Sick of getting sick? Check out these alternative remedies and easy lifestyle changes you can make to stay healthy and enhance your immune system — both in the short term and long run. They’re especially great to do now as we’re entering cold and flu season. Pick and choose what suits you and your lifestyle and feel good all season long!
(1) Dry skin brush
By increasing white blood cells and stimulating lymph flow, dry skin brushing, which is a type of massage treatment that you can do yourself, supports your immune system. Plus, it has several other amazing benefits as well, such as enhancing muscle tone and reducing cellulite, as noted in my post, “Reduce Cellulite and More with Dry Skin Brushing.” To learn how to dry skin brush, check out this post on all the ins and outs.
(2) Take a walk in the forest
Research studies out of Japan show that taking a walk in the woods, which is actually termed “Forest Bathing,” is especially helpful for your health, because it not only decreases stress, blood pressure, and pulse rate, but actually increases white blood cells, which are essential to fighting off viral infections. You might be wondering if any old walk in nature works. To find out the answer, check out my post, “Boosting Your Immune System is as Easy as a Walk in the Woods.”
Did you know that daily meditation helps reduce stress, thereby improving your body’s ability to fight disease? It’s true. Several scientific studies have shown that meditation appears to have positive effects on the immune system, such as this meta-analysis published in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal PLOS ONE, which looked at not only meditation, but other mind-body therapies as well. So, why not give it a try? Check out, “Got Stress? Try Meditation” to learn more and how to get started with mediation today.
(4) Take a mustard bath
This zesty bath is best done as soon as you start feeling sick to kick start your immune system. Mustard’s warming and diaphoretic properties raise you body temperature and make you sweat, which helps kill germs, stimulate white blood cell production, and eliminate toxins through the skin thereby helping your body naturally fight off whatever is ailing it. It also eases any aches or pains and relaxes you so you can get a good night’s sleep. Check out the recipe. By the way, another great bath to beat respiratory ailments is this homemade ginger bath.
(5) Drink immunity-boosting tea
Make this tasty hot ginger tea with lemon juice, honey, and cinnamon to help enhance your body’s own ability to win the cold and flu battle. In addition to boosting your immune system, it’s a natural digestive aid, so it prevents stagnation, which leads to health problems. Therefore, it can really be drunk all yearlong, though some may find it too warming for their particular dosha (i.e., body-mind type).
(6) Distill essential oils
Maybe you’ve thought that the only reason to distill essential oils, a form of aromatherapy, is to make your house smell fantastic, but did you know that there are actual therapeutic benefits? Certain essential oils, such as ravensara, eucalyptus, and tea tree, which are described in detail in this post, actually help boost your immunity and disinfect the air. So, pull out you aromatherapy diffuser or add some essential oils to a DIY disinfecting room spray and rest easy knowing you are not only boosting your immune system, but breathing in clean air, too.
(7) Eat foods that boost your immunity
Eating organic, whole foods in a rainbow of colors everyday, is a good way to ensure you are getting the nutrients you need to stay healthy and to avoid chemicals that weaken your health. For example, some berries, such as grapes, blueberries, raspberries, and mulberries, contain resveratrol, a compound that in conjunction with Vitamin D research has shown may play a role in boosting your immune system. (Check out my post “Boost Your Immunity With Blueberries and Grapes” to learn more if you’re a berry lover!) Other great foods to eat to support your immune system are mushrooms, onions, garlic, oats, barley, shellfish, beef, sweet potatoes, and of course, chicken soup according to this Prevention magazine article.
(8) Take herbal supplements
Want to substantially reduce the time you may spend battling flu or a cold symptoms? Then consider some well-known herbs to support your immunity. There are plenty to choose from, but a few of my favorites are elderberry and echinacea. Elderberry, which is best taken at the onset of a cold or flu, is fantastic for kids and adults alike because it’s pretty safe and tastes delicious — it’s a berry after all. Studies have shown that its in-vitro antimicrobial and antiviral activity may prove to be helpful in fighting influenza, the common cold, and even bacterial infections, such as sinus infections. Echinacea is helpful as well as I discuss in this post, “Is Echinacea Effective for Treating Colds and the Flu?” By the way, if you’re confused about what kind to buy, then take a look at “Echinacea: What to Look for in a Supplement.”
(9) Get a good night’s sleep
Your mom always told you a good’s night sleep was important and it’s true. This 2010 study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, which shows the link between sleep and immunity, underscores the importance of getting your fair share of Zs nightly.
