Winter is coming.

No, like, it really is coming! Now that we have a new puppy, I spend a lot more time outside in the middle of the night than I would like to. But, you know, small puppy bladders make for frequent potty trips. And, there’s no way I’m scrubbing pee out of the carpet…again. Anyway, it’s cold outside! I mean, I might live in the southern United States, but we definitely see our fair share of cold weather. And, cold weather = more sickness. Maybe it’s the fact that school is, once again, back in session and tons of kids are in close contact with one another, maybe it’s the fact that the rhinovirus peaks around the beginning of winter, or maybe it’s the cold weather itself. One thing is for certain though, it’s not called “flu season” for nothing. EVERYONE is getting sick, but you don’t have to.

Of course, I’m not going to promise you won’t get sick, sometimes it’s just going to happen. But, by boosting your immune system naturally, you are giving your body a better chance at fighting these bacterial and viral illnesses. This usually means fewer illnesses for you, and when you do get sick, you’re likely to beat it faster.

So, without another delay, here are my 5 favorite ways to naturally boost your immune system. 

 

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1. Elderberry

Elderberry has been used as a medicine for hundreds of years. This berry, the Sambucus nigra or black elderberry, grows naturally throughout Europe and America. Recently, new research has gone into this plant for its incredible immune boosting, and antiviral properties. Some studies have shown that certain nutrients found in the elderberry can enhance immune function and response by acting as messengers. Curious about its actual benefits, the NIH (National Institute of Health) has conducted several studies that have shown elderberries greatly inhibit flu-like symptoms. As it grows in popularity, more studies pop up around the world that can do nothing but praise the versatility and benefits of the elderberry. One study found significant improvement of symptoms, including fever, within 24-48 hours of taking the first dose of elderberry. About 90% found a complete cure within 2-3 days.

It really is no surprise. Elderberry is packed full of nutrients, antioxidants, and antivirals. It truly is a perfect way to keep your immune system functioning at its peak performance. My family likes to take elderberry, daily, between October and March in order to stay as healthy as possible. There are some options for premade elderberry syrup, but homemade works just the same (and tastes better too!). It’s actually cheaper to go homemade, and it’s always fun to make your own medicines-that way you know exactly what’s going in there. 

Earlier this year, I shared my own recipe for the syrup (which is actually available for purchase) and it’s the exact one my family is taking this winter as well. Sometimes, the syrup can seem a little bitter for little mouths, so I always like to mix it up in some juice or a smoothie. They’ll never know.

2. Sleep

I know, this one is so much easier said than done, especially when it comes to all those who are still up every few hours (like me!), but sleep is vital for a healthy immune system. Sleep deprivation, even for a night or two, can mimic the same effects that physical stress has on the body. The NIH has thoroughly investigated and researched sleep and its effects on our immune systems, and “the available studies have accumulated quite consistent evidence that sleep indeed essentially contributes to the regulation of adaptive immunity.” Of course, we know that newborns and infants sleep all day long and, for the most part, we let them sleep. But, are you and your children getting enough? The Sleep Foundation recommends that school children (between 6-13) should be sleeping between 9 – 11 hours per night. Teenagers should be sleeping between 8 – 10 hours. And adults should be getting about 7-9 hours of sleep per night. 

My husband’s days off are the days when I’m really able to catch up on any lost sleep, but cosleeping has really helped my ability to get a good night’s rest.

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3. Probiotics

It’s no surprise. Gut health is vital to a healthy, functioning immune system. Maybe the phrase you are what you eat wasn’t that far off after all. Recent research has shown that gut microbiota are absolutely crucial to the immune system. If these are not communicating properly, possibly because of an unbalanced level of bacteria in the gut, your immune system is already weakened. We don’t consume dairy products very often, but sometimes it’s tough to say ‘no’ to a tall glass of raw-milk kefir.

My son also takes a daily probiotic supplement with his smoothies, so I know he is receiving a constant stream of good bacteria. Introducing more fermented foods into your diet is also an excellent way to naturally increase the probiotics in your gut. Consuming too much sugar is a huge way to really damage your gut.

4. Vitamin D

What is one thing that diminishes with people, across the board, when the weather gets colder? Sunlight. With the shorter days, the kids spending hours in school, and the colder temperatures, it’s seems almost impossible to receive your recommended 2,000 IU of daily Vitamin D. But this doesn’t change the facts: Vitamin D deficiency has a huge effect on your immune system. In 2009, Oregon State University issued a press release that said

A new study has concluded that one key part of the immune system, the ability of vitamin D to regulate anti-bactericidal proteins, is so important that it has been conserved through almost 60 million years of evolution and is shared only by primates, including humans – but no other known animal species.”

A Japanese study showed that 58% of schoolchildren who were taking a Vitamin D3 supplement were less likely to catch the flu virus. So, you may benefit from rethinking your flu vaccine, which is less effective than the vitamin. So, before signing up for a whole host of possible side effects, you may just benefit from a supplement.

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5. Vitamin C

What is one thing you remember being told to drink when you were sick? Orange juice. The reason for this isn’t complex: Vitamin C plays a vital role in immune function and response. For a long time though, it was just brushed off as an old wive’s tale. Recent research is backing our grandmas up, though.

“Several cells of the immune system can indeed accumulate vitamin C and need the vitamin to perform their task, especially phagocytes and t-cells. Thus a vitamin C deficiency results in a reduced resistance against certain pathogens.”

One of my FAVORITE ways to get a nice boost of Vitamin C is with my own homemade Vitamin C Powder.

Making this powder is extremely easy. For about 1/2 cup of powder, peel 4 organic oranges. Be sure to wash the oranges beforehand to get rid of any insect eggs or residue. It is VITAL that these are organic oranges. Conventional orange peels are not suitable because of their ability to absorb the harsh chemicals used on them. Toss the peels into the oven, at the lowest setting, for approximately 4-6 hours. 

Blend the dried peels in a blender and, for a finer powder, mix them in a coffee grinder. Take 1 tsp daily, and up to 3 tsp when sick. One of the easiest ways to ingest this is, like most powdered supplements, mixed into a smoothie. Orange peels are bitter, and these are no exception, so I really don’t suggest mixing it with water or your coffee. Another easy and convenient way is to just put it into capsules yourself.

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There are so many natural ways to get your immune system functioning the best it can for the winter, and adding even some of these tips into your life can really make this winter the best one yet. Be well.

Until next time,
Savannah

Savannah is a full-time mom of two, and can often be found outside on one of her various adventures. She enjoys carving her own path through natural and holistic living, as well as discovering ways to use food as medicine.