“The north wind doth blow, and we shall have snow…” and a runny nose, stuffy head, sore throat, achy muscles, and fever, too! The CDC reports that instances of influenza peak December through February, rendering the winter as much about hiding in bed with a box of tissues as a time to be frolicking in the snow. And while remedies abound in the marketplace, the greatest gift you can give yourself is health—specifically, health that’s found naturally. Here are seven simple tricks to build up your body’s defense system…this season and always:
1. Try a Myers Cocktail
The Myers Cocktail is a surefire way to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need—or shortening an illness that has already struck. Pioneered by the late John Myers, MD, these ultra-nourishing blends of key vitamins—from magnesium and calcium to B complex and vitamin C—are delivered intravenously, packing a potent punch that can be felt immediately. Numerous clients come to my clinic for this nutrient therapy whenever they’re beginning to feel under the weather. Others use it as a way to accelerate their recovery time from jetlag. The science is there to validate the Myers Cocktail, too. Research demonstrates that it can alleviate a number of symptoms associated with winter illnesses, including fatigue and nasal congestion. Data also shows that it can mitigate the effects of seasonal allergic rhinitis and tension headaches—the very thing that arrives when you see that “OMG” line at Target.
2. Take Turkey Tail
Technically called Coriolus Versicolor, turkey tail is a medicinal mushroom whose healing uses date back to the Ming Dynasty. Then, it was used to bolster energy and reduce phlegm—precisely what you need when the mercury drops and germs are in the air. Since gaining recognition in Western medicine in the 1960s, the mushroom has been noted for its ability to improve immunity and stave off infections. Turkey tail is available in supplement form. It can also be consumed, such as in tea—add turmeric and lemon for an extra dose of immune power.
3. Add More Zinc to Your Diet
Emergen-C may be your go-to whenever you feel those chills and sweats coming on. Which is all well and good—vitamin C enriches immunity—but you ought to add zinc to your regimen too. The essential trace element acts like an antioxidant in the diet, thus protecting you from free radical damage. It plays a vital role in a number of biochemical pathways and possesses antiviral properties. A zinc deficiency, on the other hand, may harm immunity and increase your susceptibility to infection.
Women 19 and older should aim for 8 mg of zinc per day; men within the same age category should get 11 mg daily. Supplements that have been chelated (meaning, they’re bound to a compound to enhance the mineral’s absorption) can help certify that you’re getting adequate amounts. Be sure to pair zinc with copper, as excess zinc could affect copper levels in your body. (An optimal combo is 15 mg of zinc to 1 mg of copper.) Additionally, fill your plate with zinc-rich foods, such as pecans, peanuts, wild rice, green peas, yogurt, oysters, and pork loin.
Already suffering from a cold? Zinc supplements (syrup, lozenges or tablets) can reduce the length of it—especially when taken within the first 24 hours of exhibiting symptoms.
4. Dodge the Dessert Table
Cookies at the office, leftover holiday sweets at home, peppermint bark at your beloved coffee shop—it seems that tempting treats are everywhere you look all winter long. As tantalizing as they may be, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to your diet during winter. Not only do fresh fruits and vegetables brim with immune-boosting antioxidants, but sugar—which is ubiquitous this time of year—can wreak havoc on your ability to combat sickness. As nutritionist Monica Reinagel, wrote in Scientific American, “Eating sugar may put your white blood cells into temporary coma”—meaning that fudge your neighbor made may suppress your immune response and decrease its ability to respond to challenges. Whether you have a yen for something sweet or need to use sugar in a recipe, call upon alternatives for the same fix: Stevia and monk fruit are excellent substitutes.
5. Prioritize Sleep
A countless to-do list can leak right into your sleep schedule. Sleep, however, is as fundamental to your capacity to fight off infections as hydration and exercise. The National Institutes of Health reports that a lack of sleep not only reduces immunity but also produces changes in both circulating immune cells and cytokines—a category of signaling molecules that help moderate immunity. In other words, when the clock strikes midnight as you’re still up trying to finish one more load of laundry, ask yourself if it’s worth the toll that burning the candle on both ends takes. You’ll be able to knock off more of your tasks faster if you get eight hours of quality slumber per night.
6. Plunge into Hydrotherapy
On an icy winter’s night, the last thing you’ll likely want to do is take a chilly shower—and yet the last place you want to find yourself is huddled under blankets with a fever and chills. Hydrotherapy—wherein you alternate between hot and cold water—is a mainstay in naturopathy, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy for good cause: According to the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research, the technique, formerly known as hydropathy, “boosts the immune system by its efficient functioning and also improves internal organs by stimulating blood supply.” The journal also goes on to say that “Conclusively, it can be elucidated that in the future hydrotherapy will become a major tool for stress relieving, improving body function, and preventing illness.” For best results, take a super-hot shower, flip to the coldest temp at full blast for 10-20 seconds, return to hot for one minute, and back to cold for another 10 to 20 seconds. Perform this three times per day—and always end your shower on cold. (That’s what warm, fluffy towels are made for!)
7. Indulge in a Warming, Herbal Tea
We all know that herbal tea can offer a cornucopia of health benefits, thanks to their inclusion of unique antioxidants called flavonoids. Winter chills, in particular, can be soothed with a warming, nourishing homemade tea. Add two inches of sliced, raw ginger, one cinnamon stick, one tsp of clove, and a pinch of black pepper to eight ounces of water. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes and serve. (Add a dash of almond milk for more flavor.) The ingredients in this recipe honor Traditional Chinese Medicine’s belief that warming herbs such as these increase circulation during cold, damp weather. What’s more, ginger’s rich phytochemistry provides an anti-inflammatory affect (and antimicrobial benefits), while cloves can enhance immune responses. The scent of the tea itself will evoke this festive time of year—and give you even greater motivation to stay on top of your health.
Click here to buy Dr. Laurie Steelsmith’s books, Natural Choices for Women’s Health, Great Sex, Naturally and Growing Younger Every Day: The Three Essential Steps for Creating Youthful Hormone Balance at Any Age.