(10) Cook with herbs and spices
I couldn’t live without adding spices and herbs to my food. They not only make it taste better, but I know that they are nature’s pharmacy. Each herb or spice has its own particular health benefits, but some are particularly great for boosting immunity. For example, oregano, which contains carvacrol and thymol, is fantastic at fighting off viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. Furthermore, it also helps digestion. Some other great ones to consider adding to your cooking are black pepper, turmeric, garlic, ginger, thyme, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and fennel.
(11) Get a massage
You probably don’t need convincing to get a massage, right? But did you know that massage can boost your body’s immune system by increasing natural killer cells, a type of lymphocyte? Something as simple as a leg or back massage can promote relaxation and increase antimicrobial peptides, which act as a first line of defense against pathogens, according to this 2010 study done with cancer patients and this one done with healthy female volunteers.
(12) Do some yoga
Yoga is a great way to boost your immunity and reduce your stress level. For example, my yoga teacher never fails to squeeze Eagle pose into a class during the winter season as it’s fantastic at getting your lymph fluid moving, thereby allowing your body’s natural detoxification system to get to work in fighting off viruses and bacterial infections. Inversions are also particularly helpful in stimulating lymphatic flow as this article by Yoga Journal explains. Other poses, such as Downward Dog and Cat-Cow, help fight off colds, flus, and respiratory infections, because they promote circulation, stimulate the thymus gland, increase T-cell production, and more, as this article by Work It Out, Boston discusses.
Are your drinking enough H2O? Hydration is so key to keeping each and every cell in your body functioning at its best, but this simple strategy is too often overlooked. As discussed in this Mayo Clinic article, it really is vital to several different functions in your body, such as flushing toxins out of organs and even keeping your nose tissue moist. So make sure you imbibe enough water on a daily basis. And if you don’t like the taste of plain water, try making a spa water, such as cucumber or lemon water. Also, check out this post to make sure you’re drinking water full of minerals vital to your health.
(14) Get enough Vitamin D
Research studies have shown that Vitamin D may play a role in boosting the immune system and preventing certain autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, so it’s essential to get your daily dose. If you can’t get your required amount from your diet or by spending 30 minutes a day in the sun as I discuss in this post, then supplementing is something to consider. But how much should you take? WebMD has a great article, “The Truth About Vitamin D: How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?“, that discusses the upper and lower limits of what you should take based on your age and other factors.
(15) Eat foods appropriate to the season and your constitution
Part of maintaining a healthy immune system is eating foods that support you and are easy to digest. According to Ayurveda, a holistic approach to health that is over 5,000 years old, eating foods that don’t throw you out of balance helps keep you healthy. For example, eating a bowl of corn flakes for breakfast or a big cold salad for dinner in the dead of winter could prove to be very unbalancing; whereas, a nourishing warm meal would be more easily digested and also very grounding and satisfying.
(16) Dress appropriately
There’s plenty of controversy on this one in the medical field. Some say it couldn’t matter one bit if you’re stripped down to your undies out in the cold. Only the fact if a virus is present according to most studies. But this CNN article reports on a recent scientific study out of the UK that proves temperature does indeed play a role. The study showed that subjects who became chilled showed a “pronounced constriction of the blood vessels in the nose” and that this “shuts off the warm blood that supplies the white cells that fight infection.” This then makes it easy to “catch a cold” and show symptoms if you’re already carrying a virus. So, wrap up with a nice warm scarf to keep you nose warm and toasty! And thank your mom for always telling you to zip up your jacket.
(17) Wash your hands — or disinfect them at the very least
OK. I know my kids have heard me say this a million times, but it’s amazing how they skip this vital step to staying healthy. No need for antibacterial soaps here. Just washing with plain ol’ normal soap for 20 seconds works just as well according to this article by the Mayo Clinic. But what can you do if you can’t wash your hands and are out and about? Disinfect your hands with a natural hand sanitizer. Check out my recipe for “DIY All Natural Lavender Hand Sanitizer.” It’s quick and easy and all you need are two ingredients — vodka and lavender essential oil.
