What can we do to boost our immune system?
It’s helpful to think about the immune system, and most systems in the body, as something that we want to be balanced, rather than boosted. An overactive immune system is actually problematic (enter auto-immune diseases). That said, we can support a strong immune system with food, herbs, lifestyle and mindset. My favorites include:
Fresh ginger juiced or blended and strained. Take it as shots, add it to water, tea or mocktails. And lean way in during cold and flu season.
Fresh/raw garlic, add to food.
Vitamins D and A as well as Zinc.
Minimal to no sugar. This is major. For example, I don’t advocate for honey. Despite it being antibacterial, there are plenty of other equivalents that aren’t in the form of sugar.
All the spices! Cayenne, chili peppers, jalapeno, hot soups. Anything that makes you warm, sweaty, flushed and well-circulated. Many of these ingredients increase T-cell function, which you can think of as our bodies’ fighter cells.
Herbs: Medicinal mushrooms all the way. These are immunomodulating, meaning they help our immune systems work at the optimal level. Also, astragalus, turmeric, elderberry and lemon balm. And if you're feeling sick, the stronger stuff: oil of oregano, olive leaf, goldenseal, berberine. Probiotics, a great diet, staying warm, getting plenty of sleep and minimizing stress.
What do you add to your daily routine for extra support?
All of the above with the exception of the strong stuff! Most of this is part of my routine already, which is a point worth considering. We know it, but now is a good reminder that it’s hard to “make up” for lost health. Rather, we want to work toward a balanced regime that we can maintain year round. That also makes adding a few extras to it much easier.
What role does food play in protecting our immune system?
Food is always first! Our gut is the first line of defense between the outside world and our immune system, the barrier between the two is only one cell thick. To support immunity, we want to heal the gut. That means probiotics and probiotic food, prebiotics (fiber & starch), a great diet (low sugar, high fiber, whole-food based, inflammation-free), mindfulness as many of our emotional states start in our gut.
What foods do you recommend for supporting our immune system?
Low or no sugar.
As many vegetables as possible.
Spices, fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, mint, etc. These are potent medicinal plants!) and colorful, fresh food.
Anything we should avoid?
Sugar. And, sugar in the form of flour. To make it simple, just avoid all forms of flour.
If you’re keen to go farther, consider replacing grains with squashes or tubers, which will further reduce dietary sugars while increasing fiber and blood-sugar stability.
What is your go-to when you feel a cold coming on?
All of the remedies and suggestions mentioned above, plus extra sleep, extra layers (I aim for a light sweat at all times), more saline nasal spray and a humidifier.
What other practices do you recommend for the immune system during times of heightened stress?
Mindfulness can be very helpful in keeping us well, and that doesn’t have to mean meditation. Breathing exercises, reading, taking walks, dancing, or generally indulging in some sort of healthy fun will help us relax and signal to the whole body that we are well, rather than under attack.
What do you always keep in your medicine cabinet?
Well, my herbal medicine cabinet is pretty insane but that’s what you’d expect, right!? ;)
If I had to choose three (and when I travel, I do): Oil of Oregano in case of emergency. Probiotics. Medicinal mushrooms.
Please share an immune boosting recipe.
This is the perfect vehicle for all of the ingredients I mention above.