If your mom told you to “Wear a hat or you’ll catch cold” when you were growing up, you’re not alone. While these days, we're well aware that the common cold isn’t actually caused by a drop in temperature, colder weather can create an environment that makes us more susceptible to colds and flus. It’s the prime time to boost your immune system and keep yourself healthy.
Cases of the common cold and the flu peak in colder weather for a number of reasons (none of which has to do with going out without a hat):
- Cold weather drives folks inside, where it’s easier to pass viruses from one person to another.
- Studies have shown that not only do the viruses behind colds and flus replicate better at cooler temperatures, but our bodies fight them off better at warmer temperatures.
- Stress, including seasonal depression, can lower the ability of our immune system to fight off viruses, making us more susceptible to illness.
While the cold weather isn’t causing your cold, it’s certainly not the best way to avoid becoming ill. There are, however, natural ways to up your defenses, boosting your immune system so that you remain healthy. Here are three of our favorite all-natural solutions.
1. Eat Smart
Drinking orange juice or eating chicken soup when you have a cold are time-honored tricks for a reason: they really do help! Upping your intake of certain vitamins and minerals can help increase your body's ability to fight off viruses and keep you healthy.
While you can certainly take a multivitamin or supplement, the vitamins and minerals you need can also be found in food. Dani Ferguson, a holistic nutritionist and the founder of Detoxing with Dani recommends adding rich sources of vitamins A and C, selenium, and zinc to your diet to help increase your body’s ability to fight off viruses and keep you healthy.
- Find vitamin C in red bell peppers, citrus, guava, kiwi, strawberries, and papaya
- Find vitamin A in carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, and kale
- Find selenium in Brazil nuts, oysters, tuna, and shrimp
- Find zinc in oysters, bison, adzuki beans, and lentils
Elderberry, thanks to its richness in all of these essential vitamins and minerals, is one superfood that has been clinically proven in two double-blind studies to reduce cold and flu symptoms. Reap the benefits with our elderberry syrup recipe.
2. Look to Tradition
Western medicine has not always prioritized the clinical testing of the holistic remedies touted by Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine (see our guide to 7 Holistic Cold and Flu Remedies to Keep You Well All Season Long), but many of these techniques for staving off colds and flus have stood the test of time.
Ayurveda calls first and foremost for upping your intake of hot water, which, according to the ancient system of medicine, is not only easier for the body to absorb, upping hydration, but also flushes out immunity-compromising toxins from your system. Researchers at the Common Cold Center at Cardiff University also found that hot water helps stave off colds better than cold or room temperature water, so sip up – and toss in a bit of lemon if you like for a vitamin C boost.
Ayurveda also calls for supplementing with adaptogens like astragalus to boost the immune system, a suggestion backed by a 2014 paper in the journal Phytotherapy Research. Gaia Herbs produces a remedy made at their certified organic farm in NC, Astragalus Supreme that may keep cold, flus and viruses at bay.
Traditional Chinese medicine has its own techniques for keeping colds and flus at bay. In the Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, causes for the common cold are divided into four categories: cold, wind, damp, and heat. Cold and wind are the most common in winter, both of which are traditionally staved off by supplementing with ginger and garlic.
The healing benefits of both ginger and garlic have been examined in some modern studies: ginger has been proven to reduce inflammation, while garlic has been shown to have antimicrobial properties. Kyolic’s Aged Garlic supplement pairs organically grown garlic with immune-boosting vitamin C and astragalus for a supplement that may help keepy
3. Seek Balance
Some folks try to take extra precautions in the winter by killing microbes before they can do any damage. The proliferation of antimicrobial washes and hand gels, however, can often do just the opposite.
“While these may seem like an obvious immune system support, they actually do not do our body any good,” explains Ferguson. “Think of antibacterials as antibiotics that you put onto your skin, they are not only killing the bad bacteria but also killing the good bacteria that lives on your skin and helps fight off bacteria and pathogens. If you kill the good bacteria you are in fact exposing yourself to becoming more susceptible to getting sick.”
Instead of trying to kill off the microbes that contribute to illness, take care of yourself. Our modern lifestyles can unfortunately make us more susceptible to illness, and it is in addressing this issue that we have our best shot at remaining well.
However in high cold, flu and or virus times, like in the cases of the COVID-19 or H1N1 viruses, washing your hands and not touching your face is a smart way to prevent yourself from getting sick.
“When we are in a constant state of stress, our immune system is working overtime, because it thinks there is a danger that needs to be dealt with,” explains Ferguson. “However when this stress continues over long periods of time going from acute stress to chronic stress, our inflammation starts to rise in the body and immune system gets tired and unable to fight off and real threat when it does happen.”
She suggests reducing stress through yoga, meditation, or going on a peaceful walk (bundled up, of course!) Sipping on hot infusions of some of the immune-boosting ingredients above couldn't hurt, and neither could testing some of the supplements below, especially when you need some extra immune support.
Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract Formula 103 Immune Formula (100 Capsules) Odorless Organic Garlic Supplement with Astralagus & Vitamin C, Soy- Gluten-Free, Gentle on the Gut Garlic Pills $11.21
Gaia Herbs Astragalus Supreme, Vegan Liquid Capsules, 60 Count - Deep Immune Support and Stress Resistance, with Antioxidants $18.52
Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C , 0.2 fl oz. - 30 Packets | 1,000 mg Vitamin C Per Packet | Liposome Encapsulated for Maximum Bioavailability | Professionally Formulated | 100% Non-GMO, Ultra-Potent Vitamin C | 1,000 mg Essential Phospholipids Per Packet $32.95
Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Zinc (with Vitamin C) | 60 vegan capsules | 30 mg Vitamin C and 15 mg Zinc per capsule | Non-GMO Project Verified | $9.79
Go Nutrients Selenium Liquid Drops | 1 ounce bottle | 200 mcg selenium per 6-drop serving | made with vegetable glycerin | yeast-free |$19.49
Urban Moonshine Immune Zoom with Echinacea and Elderberry | 8.4 fluid ounce bottle (contains 50 one-teaspoon servings) | USDA Certified Organic | gluten-free |$42.29
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