It’s the beginning of cold and flu season! It seems that every year in the fall, I run across sniffling, sneezing, sick people. I feel bad for them, but I don’t feel being around them. Their sneezing near me in the subway is just a gross nuisance. I don’t get sick from them. In fact I haven’t gotten a cold in years. I don’t worry about hugging my friends who are sick or having a sniffling yoga instructor adjusting me. Why am I “immune”? It is because I keep my immunity up, which is something you can do as well!

Many parents tell me that every year when school starts for their kids, they pay the price when their children bring home all kinds of germs that lead to illness. But it’s not just your kids’ grubby hands that are to blame. We are all exposed to germs, but who gets sick and who does not is largely determined by the strength of your immune system, which strongly stems from the balance of bacteria that resides in your gut. By strengthening your internal system you can have a great deal of control over your own health.  While many people seek the influenza vaccine in the hopes of avoiding the flu, if you have a healthy and strong immune system, then such a step is unnecessary. What’s the key to getting through cold and flu season unscathed? Never underestimate the power of vibrant good health and a well-functioning immune system to keep you healthy when everyone else around you is sick. Here’s how you can boost your immune system naturally to keep you healthy all year around.

1. Eat Right!

I have a hunch you’re not surprised that this is my top way to avoid colds and flu. After all, eating right is the foundation for vibrant health.

Eat a plant-based diet, which provides your body with the nutrients it needs to fight off germs, repair itself, and function optimally. Be sure you are taking a probiotic every day, and eating lots of Probiotic & Enzyme Salad. If your intestinal flora is balanced, your immunity will strengthen. Avoid processed sugar and products (including agave), which decreases immunity and causes spikes in blood glucose, and dairy, which creates mucous. Reduce your chemical load by choosing organic plants and avoiding processed foods. If your body has to deal with toxins in the foods you eat, then it won’t have enough energy to fight off germs, as well.

Certain vitamins actually increase the number of white cells in your blood, boosting immunity.

  • Vitamin C: Try bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, grapefruits, spinach, and sweet potatoes for a boost of this antioxidant.
  • Vitamin E: Which foods contain this beneficial vitamin? Try hazelnuts, almonds, tomatoes, and spinach.
  • Carotenoids: You can find these beneficial nutrients in dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, orange-colored vegetables like squash and carrots, tomatoes, and spices like cayenne pepper.
  • Bioflavonoids: These antioxidants are available in sweet peppers, chocolate, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tropical fruits, garlic, and spinach.
  • Selenium: Your body needs this mineral in trace amounts. You can find it in Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, barley, brown rice, and oats.
  • Zinc: Another essential mineral, you can find zinc from delicious sources like dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds or tahini.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: These essential fats can be found in walnuts and flaxseeds.

2. Control Stress

Stress saps your body of its ability to fight illness. According to the American Psychological Association, research has repeatedly shown that chronic stress has a direct correlation with weakened immune function.

Stress can be short-term or chronic. Millions of Americans face constant on-the-job pressures, and many others face stress related to financial pressures, family life, and a host of other factors. In fact, many people report constant low-level stress that seldom ceases. Along with decreased immunity, chronic stress may contribute to other conditions that continue to pile on the stress and further weaken immunity including obesity, addiction, and depression.

Your body responds in complex physiological ways when confronted with stress. These responses include:

  • Increased blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate
  • Increased blood glucose
  • Blood thickening
  • Secretion of stress hormones including adrenaline, cortisol, and endorphins

While these responses serve us well in fight or flight situations, over the long-term these same protective responses can break down your immunity, leaving you vulnerable to illness. Some experts estimate as high as 75 percent of all doctors visits can be directly attributed to stress!

What can you do to distress? Here are a few tools.

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Positive visualization
  • Take time for yourself
  • Be aware of when you are feeling especially stressed
  • Stretch

Be conscious of what is really stressing you out. Is it your commute to work? When I was in LA last year I made it a point of leaving a bit earlier for my clients’ homes so I wouldn’t get as stressed with traffic, and found pretty back roads with trees that I preferred to the busy, smoggy highways. Do work or personal relationships stress you? Work on bettering communication so everything is out in the open and talked through. The more you can target what is chronically stressful in your life and work to find healthy ways to alleviate it, the better your whole life will be.

