Easy Immune System Boosters: Staying Healthy in a Germ Factory

Building immunity

Despite my continuing dependence on adrenal steroids to stay alive, I normally fancy myself as being pretty healthy. I mean, my work involves literally sticking my face in other people's faces (once they're under anesthesia, in order to secure their airways). People like me who work in a hospital just assume that they are exposed to all sorts of pathogens on a daily basis. While I've suffered the occasional virus that probably came from work or the gym knock me down for a day or two, usually things normalize again pretty quickly. But this winter, things were very different. Having a toddler in daycare during the winter definitely changes the wellness dynamic of the whole family!

Apparently we're not alone. Friends have told me, "I've never been as sick as I was my first winter with a child in daycare." I hear, "Every time they change classrooms you'll get deathly ill." I have also heard, "It gets better once they turn two" (please let this be the case). And there's an interesting phenomenon that occurs: the vector child gets better quickly while the adults continue to suffer. Throw in particularly cold and wet temperatures this winter plus worsening air quality in Salt Lake City, and you have a recipe for acute turned chronic illness.

None of us is completely immune to getting sick, but we can do some things to try to prevent it during the high risk seasons. I wanted to share some things that I do to support my immune system - some that are of the supplement variety and some that are more behavioral in nature. I'm not going to discuss scientific evidence (or lack thereof) for each potential intervention, as it could possibly turn this blog post into a dissertation! I should also explain my take on supplements. In my opinion, unless it's prohibitively expensive or obviously harmful, why not try it even if there isn't strong scientific evidence that it works? So here are my immune-boosting tips:

  • Reduce toxin ingestion. Try to steer clear of bad air, whether that be first- or second-hand smoke, pollution, car/bus exhaust, or other chemicals. In Salt Lake City, this can be difficult in the winter with the frequent inversions, but we invested in some air filters like these* for our bedrooms. At the very least, stay inside for a few days. In terms of what you put in your mouth, drink clean filtered water and limit intake of processed foods.

  • Eat nutrient-dense foods. On the topic of diet, I always go back to basics with food when I'm feeling ill. It's not the time to be adventurous with the latest spicy dish at your local Thai restaurant, nor is it the best thing to subsist on sugary junk. I usually make plain chicken soups with wilted greens, bland protein like chicken and eggs, vegetables that still hold nutrients but won't upset my stomach such a squash, and whatever fruits seem appealing (especially citrus and berries for their vitamin C and antioxidant content).

  • Protect your gut. Ever had a viral cold or flu but suffer from diarrhea? Your intestinal lining becomes more permeable when you're under great stress, inflammation, or illness. Foods with glycine can help to restore and protect that barrier. We make bone broth and homemade fruit gelatin gummies. While these are super easy to make (see a few recipes here and here), they are becoming more popular/trendy and  can be found at health food stores as well. The plain gelatin that we buy for our gummies is this grass-fed one. A good probiotic (I've used this one and this one before) can also be helpful, especially if you find yourself needing antibiotic treatment.

  • Experiment with immune-boosting supplements. Almost everyone has heard of using Vitamin C when they catch a cold, but it can upset your stomach in high doses. One thing I have used is this liposomal formulation, which encapsulates the C to make it more bioavailable and less irritating to the bowels. Another good immune-enhancing vitamin is vitamin D. I prefer to use the drops like these, which are very concentrated. Many of us walk around with vitamin D deficiency and don't even know it! Zinc in the form of lozenges can help with sore throat symptoms. I also have experimented with elderberry syrup for both me and my daughter. It tastes good, and to my knowledge there is little downside to trying it even if it doesn't do much. Last but not least, remember to be consuming an overall balanced diet and possibly use a good multivitamin to fill in the gaps. 

  • There are other immune-boosting supplements I've either tried or read about that I could mention, but these are what I've been using this winter. Try what you will and see what works for you!

  • Utilize mechanical means for feeling better. What I'm basically referring to here is steam in all of its forms: tea, humidifiers, a netipot, a hot bath with eucalyptus oil, or a sauna. My favorite tea brand is Yogi. All flavors are organic and taste pretty amazing. My favorite is Egyptian licorice, but they have a good spicy ginger flavor that would be good for tummy troubles as well. And although I was skeptical at first, I tried a netipot when I was really congested, and it really helped sinus pressure.

  • Accept that you need to take it easy. Don't do like me and continue shoveling your huge driveway between the multiple layers of snowfall while you're under the weather... delegate even if you need to pay someone! Stop going to spin class, Crossfit, or any other exercise. Take it easy. Take naps. Go to sleep early. Accept that YOU require self care right now.

  • I was sick for almost a month this past winter. In retrospect, I realize that catching a simple virus from my daughter greatly affected me despite my efforts to push through. I was in denial for at least the first couple weeks. I kept my activity level high with the exception of very heavy lifting sessions, I continued to clear my driveway of multiple feet of snow, I worked, I took care of my child and my household. Then all of a sudden I realized that I was weak, tired, achy, feverish, unhappy, and generally unmotivated for daily life activities.  Of course I treated my symptoms with the full court press as above, but as the cycle persisted, I continued to feel bad and eventually got worse, which leads me to my last tip...

  • Know when to call for the bigger guns. While antibiotic usage has recently been highlighted as something we should decrease due to widespread overuse leading to bacterial resistance, antibiotics are still sometimes necessary for getting better. I turned out to have either a sinusitis or atypical pneumonia this winter that only resolved once I took a course of antibiotics. Pay attention to your symptoms and their time course; have they persisted or worsened over time? If yes, maybe you should go see a healthcare professional. And if you do have to go on antibiotics, here is a good article discussing ways to protect your microbiome before, during, and after the course.

  • How has your household been fairing this season? What are your favorite go-to immune system boosters? Share them here!

    *Note: This is the first time I've incorporated affiliate links into my blog, and I plan on continuing to utilize them in the future whenever I recommend certain products. If you buy a product after viewing it through my link, it does not charge you any extra money but will give my blog a small referral fee. By no means do you have to use my links to buy these products; in addition, they can be found at many locations other than Amazon.com.


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