12 Ways to Boost Your Immune System

The CDC reports that this flu season is among one of the worse. Chances are if you haven’t caught it yet, you know someone who has.

Typically, the flu season lasts about 12 weeks. Currently, the CDC is estimating that we are only 6 weeks in to this year’s flu season (as of today). That leaves us with 6 more weeks of the virus, at minimum.

It is difficult to predict how long the flu season will actually last, but the current statistics are leaving many to wonder how they can give their immune system a boost and avoid letting this flu season get the best of them.

Most of us are aware that the simple practice of hand washing can help reduce our risk of picking up someone else’s germs, but there are at least a dozen other things you can do to enhance your immune system and stay well this season.

  1. Get More Sleep. Sleep offers our body an opportunity to repair damaged cells and recuperate from the insults of the day. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep, with 8-9 hours per night being ideal. If you are feeling the onset of symptoms try to go to bed earlier, especially if you think you may be up dealing with those symptoms. And remember, naps are never a bad idea to squeeze in a little more rest for your system.

    The most beneficial sleep occurs before midnight. Try to get to bed early when feeling ill and try to squeeze a nap in during the day.

  2. Eat More Greens. Green vegetables offer many nutrients that can help your immune system stay strong. Vitamin A is a key player in helping your immune system be at its best.
  3. Take Probiotics. Aim for 10 billion CFUs per serving in a supplement or better yet, look to food as a source. Kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and yogurt can provide you with probiotics, which enable your immune system to be a little stronger. Probiotics can be helpful for infants health as well. 
  4. Have Your Vitamin D Tested. Too low of vitamin D is associated with increased seasonal illness. 50 nmol/L is what I recommend to patients to help maintain overall health. For most people, 30 nmol/L is too low and may have a negative impact on your immune health. Knowing where your levels are can help your provider determine the appropriate level of supplementation.
  5. Exercise. It doesn’t have to be continuous and really, when it comes to helping your immune system, it shouldn’t be too intense. Getting about an hour a day of exercise can help enhance the immune cells that are specific to fighting off viruses. Here are some ideas to help you stay warm while exercising outdoors. 
    Consider gentle exercise like yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi or pilates if you feel you may be getting sick.

    Consider gentle exercise like yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi or pilates if you feel you may be getting sick.

  6. Hydrotherapy. Before stepping out of that hot shower, give yourself a rinse with cooler or cold water. Try to especially get the back and chest to stimulate lymphatic flow (immune cell trafficking). Also, consider using warming socks with the onset of symptoms.
  7. Drink More Water. It’s warm and toasty indoors this time of year. Unfortunately  that means the air is dry and so are our mucus membranes (especially sinuses). Staying hydrated helps your immune cells function, aids in mucus secretion and keeps the mucus membranes moist so that viruses can’t breach that barrier. General recommendations are to drink half your body weight in water, however, speak with your medical provider to determine what amount is most appropriate for you. You may require less or more depending on your current health.
  8. Limit Your Sugar. It is a great source of food for germs and leads to inflammation in the body. Avoid reaching for a glass of orange juice when you feel yourself getting sick. The sugar in juice will do more harm than good when trying to take care of your immune system. Avoid other common sources of hidden sugar.
  9. Limit Your Alcohol. Maybe not the answer you were wanting to hear, but alcohol suppresses the immune system all around. Alcohol consumption makes it easier for you to catch something nasty and harder for you fight off anything that may already be in your system.
  10. Try Zinc. Zinc specifically helps fight off viruses. A healthy, well rounded diet will provide you with the zinc you need to maintain a healthy immune system. Oysters, wheat germ, crab and beef serve as a significant source of zinc. If you are traveling or around people who are sick, consider taking 10 mg of zinc picolinate. If you do get sick, it is generally recommended to take 30 mg of zinc picolinate. Be careful not to be dosing yourself with too much or too often as excess zinc can lead to a copper deficiency. Remember to always discuss new supplements with your doctor before beginning them.
  11. Reduce Your Stress. There is still a lot we do not understand about the way the immune system and our mood interact, but it seems that stress plays a role in reducing the effectiveness of your immune system as a whole. On the other hand, laughter may boost major immune cells that help you defend your body from would be invaders. Consider these ideas to help you reduce your stress levels. 
  12. Echinacea. Shown to increase white blood cells, Echinacea on its own or part of an herbal blend can help you move through symptoms quicker. If you’d like to have a custom cold or flu remedy made for you please contact Dr. Brighten.
Use a tissue or your sleeve when you sneeze to avoid spreading germs.

Use a tissue or your sleeve when you sneeze to avoid spreading germs.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten is a licensed Functional Medicine Naturopathic Doctor, best selling author, speaker, and mother. Dr. Brighten specializes in women’s health, from fertility to postpartum care, adrenal and thyroid support, autoimmune conditions, and digestive disorders. In her patient centered practice, Dr. Brighten thrives on navigating the space between conventional and alternative medicine, all while working with patients to help them achieve optimum balance, health, and happiness.