10 tips to boost your immune system!

I’m reallllly excited about today’s guest post, especially because I could have really used this advice a few weeks ago when I was sick! Dr. Alexandra Sowa is a board-certified internist, specializing in nutrition, weight loss and prevention in New York City.  She reached out, offering to give us some tips + tricks for staying healthy this winter, and I absolutely love her advice… though I’m a little nervous about #5. 😉 Follow her on Instagram for more healthy tips and advice!

There is nothing worse than being sidelined by winter sickness.  I’ve loved following Grace’s Winter Wellness Challenge, and as a doctor and a mom of two little kids, I know that nothing derails healthy lifestyle changes like illness.  Given that the cold and flu season is hitting us especially hard this year, I wanted to offer my top immune boosters and disease repellents to keep everyone as healthy as possible!

In addition to getting the flu shot (the ultimate ‘immune booster’) to ward off or minimize the flu, here are some natural ways to keep illnesses at bay:

  1. Get moving – While this may be the last thing you want to do in the dead of winter, getting off of your cozy couch (I know, sometimes it’s so painful!) and exercising every day for 30-60 minutes is one of the most effective ways to boost immune function. But remember, if you opt to workout at the gym, make sure to wipe down the machines, which can be germ magnets.
  2. Pop a probiotic (or better yet, eat a probiotic food) – While scientific understanding is still evolving on this one, studies have shown that daily probiotics improve the body’s immune response. This is likely due to “good” bacteria fighting off the kind of bacteria that makes you sick.  While a pill might be the easiest solution for some, foods like live-culture yogurt, tempeh, and kombucha offer the best probiotic punch.
  3. Lay off the booze – Over-indulging in alcohol will not only leave you with a hangover, but will compromise your immune system. Alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to produce disease-fighting cytokines, leaving you more vulnerable to infection up to 24 hours after drinking.  Alcohol also interferes with your sleep cycles, which brings me to #4…
  4. Get your beauty rest – Research has shown that getting less than seven hours of sleep a night triples your risk of catching a cold. The best, most restorative sleep comes when maintain a fairly consistent routine (no, sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t make up for getting 4 hours of sleep Monday-Thursday), so try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.
  5. Eat two cloves of garlic per day – I don’t mean to destroy anyone’s love life with this recommendation, but garlic is a natural antiseptic.  It contains a compound called allicin, which blocks enzymes that activate infections. To get the maximum health benefits, crush garlic at room temperature and allow it to sit out for 15 minutes before cooking or eating.
  6. Gargle with salt water – Nope, this one isn’t just an old-wives tale!  While gargling regularly with plain old water is sufficient to help ward off a cold, it’s best to use a salt water solution (about 1 teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water) if you feel a sore throat coming on.  The salt solution will help ease inflammation and flush out any brewing germs. (It may also help get rid of garlic breath!)
  7. Invest in a Neti Pot. – A neti pot is a ceramic or plastic tea kettle-shaped container that can be used for nasal irrigation (think of it as a salt water gargle for your nose). Just like gargling does for your throat, a daily saline rinse can help sweep out bacteria and viruses from your nasal passages. Just remember to clean your neti pot out regularly, and only use boiled or bottled water.
  8. Meditate (or find something that reduces your stress) – Stress, both chronic and acute, depresses your immune system and puts you at risk for getting sick. Studies have shown that meditating as little as 12 minutes a day reduces stress levels, improves cognitive functioning and actually increases DNA that fights cellular aging.
  9. Enjoy some ginger tea – The exact science is a little weak on this ancient remedy, but fresh ginger contains anti-viral compounds that have shown to be protective against rhinoviruses (aka the common cold). So, drink up! (note from Grace: This tea is my FAVORITE!!)
  10. Wash your hands – While this one seems fairly obvious, 95% of people aren’t washing their hands properly (I know, gross). While it won’t boost your immune system, washing your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds is the most effective way to keep illness at bay.

Leave a Comment

Comments

  1. I don’t drink (simply because I don’t like the taste of alcohol) and in addition to giving the immune system a boost, it’s much better for your skin! Definitely a must! 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

  2. Brianna says 2.19.18

    I tell EVERYONE to get a Neti Pot! They are the best and I use mine the second I feel anything coming on, even to flush out various allergy triggers if I’ve been outside in the grass, etc.

    Love this post

    • grace at the stripe says 2.19.18

      Okay confession: I am a little scared of the Neti Pot! I have never tried one but you and Alexandra have me convinced I should try.

      • Brianna says 2.19.18

        I have one that looks more like a squirt bottle, NeilMed SinusFlo Rinse, so not as intimidating as the traditional but does an amazing job!

