggests that these nutrients are even more effective at preventing illness when taken together.
VITAMINS C & E
Although vitamin C has long been celebrated as the nutrient that can cure the common cold, scientific evidence does not support this theory. Taking vitamin C alone only produces a small reduction in the duration of a cold. Vitamin E, on the other hand, has been proven to help strengthen the immune system as we age, and its antioxidant effects are enhanced when taken with vitamin C.
We need zinc for our immune cells to function, but you don’t want to go overboard trying to stave off sickness. Too much zinc can actually work against the immune system. The most significant dietary sources of zinc are oysters, red meat, and poultry. Our advice is to do a little dietary inventory to make sure you’re getting the RDA.
Iodine plays an important role in immune health, and many people who have removed iodized table salt from their diet don’t get enough. The only significant sources of iodine in the diet are sea vegetables, fish, and dairy, which are also foods that many people don’t eat. If these foods don’t play a large role in your diet, you might want to consider buying iodized sea salt or supplementing.
Over 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates said: “All disease begins in the gut.” Research over the past two decades has backed this up, proving that gut bacteria provides protection from infection and comprises 70-80% of our immune system. Find out the best dietary sources of immune-boosting fiber.
You can have the most perfect diet on the planet, but if you’re stressed out, your immune system is going to get worn down. Research shows that stress damages the immune system – and we’re not just talking about psychological stress.
Stress comes in different forms: environmental, nutritional, and physical – which includes exercise.
If you’re starting to feel run down, maybe skip the HITT for the day, and focus on activities that soothe the body and the mind. Try restorative yoga, or a soak in the tub with magnesium bath flakes. Magnesium helps our muscles relax, and the heat from the water will help increase absorption through the skin.
IF YOU’RE ALREADY SICK:
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
Like coconut oil, ACV is one of those pantry staples that serves a multitude of purposes – from at-home beauty treatments to chemical-free cleaning. ACV contains antimicrobial properties, and it’s been shown to eliminate bacteria in food preparation. It’s less effective than pharmaceutical medications and chemical disinfectants, but there is anecdotal evidence that gargling with one tablespoon ACV and warm water may help with sore throats and coughs.
Echinacea has been used for hundreds of years as a treatment for common colds and other infections. Some studies have shown Echinacea to increase white blood cell count and fight infections from bacteria, viruses, and fungi. But can Echinacea actually prevent a cold? The scientific research is mixed. If you’re going to give Echinacea a try, we recommend you buy your products from reputable, established brands, and, when possible, select products with guaranteed potency or standardized extracts.
We like Yogi Echinacea Immune Support tea, but please note: Echinacea shouldn’t be used as a preventative measure – it can over stimulate the immune system. It’s recommended only for short-term use when you’re experiencing symptoms. As always, check with your doctor before adding any new food or supplement to your routine.
If you’ve got the flu, diarrhea, or anything else that causes you to lose fluids, you need to replenish your electrolytes. But most of the electrolyte drinks in the grocery store are filled with artificial colors, flavors, and wacky ingredients. Even though the word “electrolytes” might sound like something you can only get from a lab, it actually comprises a lot of things you probably have in your kitchen. Here’s how to whip up your own all-natural Gatorade:
- ½ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 cups water
- 2 Tbs raw honey
- 1/8 Tbs Celtic sea salt
- Combine ingredients
- Mix until all parts are dissolved
- Sip regularly throughout the day
You may have seen one, or hundreds, of people taking to Facebook to tout the miraculous, healing benefits of essential oils. The theory is that essential oils are made up of tiny molecules that are easily absorbed. Each oil has a unique chemical composition, which can stimulate the immune system. There’s not a ton of scientific research to back up the claims, but there are many people who swear by these oils.
If you’re interested, you can give them a try, but be aware that the quality of the oils will affect their function and potency. Additionally, essential oils are highly concentrated – one drop of peppermint essential oil is equal to 26-28 cups of peppermint tea – so please check with a certified herbalist, naturopath, or doctor before experimenting.
The use of honey for illness and wound healing dates back to ancient Egypt. Like the other foods on this list, honey contains antibacterial properties and anti-inflammatory antioxidants. Research has shown Manuka honey to be effective for wound care, and buckwheat honey for cough suppression.
Some claim that the high heat used in pasteurization kills many of honey’s beneficial constituents. In fact, the FDA says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. We like Y.S. Organic, Raw Honey.
Please note: you don’t want to give honey of any kind to a baby younger than one-year-old. Honey may contain spores of bacteria, which an infant’s immune system cannot handle.
Got a cold? There’s an app for that. Seriously. It was only a matter of time before thermometers got smart, and the Kinsa thermometer is the “world’s smartest thermometer.” It plugs directly into your smartphone, recording fever, symptoms, and medications. It’s unbreakable, comes with games to keep you amused, and its state-of-the-art technology ensures you get the most accurate and efficient reading possible.
When temperatures drop, air loses its moisture and so do your lips. But did you know some lip balms contain ingredients that could make your dry lips even worse? To avoid getting sucked into a vicious ChapStick cycle, ditch any products that contain peppermint, salicylic acid, camphor, phenol, menthol, and any other ingredients that end in ‘ol’, which indicates alcohol. We like Badger Balm lip balms that are made with coconut oil, olive oil, and organic extracts.
If you’ve got a sore throat, you may be tempted to reach for a cough drop, but many you’ll find at the drug store are filled with artificial colors, flavors, syrups, and sugar – the last thing you want if your immune system is weak. We like Thayer’s Original Lozenges. Each lozenge contains 150mg of Slippery Elm bark, which contains antioxidants, and helps coat and soothe the mouth, throat, and stomach.
This is kind of obvious, but many people forget to toss their toothbrush after they’re sick. While a virus can’t re-infect you, bacteria can. The odds are low, but why not play it safe and keep some extra brushes on hand?
OIL OF OREGANO
This Italian pantry staple contains antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-parasitic properties. Many claim oil of oregano can heal anything from warts and fungal infections to sore muscles and sore throats. The majority of research, however, has been limited to lab studies, and there is no published evidence to demonstrate that that oil of oregano is an effective treatment for any medical condition or illness.
If you want to give it a try, oil of oregano can be used externally and internally. But just because it’s an herb does not mean it’s not powerful. As with other essential oils, the quality varies from brand to brand, and it can be highly potent. Oil of oregano should always be diluted, and should not be used on a long-term or preventative basis. Again, check with an experienced practitioner before using this oil.
We hope some of these suggestions provide new and helpful information, and will keep you feeling at least a little better this winter. Of course, all of this content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please check with your doctor or primary care provider before introducing any type of remedy – natural or otherwise – into your protocol.
Know anyone who’s under the weather? Share this with them!
What are your favorite all-natural wellness remedies? We’d love to hear in the comments!
Posted on November 20, 2015