The holidays are in full swing, which means celebrations, gatherings, time with loved ones, and… cold and flu season (womp, womp).
With various illnesses going around and more time spent in groups, it’s more important than ever to build up a strong immune system that will carry you through the sick season and remain healthy and thriving.
Your immune system is like your personal army. It is made up of elements that protect and defend your health against the pathogens that act as invaders and attackers — like bacteria and viruses.
That army of immunity runs throughout your entire body and consists of your white blood cells, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and lymph channels. These elements of your immune system produce and house specific lymphocyte cells called B cells and T cells, which act as your defenders and fighters. T cells provide you with a baseline immunity so that most everyday exposures are not life-threatening, and B cells create antibodies that bind to incoming pathogens and kill them before they invade your normal cells.
If your army is weak, it is much easier for those invading pathogens to get in and take over, causing you to get sick.
This time of year in particular, as we head into the cold and flu season, is really the time to prioritize bringing in reinforcement for your immune system so you can successfully avoid sickness — because, let’s face it, no one wants to be sick around the holidays.
Our registered dietitian, Christaney Townsend, and nurse practitioner, Amanda Peregrin, share four of the best (and simplest) ways to support and strengthen your immune system this season.
1. Eat Your Nutrients
The first and most basic way to support your immune system continually during the sick season (and year-round!) is to make sure your diet is full of nutrients.
According to Christaney Townsend, “Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are best and most readily absorbed in your body when you consume them through food.” Plus, whole foods contain things like antioxidants, essential dietary fibers, and other micronutrients that are all critical to your health.
So, what are the biggest immunity vitamins — and in what foods can you find them?
- Vitamin A: This promotes skin and tissue health while also protecting the gut lining. You can get plenty of vitamin A from sweet potatoes and produce like spinach, carrots, kale, and red bell peppers.
- Vitamin C: The famous one! Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, pioneers your body’s production of antibodies, phagocytes, and T-cells, which are key players in your immune response when a pathogen (virus, bacteria, etc.) enters your body. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, and kiwi, plus strawberries and bell peppers.
- Vitamin E: Another vitamin that helps production of T cells for your immune response is vitamin E. Plus, as a powerful antioxidant, vitamin E protects your cells against free radicals, which come from exposure to things like radiation and smoke and can cause a multitude of diseases. You can find vitamin E in sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts.
- Vitamin B6: This vitamin plays a role in another part of the immune response: production of white blood cells, plus the protein interleukin-2, which ensures proper development and function of your immune system. Eat plenty of salmon, bananas, potatoes, and oatmeal for good sources of B6.
2. Take Your Supplements
Though a nutritious diet is the best way to get all your immune-boosting vitamins and minerals in, it’s not always possible to get everything you need. This is where dietary supplements come in. They’re a great way to supplement your already-healthy diet and ensure all your bases are covered. Plus, there are plenty of supplements in addition to your standard vitamins that are specifically targeted towards immune-boosting during cold and flu season.
At PALM Health, we have a wide selection of immunity supplements, including:
- Viracid: This synergistic supplement assists with your immune system by strengthening antibody response, balancing inflammation, promoting production of immune cells like T cells and natural killer cells, and inducing thymus hormone secretion, which keeps your immune system running.
Plus, it can help with relief of symptoms such as sore throat and nasal drainage and can be used for immediate immune support when you feel yourself start to get sick and also for long-term immune maintenance.
- NAC: This compound strengthens your immune system by alleviating oxidative stress. What does this mean? As your cells carry out their regular functions, they produce some level of byproduct — oxidizing free radicals (think of this like exhaust from a car engine).
This is a normal part of cell function, but your body also needs to clear out that oxidative stress because too much buildup of it can make your cells too taxed to do their job protecting you from sickness.
So, NAC helps to clear out that oxidative stress so your immune cells are in optimal shape to fend off disease.
- Acute Immune Support Pack: Our Acute Immune Support Pack features a convenient 5-day supply of vitamins and supplements specifically designed for extra immune support when you’re traveling or when you have an acute cold.
It contains proper doses of NAC, vitamins C and D, and zinc glycinate, all of which give your immune system a quick boost.
Plus, we have high-quality, highly-absorbable options of vitamin C and vitamin K2D3, which are staple vitamins for immunity as well.
3. Wash Your Hands
Of course, there are many general “best practices” for avoiding the cold and flu other than getting proper vitamins and nutrients from your diet and supplements.
“As we’ve all been told for as long as we can remember: wash your hands!” says Amanda Peregrin. During the winter sick season, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re thoroughly washing and disinfecting your hands — especially if you’ve been touching a lot of surfaces in public, if you were around others who were sick, or if you’re touching your face and your mouth.
Similarly, Amanda recommends trying to steer clear of others who are sick — and stay home if you are feeling sick so as not to spread it to others.
4. Maintain Your Routine
Maintaining a strong immune system is a marathon, not a sprint. Though there are supplements and other things you can do for a momentary boost when you’re feeling sick, what will help you the most is having built up your immunity over time before getting sick.
While things like diet, supplements, and hand-washing may seem intuitive as aids for immunity, what is often forgotten is the everyday behaviors you partake in and how they help and hurt your immune system.
Your body goes into a kind of defensive, “fight-or-flight” mode when it is taxed by things like lack of sleep, high stress levels, or toxins like tobacco or excessive alcohol. This results in a lower baseline immune system strength because your body is too busy fighting off the effects of those stressors to focus on protecting you from illness.
Those who get plenty of good-quality sleep, exercise often, manage stress effectively, and detoxify regularly are much more likely to have an immune system that is highly capable of keeping you healthy.
Though you can’t completely prevent getting sick, there are a lot of simple steps you can take to lower your chances of catching the cold or flu, and give your body the reinforcement it needs to fight off any sickness you do come down with.
If you’re packing your nutrition full of vitamins, taking additional supplements for immunity, washing your hands and taking measures when your loved ones are sick, and maintaining a healthy overall lifestyle routine, you’ll be putting your immune system in the best possible shape going into the cold and flu season.