If you want to avoid prolonged downtime from a viral infection, it’s handy to know how to naturally boost your immune system when you are sick.
In this post, we will look at some of the best ways to use food and lifestyle as medicine.
A cold never comes at a good time. For me, it’s usually right before a fun event or vacation that I don’t want to miss. Murphy’s law I guess.
Over the years, I grew tired of relying on cough syrups and sick days to take care of me when I was down. That strategy proved to be less effective and I got tired of feeling like crap multiple times each winter.
Now hardly anyone in my household gets sick. I say that loud and proud because I have worked for it.
This is due to switching to a natural lifestyle, stocking a natural medicine cabinet, and using food as medicine.
I rarely let the chance of getting sick stop us from anything these days because I know how to keep our body’s strong. We use these tactics on a weekly basis for maintenance and to restore health.
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How to Boost the Immune System When Sick
If you are currently sick with a cold and here are some specific remedies for adults and for kids.
Now on to the life-changing immune-boosting strategies…
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant, necessary for growth, development, and repair of body tissue.
Vitamin C is also water-soluble, which means it is not stored in excess amounts in the body.
You literally just pee it out if you take too much. This makes it very difficult to consume enough Vitamin C to cause a harmful overdose.
In fact, most people do not get enough vitamin C in their diet.
One of the easiest ways to increase your intake without the added sugar is by squeezing lemon juice in water. You can also eat a whole orange instead of drinking orange juice because the fiber helps the sugar absorb slower.
You can also try this delicious morning detox drink recipe for some extra vitamin C.
I avoid products like airborne when we are sick due to the added dyes and chemicals. For my infant, I use dissolvable tablets to supplement his immune system.
I give these to my son preemptively when I know his immune system could become compromised. (such as while traveling, if he has multiple days of poor sleep in a row, or comes into contact with a person who has a cold)
*Always look at the ingredients when taking supplements to make sure they do not contain harmful additives.*
Historians trace elderberry’s healing power back to Hippocrates.
Elderberry has been proven to shorten the duration and intensity of cold and flu symptoms.
The health and immune benefits are due to flavonoids.
This high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant plant compound is thought to lower blood sugar, ease allergies, shorten the duration of cold and flu, relieve constipation, promote diuresis, and aid the body to prevent cancer.
I add kids elderberry drops to my son’s water a few times a week. It is an easy way to add this power packed berry into his diet without any fuss.
When I start to feel a bit under the weather, I jump start my immune system by drinking hot elderberry tea. This tea detoxifies the body by aiding in elimination, having both diuretic and laxative effects.
A good bowel movement helps to rid the body of dead viruses which makes elderberry a very nice thing to have around.
70-80% of the immune system resides in the gut. The lining of the small intestines is chalked full of lymph nodes, the small structures that filter harmful substances and where immune cells reside.
Probiotics help to keep the gut healthy by protecting the epithelial cells against harmful microbes.
Related: How to improve your gut health naturally. This is so important to boost immunity
Increase your healthy gut flora by drinking kefir or kombucha, eating yogurt with raw fruit and veggies, or taking a probiotic supplement.
In our home we take liquid probiotics because they are able to withstand stomach acid and actually colonize your gut.
It is especially important to supplement with probiotics if you have to take an antibiotic, which destroy healthy normal flora.
4. Eat raw and local produce
Eating locally grown produce has tremendous health benefits. It exposes your body to local allergens, which helps lessen allergic reactions to your home environment.
Produce found at a local farmer’s market is fresher than food bought from a grocery store because is is allowed to ripen on the vine, reaching maximum nutrient density before it is picked.
Nutrients from fruits and veggies are optimal within the first few days of being picked and then slowly start to lose their benefits.
The produce from most grocery stores travel an average of 1500 miles from farm to plate.
Local produce is also safer, as it does not cross paths with as many people, lessening the chance of getting contaminated with harmful bacteria.
Food sold at farmer’s markets are not generally wrapped with harmful plastics, which leach phthalates and BPAs into things they come in contact with.
Find a list of local farmer’s markets here.
Getting enough raw in your diet does requires a lot of chewing! Which is why we love juicing!
Masticating juicers preserve the healthy enzymes and prevents oxidation, which allows you to store the juice in the fridge for up to 72 hours.
Here is our favorite juicer which is also really easy to clean!
5. Get more sunshine
Research indicates that sun avoidance is linked to more health problems.
Humans need direct sunlight exposure to thrive and it is well documented that sunlight exposure is our only way to synthesize Vitamin D.
Maintaining a higher serum Vitamin D level decreases the risk of cancer, helps you sleep better at night, and modulates many immune functions. Recent studies show that exposure to sunlight increases the movement of T cells, a major component of the immune system.
I aim to get at least 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure a day before I start lathering up with sunscreen.
Exercise makes you feel better physically and mentally by increasing circulating endorphins and providing a positive outlet for stress.
