Jolly, Healthy, & Sane: Boosting the Immune System to Maximize Health During the Holidays & Beyond
By Coach Kat, November 22, 2020, copyright Bronwyn Katdaré 2020
Do you need to dial up the holiday cheer?
Who needs an immune system boost during the holidays? Everyone!
Things like stress, foods high in saturated fat or sugar, alcohol, and skipping exercise can all weaken the key immune system functions that help fight off infection and keep you healthy. How many people do you know who get colds or the flu right after the holidays? Are you one of them? Put yourself at the top of your holiday checklist and give yourself the gift of wellness.
The immune system is the foundation of our health and protects us from foreign and potentially harmful substances, such as viruses, bacteria, cancer cells, toxic chemicals, and more. It’s especially important this year to keep our immune systems fit due to COVID-19 (either protecting against it or being able to overcome and bounce back from it) as well as the regular round of colds and flu that appear during the winter.
Keep your immune system in tip-top condition as cold- and flu-season ramps up. The holidays put extra stress on our bodies thanks to time-crunches at work, avoiding social events, to-do lists that grow longer by the day, and potentially not-so-healthy indulgences that can come with the festivities. Paying a little extra attention can maintain your health now and even maximize it in the long-run by guarding against chronic problems like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, or cancer.
Here’s how to keep your immune system running smoothly over the holidays — and all year long!
1. Be Proactive When It Comes to Cold and Flu Prevention
Whether or not you find yourself under the weather has a lot to do with the actions you take to keep from getting sick. To be more proactive about warding off viruses:
Wash your hands: Stop germs in their tracks. Remember: wet, lather, and scrub up like a surgeon all to the tune of 2 rounds of Happy Birthday. (I like to look out the window and sing “Happy Birthday” to what I see – a chickadee at the bird feeder, an icicle, an evergreen tree). Then rinse and dry. Practice it frequently throughout the day to prevent spread of diarrhea and respiratory disease, too.
Take Vitamin D: Vitamin D is known to play an important role in keeping your immune system operating at its best. Our bodies make Vitamin D (actually a hormone) naturally when skin is exposed to sunlight. If you’re not getting a lot of time outside (due to winter weather or other reasons), research suggests that taking Vitamin D3 supplements (2,000-5,000 IUs/day) can lower your chance of catching a cold or the flu.
Elderberry syrup: Elderberry syrup is an elixir that has been used for thousands of years for both treating and preventing the illnesses that commonly accompany the cold weather: Coughs, colds, and the mild flu. To read up of this magical elixir and to get a recipe for elderberry syrup, read my blog: https://www.coachkathealth.com/post/elderberry-a-magical-elixir-recipe-included
2. Get a Good Night’s Sleep Every Night
Is your holiday to-do list swirling through your mind instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in your head? You need 7-9 hours of sleep every night according to the National Sleep Foundation. A growing body of research shows that not getting enough sleep has an immediate (and long-term) effect on how well the cells in your immune system function. So, not getting enough sleep could make you more likely to get sick.
Here are a few tips to sleep better tonight:
Make sure your room is as dark as it can be. Get light-blocking curtains for your windows and cover digital clocks that may give off extra light. Even better, get rid of the digital clock due to the EMF field it gives off that affects your sleep.
Sleep in a cool room. The National Sleep Foundation recommends setting your thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
Turn in and wake up at the same times each day. A routine sleep schedule makes it easier for your body to accomplish important nighttime functions and improves sleep quality. I know – we all like to sleep in on the weekends!
Turn off all electronics at least an hour before bed. The light that comes from devices like phones, laptops, and TVs actually sends signals to the brain to stop releasing melatonin (the hormone that makes you feel sleepy) when it otherwise naturally would. You can also wear amber colored glasses to decrease the amount of blue-light entering the eyes and disrupting your circadian rhythm.
For more tips on improving your sleep, check out my Blog “Help! I’m Sleep Deprived and Ugly!” at https://www.coachkathealth.com/post/help-i-m-sleep-deprived-and-ugly
3. Make Time for Exercise
Daily exercise keeps the immune system running by supporting overall health and wellness. Exercise boosts immune function specifically by improving circulation, relieving stress, promoting “good” bacteria in the gut, and more. Exercise also boosts mental health by releasing endorphins, the “feel good” hormones. An even better option is exercising outdoors, even in the cold, to connect with Nature and get your dose of Vitamin D.
You don’t need to run a marathon or train like a powerlifter every day but you do need to break a sweat for at least 30 minutes daily. You need to break a sweat to get your heart into a range where it needs to work harder so it gets stronger. You also have to break a sweat in order to release toxins via sweat through the skin – these toxins are ones that do not show up in blood or urine when tested. So, get your sweat on!
4. Enjoy Connections
Supportive family relationships and social interactions lower stress, make us happy, and also boost our immune system. Conversely, loneliness and negative social interactions have been shown to increase stress and negatively impact health.
However, social interactions do not support the health of everyone. I prefer to talk about Connections.
These connections can be to Nature, wild animals, your plants, or your pets. Make it a point to spread good cheer during this holiday season and make time for the Connections in your life — and the positive results will return to you.
5. Make Healthy, Nutritious Food and Drink Choices
Making healthy, nutritious food choices can boost your immune system like a rocket. Conversely, making unhealthy food choices can hamper immune function. Some superfoods to eat during the holidays (and any time of year!) are listed here:
Water: Most people are dehydrated and this is what causes them to feel lousy. You should be drinking at minimum ½ of your body weight in ounces daily just to maintain function of your body.