I was almost not going to put this on the list as it’s such a common one, but it really is essential. This MedLine Plus article discusses four interesting theories behind why exercise may help boost your immune system. One of them has to do with detoxification. Exercise makes it easier for your body to eliminate bacteria from the lungs. Another is that it may increase the rate at which white blood cells and antibodies are sent to target any lurking viruses and bacteria. The boost in immunity may also have to do with a rise in body temperature. And finally, exercise combats stress, which is linked to disease. So, there you have it! Go out for a walk or hit the gym and you’ll surely feel better in more ways than one!
(19) Reduce sugar intake
With the holidays right around the corner and the abundance of cookies, candies, and treats, reducing sugar intake is a difficult one, but very necessary. Unfortunately, too much sugar depresses your immunity. Drinking just two cans of sugary soda can reduce your body’s white blood cell’s ability to wipe out bacteria by as much as 40% within just half an hour according to this article by Dr. Sears. Sugar can also deplete your body of vital mineral and nutrients as noted in this article by the authors of the book Boosting Your Immunity for Dummies. Sugar is obviously bad for you in so many other ways, such as creating inflammation in the body, food addictions, and weight gain, so why not try to cut back on it?
No joke. Laughter really has been scientifically shown to help improve your immunity. For example, a study done with cancer patients showed they had significantly higher immune levels when undergoing laughter therapy. Countless other studies have been done as well to see how laughter helps patients in medical settings, such as dialysis. Also, I remember hearing a story during my Ayurvedic training about a man who cured himself of cancer by just watching things that made him laugh for days on end. Pretty powerful stuff, huh?
(21) Consider probiotics
Probiotic-rich foods are also a natural way to boost your immune system. There is a strong link between probiotics, the “good” bacteria that live in your digestive tract (e.g., Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) and immunity, so incorporating probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, kefir, and kombucha into your daily routine makes a lot of sense. You can also pop probiotic supplements, which are especially useful in rebuilding your immune system after a course of antibiotics as Dr. Andrew Weil, a well-known integrative medical doctor, explains in this article. By the way, as discussed in this post, probiotics can even help you lose weight and keep it off!
(21) Connect with others
A study done with college freshmen showed a direct correlation between lowered immunity and social isolation and feelings of loneliness as discussed in this News-Medical.net article. So, reach out to a friend, call a family member, or maybe even strike up a conversation with a stranger. The social connection will not only make you feel good mentally, but also literally make you better physically!
(22) Reduce your exposure to toxins
Breathing in toxins, such as those from harmful cleaning chemicals, may very well weaken your body’s ability to stay in balance and fight off infection. So, consider embracing green cleaning, which is easy to get started with by using basic ingredients you may already have in your home. Also, other small lifestyle changes can make a big difference, too. For example, avoiding fake fragrances, nixing non-stick pans, and opting for organic food and clothing, are a few great ways to reduce your exposure to everyday endocrine disruptors (toxins that throw your hormones off) as I explain in this post.
(23) Try homeopathic remedies
If you think you might be coming down with a cold or the flu, there are homeopathic remedies targeted towards giving your immune system the boost it needs to reduce symptoms. Homeopathy uses super minute doses of natural substances to support your body’s own innate abilities to fight disease. Because of this, homeopathic remedies are often given to children older than three years of age and drug interactions are usually not a major concern. One brand I’m familiar with is Boiron. Its Oscillococcinum and Coldcalm are great for relieving flu and cold symptoms, respectively. In fact, they’ve even helped me and my family members from getting a cold or a the flu in the first place! So consider reaching for a homeopathic remedy if you’re spending time near sick people.
(24) Manage stress
I know. This is easier said than done! But the American Psychological Association points out how research shows that stress puts a strain on your immune system — literally. Over the years, studies have shown that stress reduces natural killer cells, interferes with T-cell production, and can almost stop something called gamma interferon. All these things help your immune system in different ways fight off infections, viruses, bacteria, and cancerous tumor cells. So finding ways to reduce stress, such as doing a hobby or using floral homeopathic remedies like Bach Rescue Remedy, is essential to your health.
(25) Take a deep breath
Breath in nice and deeply. Hold it. Then release slowly. Now, don’t you feel better? Deep breathing may actually boost your immune system according to this Smithsonian.com article. Not sure how to do it? Read about three great breathing techniques by Dr. Andrew Weil here.
What do you think?
Have you used any of the above methods and found them to work? Is there anything else you’ve tried that’s helpful in naturally boosting your immune system? If so, please do share!
This post was updated on August 15, 2015.
Copyright © Karen Peltier and Well Gal, 2012 – 2015. All rights reserved.
Photos © Karen Peltier.