The increase in body temperature that results from cardiovascular exercise helps the body kill unfriendly pathogens and cancer cells. It also strengthens the heart and lungs, which results in an increased ability to circulate oxygen and bring necessary immune cells to parts of the body faster and more effectively.
Moderate exercise has a positive effect on immune health, whereas long bouts of strenuous exercise correlates with an increase risk of infection.
I have never been a fan of overworking the body in this category.
Aim to get some form of exercise such as a 30 minute brisk walk, three to five times a week.
Something is better than nothing, so even if you do not have a ton of time, fit exercise in whenever possible. It takes time to make this a priority if it is not already. Be patient with yourself.
Also if you are currently sick, it is still a great idea to get outside and walk a bit.
7. Homemade beef broth
It is inevitable that we will get sick. The age old doctor’s advice of drinking plenty of fluids holds true when it comes to beef broth.
This nutrient packed liquid contains 19 of the 20 essential amino acids, collagen, and lipids. Bone broth reduces inflammation, helps support the function of connective tissue, and supports the digestive system in detoxification.
Bone broth is easy to digest, making it an ideal substance to intake when you are sick. It is best to make beef broth from free-range grass-fed beef.
Make broth ahead of time and stored it in a regular freezer for 6 months or a deep freezer for up to a year. I make some at the beginning of cold and flu season so I have it on hand when a sickness afflicts us.
Check out my delicious homemade beef broth recipe.
8. Get more sleep
Insufficient sleep will cause poor health and although each person’s sleep needs are individualized, there are generally guidelines that can be followed.
Any time you are under the weather, getting extra sleep will speed up the healing process. Babies and children need more sleep than adults.
Here are the latest recommendations for pediatric sleep from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as of 2016:
- Infants four to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children one to two years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children three to five years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Children six to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
When I am having a difficult time falling asleep I use melatonin elixir. Mommy days are filled with so many activities and it seems the to do list is never finished.
Even when my body is completely fatigued and my head hits the pillow, my mind will not stop racing. (I am sure many can relate!)
I find melatonin very quick acting and effective in helping me fall and stay asleep. It works well and does not leave me feeling drowsy in the morning.
9. Stress a little less
Chronic stress, especially from constant worrying, can lead to adrenal fatigue and weaken the immune system. It causes whole body inflammation and suppresses immune cells.
I cannot emphasize the importance of getting your stress levels under control!
Write down everything you can identify that is contributing to worry and stress.
Try and prioritize the list in order of greatest intensity. Star the items that seem realistic to do away with.
It may be as simple as letting one extracurricular activity for yourself or your kids go so you can have some down time.
As far as the more difficult things to change (stressful job, health condition, family discord, for example) continue to journal on ways you can slowly chip away to make them better.
Over time as you work towards eliminating stress it will add compounding benefits to your health and immune system.
If plausible, do one thing a day that makes you personally happy or feel relaxed.
For me it’s spending time outdoors to take in some fresh air and deep breathes. In the evening, I love my glass of wine!
10. Echinacea tea
Echinacea, also knows as Black-eyed Susan’s (you may have them in your garden), is a North American flower that has been studied for it’s ability to shorten the common cold.
Research indicates that it increases the circulating white blood cells, enhancing the body’s ability to fight viruses and bacteria.
I have found many combination teas that include elderberry and echinacea, which is a great way to use both these wonderful substances to increase your immune system during an acute sickness.
Purchase echinacea tea ahead of time because it is said to work best when taken at the onset of a cold or flu.
This information was used by my mother when I was a child. She rarely took us to the doctor because she was able to handle most of our childhood sickness at home.
I am following in her footsteps with my family.
They have stood the test of time and contributed to a really healthy life for us.
We really don’t spend a ton of time worrying about becoming sick even when everyone else around us is catching the neighborhood bugs.
If you are interested in the topic of natural healing I recommend checking out the following two books.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2016) Retrieved from: https://aasm.org/recharge-with-sleep-pediatric-sleep-recommendations-promoting-optimal-health/
BeatCancer.org. (2016) 5 ways bone broth boosts your immune system and fights cancer. Retrieved from https://beatcancer.org/blog-posts/5-ways-bone-broth-boosts-your-immune-system-and-fights-cancer
Clinical Sports Medicine. (2007). Exercise and the immune system. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17826186
Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2017). Prevention and treatment of influenza, influenza-like illness, and common cold by herbal, complementary, and natural therapies. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871211/
Journal of Internal Medicine. (2016). Avoidance of sun exposure as a risk factor for major causes of death: A competing risk analysis of Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/joim.12496
Journal of International Medical Research. (2004). Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15080016
Journal of Investigated Medicine. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Retrieved from :https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/
Life Science Daily News Desk. (2016). Sunlight found to energize cells involved in the immune system. Retrieved from: https://lifesciencedaily.com/stories/19697-sunlight-found-energize-cells-involved-immune-system/