3. Get Enough Sleep

You need your sleep to stay healthy! If I sound like your mother, she said that with good reason. Research shows that when you are deprived of sleep, inflammatory cytokines rise while t-cells decrease. These two responses weaken your immune system, making it more difficult for your body to fight off cold and influenza.

Lack of sleep may affect immunity in another way, as well. When you are tired, you are more likely to make unhealthy choices or turn to caffeinated and sugary beverages for an energy boost.  Sugar feeds yeasts, and can contribute to the overgrowth of yeasts like Candida albicans. This in turn contributes to the unbalancing of the good bacteria with the bad, and consequently diminished immunity.

What’s the best way to combat this? Get a good night’s sleep. Experts estimate adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. Not sleeping well? Try these ideas to help improve your sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine and sugar.
  • Don’t eat heavy foods near bedtime- especially animal proteins, which are slow-digesting foods
  • Keep your bedroom a comfortable temperature. In general, you need the room to be slightly cooler while you sleep than at other times during the day.
  • Check your mattress and pillow. Are they comfortable? If not, it may be time to replace them.
  • Create a bedtime routine and stick to it.
  • Try a warm (not hot) bath right before bedtime. The drop in temperature after you get out of the bath triggers sleepiness.
  • Use your bed only for sleeping. Read and watch television away from your bedroom.
  • Lighted computer, laptop, and tablet screens within 30 minutes before bed may interrupt your sleep cycle. Shut off the computer at least an hour before you go to sleep.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning to set your sleep schedule.
  • Try a cup of chamomile or rooibos tea at least an hour before bed.

4. Exercise

Pursuing moderate exercise can boost your immune system. While experts aren’t sure exactly why this is, they have developed theories including:

  • The rise in body temperature associated with exercise may fight off germs.
  • Exercise helps control stress, allowing you stronger immune function.
  • Exercise forces bacteria from your body via exhalation and sweat, thus flushing toxins out of your body before they make you sick.
  • Exercise increases blood flow, which keeps your immune fighters circulating more quickly through your bloodstream.

Pursue moderate exercise. Take a brisk walk during the day, go hiking, bicycle, practice yoga or find some other activity you enjoy and can pursue regularly. One caveat, however. Over-exercising can lower immunity, so there’s no need to become a workout warrior.

5. Hydrate

Your body needs water to function. Staying hydrated is essential, and drinking water is the best way to do it. Water helps flush toxins out of your system and keeps your mucous membranes moist, which can prevent cold and flu germs from adhering inside your nose or lungs. The amount your body needs is dependent on many factors, including your activity levels and the kind of food you eat. For instance, Glowing Green Smoothies, salads, fruits and raw veggies contain a lot of water. A general rule though, is that you need at least a half-ounce of water per pound of body weight to stay hydrated. Just remember to drink water between meals, not with them.

6. Rebalance

When your body’s chemical load is high, it cannot function properly. Chemicals clog your organs and hamper your immune system. Eating a healthy diet goes a long way to detoxifying your body and rebalancing your system. Other steps you can take include:

  • Drink detox tea to help remove chemicals from your body.
  • Eat only organic produce and avoid processed foods.
  • Drink a Glowing Green Smoothie at the start of every day.
  • Re-establish intestinal balance by eating my Probiotic and Enzyme salad daily ( I mention it again because it is that important!)

7. Heat it Up!

Warming herbs and spices heat up the body, boost circulation and speed up metabolism. All of these actions have a positive effect on the immune system, and adding them to your diet can help fight colds and flu. Try these:

  • Cayenne
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom
  • Ginger
  • Cloves
  • Paprika

Remember the words of the famous French biochemist Francois Beauchamp: The terrain is everything.

There’s no need to get sick this cold and flu season. If you take care of yourself- your internal terrain- then your immune system will be better prepared to fight off whatever germs you encounter.