Healthy habits to boost winter immunity
It’s about this time of year when bugs begin to circulate and people start needing time off work. We might be tempted to walk around with a mask and hide all infection entry points from exposure, but this isn’t really the best way to try to prevent illness!
So what can you do? Encouraging a healthy immune system is the best method of prevention. That sounds easy, but too often we simply wait to get sick. Building immune health is easy when you know how. I’ll show you how healthy habits, plant medicine and some common sense can keep you well this winter.
What is the immune system and how does it work?
Your immune system protects your body against pathogens. Pathogens are things that cause disease – harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. As they enter your body, it’s your immune system’s job to get rid of them before they cause you harm. Pathogens are unavoidable, so we need our immune system to function well.
Most of the time our immune system destroys pathogens before they can cause harm. But, a compromised immune system isn’t as successful in its defence. As a result, pathogens and irritants do their damage in the form of colds, bronchitis, sinusitis, hay fever, asthma, influenza and infections.
Why do we get sick in winter?
In winter, there’s a greater number of bugs circulating. With this increased exposure, the likelihood of one sneaking through your defence is higher. Now is the time to be proactive and get your immune system as strong as possible. Luckily, there are some easy and effective ways to do this.
It’s impossible to eliminate all pathogens around us, but we can create an environment in our body where they are less likely to harm us. Here are my top tips for a healthy immune system:
- Fortify yourself daily rather than wait for the inevitable cold. Plant medicine is ideal here, as it builds resilience to keep the bugs at bay. Key medicinal plants I recommend are thyme echinacea and elderflower.
- Drink extra fluids. Fluids hydrate mucous membranes which are a barrier against infection. Furthermore, water helps the body to flush out invaders.
- Increase your intake of nourishing fruit and vegetables – their nutrients can help your immune system fight viruses and bacteria. My top picks are citrus and kiwifruit, avocados (when they are in season, otherwise they’re very expensive), leafy greens like kale or spinach, broccoli and berries. A delicious smoothie is an easy way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake in winter. Organic is best to limit exposure to pesticides.
- Add some spices to your life which have anti-inflammatory properties – ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and cloves.
- Sleep well – good sleep is necessary for optimal health. In relation to your immune system, you need restorative sleep. This means enough sleep to help your body restore itself. Adults need 7-8 hours each night and children need, around 9-12 hours depending on their age (pre-schoolers need even more.).
Plant medicine is an ideal first line of defence
Plant medicine is great to support and strengthen the immune system. For centuries, people have used various medicinal plants to prevent and treat symptoms from colds, cough, hay fever and flu. Plants contain many active phytochemicals which work together to produce a beneficial health effect. They target various systems in our body, for example the immune system and respiratory system. This holistic approach to healing is unique to plant medicine and is why it’s so effective.
While medicinal plants are fantastic to build immune health and prevent sickness, they are also incredibly effective at treating symptoms. Here are some favourites:
Elderflower blossom (Sambucus nigra) enhances the body’s immune function and defences against ills and chills. It has antiviral properties and is a key herb in fighting sinus infections.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a potent antimicrobial and specifically supports chest health. Its expectorant action helps clear the air passage of sticky mucus. It eases a dry, tickly throat and blocked nose.
Linden blossom (Tilia platyphyllos) has powerful bioactive constituents that, when taken regularly, protects against colds. It strengthens the immune system and helps speed up recovery.
Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) helps to expel phlegm and soothe mucous membranes in the nose, throat and lungs. It is especially useful for respiratory tract health and as a natural antibiotic.
A healthy immune system is so important as we head into winter. The best approach is a preventative one. Follow these five tips and you will have a head start!
Use the wisdom of plants we’ve used for centuries to fortify your immune system. Build plant medicine into your daily routine, be it an immune-enhancing medicinal tea or a pre-prepared plant extract. Your immune system will thank you for keeping it strong and ready for battle this winter!
Sandra Clair is the medical herbalist/anthropologist who founded plant health products company Artemis. She holds degrees in health science and medical anthropology and is completing a PhD exploring the relevance of traditional plant medicine today.
This article is the opinion of the author and isn’t intended to substitute for medical advice. Consult your health practitioner for any issues or conditions.