Our bodies have a powerful in-built mechanism to help us maintain health and wellbeing. The problem is that many of the things we do in everyday life (experiencing stress, eating sugar, consuming processed foods and inflammatory cooking oils, drinking excess alcohol, breathing in pollution or getting poor sleep) all have a big impact on our body’s ability to be as well as it could be. Thankfully, there are a few simple and very effective ways we can make small changes to help support the body’s natural ability to be healthy and well, especially when it comes to healing from illness. So, whether you want to prevent illness, stop the onset of a cold in its tracks, or recover quicker and stronger from illness, put these tips to work to help your immune system function better this season.
Disclaimer – the following is not medical advice. I am not a doctor, and this information has been gathered from my own health coaching education, working 1-2-1 with clients, and extensive research. If you are experiencing symptoms you are worried about, talk to your healthcare provider.
- Don’t over-do the Paracetamol
The uncomfortably high temperature you feel when ill is the body’s way of actually trying to make you better quicker. (note – this advice is not intended to use when suffering side-effects of vaccinations) A fever is the immune system’s way of killing off a virus, since viruses don’t tend to survive at high temperatures, which is partly why saunas have been shown to be effective for combatting illness (as well as infrared saunas’ ability to trigger cell renewal and repair). When you take medication like paracetamol to lower your temperature, all you’re doing is making your body a more favourable place for a virus to live, and slowing down the body’s healing process. Taking medication to lower a fever can also increase the likelihood of ending up with long-term issues, a suppressed immune system and chronic illness. Of course, it’s very important to make sure your temperature doesn’t get too high; anything over 38C can be damaging according to the NHS, and it’s vital to ensure children’s temperatures are not raised too high, but if you just have a normal fever and find yourself reaching for the paracetamol out of habit, perhaps try the ‘old fashioned’ but more effective method of resting and letting your body sweat it out of you instead. Other ways to support a fever include drinking teas like peppermint, yarrow, elderflower, chamomile and ginger and having a hot bath, which all promote sweating. Be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated too.
2. Put Your Feet Up
Yes, literally! Resting or napping with the feet elevated has been shown to increase activity of the glymphatic system (to learn more about this part of the immune system, read THIS). The glymphatic system is not just a misspelling of ‘lymphatic system’, but a whole system that has only relatively recently been discovered. This system is involved in sweeping away waste products and metabolic products, essentially clearing away any old, ill, damaged or ill cells and bacteria from the body. This system is only active when we’re deeply resting or asleep, so it’s important to get extra rest too.
To help activate the glymphatic system, rest or nap with your feet elevated on a pile of cushions or blankets, or practice the relaxing restorative yoga posture Viparita Karani. You can also listen to Theta brainwave binaural beats tracks for deeper relaxation.
3. Supplement with Elderberry and boost your vitamins
There’s currently research being carried out in Kent as to the effectiveness of elderberry extract to help remedy viruses (specifically the virus that has been very prominent over the last couple of years….) [as of December 2021]. This is big news, because elderberry has been a natural remedy for hundreds of years – often thought of as no more than folk medicine or pseudo medicine – but thankfully now there are many more studies to prove how effective it is. Elderberry extract is a powerful way to prevent illness, but it can also reduce the number of days you’re ill for. Make your own with THIS recipe, or buy brands that have a low sugar content. Vitamin C and zinc are also vital for immune health. Increase vitamin C with citrus fruits, peppers, berries, broccoli and kale, and zinc with pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, chicken, spinach, cashews and yoghurt.
4. Improve Gut Health
Countless studies show that sugar feeds bad gut bacteria, and even feeds cancerous cells too. In order to prevent illness and help ourselves get better if we do become ill, the gut is a vital part of the body to focus on. Roughly 70% of our immune cells live in the gut, and poor gut health also has direct links to poor mental health too. You can prevent illness and help yourself get better faster with prebiotic foods (that ‘feed’ good gut bacteria) like almonds, Jerusalem artichoke, onion, raw garlic, asparagus and dandelion greens, and probiotic foods (that supply the body with good gut bacteria) like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, THIS low sugar kombucha, kvass (seemingly everything that starts with K!?) as well as live cultured yoghurt.
5. Have Hope
Again, quite literally! A sense of hope is linked with increased levels of dopamine – a neurotransmitter linked to motivation, desire and a sense of seeking things outside of ourselves or things in the future. Research shows that a sense of hope and positive mindset increases dopamine levels and actually has the ability to shrink tumours. You can increase hope by making plans for something you enjoy in the near future, visualising yourself feeling well and vibrant, and engaging with a sense of purpose (populations in the East are even thought to live longer due to their sense of Ikigai, meaning ‘that which gives life meaning or purpose’).
How are you supporting your immune system this Winter?