Cruciferous vegetables: (kale (EWG dirty dozen), cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, particularly broccoli sprouts). Cauliflower can be used in place of mashed potatoes or any rice dish. Chop and leave it for a few minutes so anti-disease compounds are released. Kale needs to be massaged to break down the tough leaves (discard the woody stem). Also, steam kale to quickly release nutrients.
Broccoli: Eat the stalks because immune boosting nutrients are in the stalks rather than in flowers. To use them, cut them up and make soup. You can make cream of broccoli soup by adding broccoli to cashews and blending them in a blender. You can also make coleslaw or salad by grating them in the food processor. Also, grate for a smoothie. Check out the recipe in my blog for Riced Broccoli Pilaf!
Broccoli sprouts: These are anti-aging immune boosters. You can find these in the grocery store or you can grow them yourself, but they are not as easy to grow as some other sprouts. Put broccoli sprouts in salads, wraps and sandwiches, or in a smoothie. In a smoothie, you can taste them so add cinnamon and ginger. FYI, Broccoli sprouts can also help withdrawal symptoms when you get off dairy (especially cheese) in combination with Epsom salt baths and activated charcoal.
Green tea: The EGCG in the green tea targets the immune system, but just make sure it’s organic because teas are loaded with toxins. Matcha green tea is a terrific way to boost metabolism but it has caffeine so limit intake to only 1 cup. Have tea at a different time from your meal because tea takes iron out of the meal. Tea is a no-no if you have heart stent because you will get UTIs and kidney stones.
Mushrooms: Eat mushrooms daily in one form or another for the Beta Glucans. You can have a mushroom supplement if do not like mushrooms. You can find dried mushrooms if you cannot get them fresh. Just cover them in boiling water to soak for 2 hours or overnight to rehydrate. Do not discard the water - you can use it in place of veggie broth. Chop up mushrooms for pasta, risotto, chili, salad, or soup. Mushrooms give an umami taste and meaty texture.
Cranberries: Cranberries must be unsweetened. Dried fruits are high in sugar which tanks the immune system. Cranberries can be found in the freezer section or fresh at certain times of year (like now!). Put them in smoothies and add dates, monk fruit, or stevia for sweetness. Try a salad with shredded brussels sprouts, blueberries, cranberries, and walnuts (one of my favorite salads!).
Seaweed: Kombu (kelp) has immune boosting benefits. Buy it dried in strips. Rinse it to get the sea salt off and chop it up to make a veggie soup. It’s great for flavor and can boost thyroid function if you’re low in iodine. Seaweed has a pleasant taste and is not fishy – kids love “seaweed snacks” which can be found online. A secret tip: add kombu to the water when cooking beans to cut the flatulence.
Beans: dried or canned (BPA free cans, organic). Beans are a strong indicator of longevity and life span in cultures that eat beans as a dietary staple. They lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and you won’t get hungry 3 hours later.
Fruits and berries: (Berries are EWG dirty dozen). You can buy these fresh or frozen, but I do recommend buying wild and organic if you can find them. Choose dark berries for the antioxidant content. Toss blueberries, acai berries, or blackberries in smoothies or over top of cereal, oatmeal, or dairy-free yogurt.
Spices: Spices are highly anti-inflammatory. Put them in everything!
Nuts: Choose raw nuts (not roasted or salted because they are likely rancid due to the oil). Almonds, Walnuts, Brazil nuts, and Pecans are top choices. Vary them because each has a different antioxidant content. Brazil nuts contain selenium to boost thyroid function (you only need to eat 1-2 Brazil nuts/day).
Seeds: Seeds are a powerhouse! Try ground Flaxseed for Omega 3 Fatty Acids (decrease inflammation), fiber (lower cholesterol, detox, prevent disease), lignans (prevent breast cancer). You only need 1 tbsp/day so stir them into smoothies, oatmeal, sandwiches, sauces – everything!
Tomatoes: (fresh, BPA-free canned, organic – EWG dirty dozen). Tomatoes contain lycopene which is disease-fighting, good for skin, and helps eyesight. Lycopene is enhanced when tomatoes are cooked and deseeded. Cook tomatoes into soup, casseroles, or chili.
Bright orange vegetables: (Carrots, sweet potatoes (EWG dirty dozen), orange squash, orange bell peppers). Where you see orange, there is Beta Carotene. Gently cook carrots. Sweet potatoes and squash can be steamed, mashed, baked, or placed in an air fryer.
Alliums: (Onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, chive). Alliums contain immune boosting compounds that are good for gut health. Choose red or brown onions. Eat some raw daily if you can digest them. Take dry aged garlic in capsule form. Add minced onion and garlic at end of cooking – Mexican dishes, Italian dishes, salad dressings, soups. They can complement any meal!
So, what are you going to do to boost your cheer, boost your immune system, and maximize your health this season? That’s right! Get outside! Eat your fruits and veggies! Break a good sweat! Wash those hands! And Catch your Zzz’s!
(Bronwyn Katdaré is a certified Nutrition, Lifestyle, and Functional Medicine Health Coach who focuses on the prevention and reversal of chronic disease through the integrated lens of whole-food plant-based nutrition, physical activity, proper sleep, stress management, a sense of community, and the feeling of joy. She specializes in chronic conditions created by inflammation, sugar cravings and weight issues, toxic relationships, confidence creation and de-bunking limiting beliefs, and healing practices designed to compassionately balance the entire being).