        • Alexandra Sowa, MD says 2.20.18

          I second this! The Neil Med Sinus Rinse is a really easy way to ease into it 🙂

  3. Maureen says 2.19.18

    I found the sparkling probiotic drinks –Kevita. I drink one a day. I know they are a bit pricey. I look to see who has the best prices on them and get a few at a time. I think it has helped me.

    I also take olive leaf extract when I feel something coming on. This has helped a lot too. I believe in the neti pot and its attributes.

    Thank you for your suggestions.

  4. Merritt Beck says 2.19.18

    I will definitely be trying these tricks! Thanks for sharing!!
    xx, Merritt
    The Style Scribe

  5. KM says 2.19.18

    Hi! Quick question on the garlic – I typically use garlic powder since I’m usually to lazy to peel and chop fresh garlic. Do I still get the same benefits?
    Also, I’m a big fan of apple cider vinegar as a natural probiotic. I’ve found it has really helps digestion and keeps stomach bloat at bay. However is this enough or should I supplement?

    Thanks for this post!

    • Alexandra Sowa, MD says 2.20.18

      I totally get you, but unfortunately, the science only supports freshly peeled garlic! Powdered garlic *may* work, but it just hasn’t been studied…

  6. aesthetic writer says 2.20.18

    This is a great post – thanks for sharing! I was sick over Christmas and I can confirm that the garlic really did help – I should have started it sooner but now as as soon as I feel something coming on that’s my first port of call! I think i will look into probiotics too, thanks for the helpful tips 🙂

  7. Becca says 2.20.18

    Love this post! I totally agree with the gargling salt water and Neti pot. I do both if I feel something coming on. Now if only I could drink less wine!

  8. MarciaMarciaMarcia says 2.20.18

    I love this post! I have to admit,when I see posts like this, I’m often afraid a lot of the advice is going to be pretty “woo-woo.” I’m not opposed to some alternative medicines, treatments, etc. (and certainly use some myself), but I also have a healthy respect for science, so it was refreshing to see advice from an actual doctor here! I do most of these things daily, and sleep and exercise are two of my life’s highest priorities.

    And Grace, I swear by my neti pot! It took me years to try it, until I had a sinus infection the week before a big race and didn’t want to take antibiotics. That was in 2007 and I have never looked back. Whether it’s an actual pot or the squeeze bottle, it makes such a world of difference. I felt a sinus infection coming on the past couple days, so I added a couple drops of rosemary and eucalyptus essential oils to the salt, and it works every time to kick the infection without antibiotics.

    And thanks for the tea recommendation – I have some teas with ginger in them, but I’m always in the market for another great tea!

    • grace at the stripe says 2.20.18

      Haha, that’s why I had a doctor write it!!!

      I have to try a neti pot. I’m a little nervous but think it will make a difference. Going to order one on Amazon today. 🙂

    • Alexandra Sowa, MD says 2.20.18

      Thank you so much for this comment! I really try to minimize use of medications for my patients, but I will only ever support ‘alternative’ treatments that actually work and every single thing on this list is proven and evidence-based 🙂

  9. Mia says 2.20.18

    Neti Pots are a must! Also, for my Kombucha loving ladies, please be sure to check the sugar levels in the beverages you buy. Some of them have a ridiculous amount of sugar added. The original Health Aid has a low amount of sugar and still tastes great!

  10. Alison says 2.22.18

    This flu season has me PARANOID –I’m in grad school and have no time to be sick, it’s obviously an incredibly brutal strain this year, and I tend to take respiratory illnesses badly (always a cough that lingers for a million weeks).

    I’ve made a few little tweeks to my routine but the biggest is hand washing. I am hyper aware of trying not to touch my face when I’m out and about (because we’re all constantly touching handrails and door handles and such), and then whenever I get a chance, I wash my hands. I’ll pop into a restroom if I’m out shopping, I’ll slap on hand sanitizer when I’m running around, and then as soon as I come home the first thing I do is give my hands a vigorous wash. Knock on wood, I’ve escaped colds and flu this winter (and there have been several rounds of cooties going around at school). I can’t say for sure that this is the only reason, but it is a habit I’m planning to keep up. Because getting sick is always the worst.

    • grace at the stripe says 2.22.18

      Yes, I so agree!!! And the temps keep changing which is so scary!!
      I’m obsessive about washing my hands. It’s such a tiny thing but makes a HUGE difference.

  11. Nicole S says 2.25.18

    If you can’t do garlic – like myself, a great alternative is tumeric!! It is really life changing and you can get it in pill form too. I tried garlic even the pills but it caused massive indigestion and heart burn so for me it’s a no no. But tumeric doesn’t bother me at all. If you decide to take spoonfuls of the ground spice- I would say be careful it dyes everything yellow!! Also I noticed if you’re trying to cut down on salt in your foods if you sprinkle this in while cooking it enhances the flavors without me having to put salt!!

    https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric#section1