Building a Strong Immune System

If you haven’t had a cold yet this fall season, count yourself lucky. Every September our immune systems get hit with a barrage of germs. Unfortunately it usually kicks off with back-to-school, as so many young people share the same space for an entire day. It’s the perfect party place for viruses to spread.

Think of it like this – if you have kids who are in the school system they will be exposed to everyone at school. And if you work with people who have kids, then you’re exposed as well. If you are a grandparent who picks up the grandkids from school, then you’re exposed and so are all your friends. If you have kids and also babies, well sorry you’re just in the thick of it. The point is, once back-to-school hits, our whole community is exposed to these viruses and the best thing we can all do is be mindful of this transition and prepare for it.

There are the obvious solutions that everyone knows and hopefully abides by – things like always washing your hands, getting enough sleep, and continuing to exercise. These sound like simple solutions but they are a solid defence against viruses.

Be well rested
I often see kids, especially teenagers falling sick in the fall because they aren’t getting enough shut eye and/or eating enough quality food. When I was a new mom, I read a book called
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and the premise really stuck with me. The focus was on helping your baby have quality sleep by making sure sleep hours were optimal and naps routine.

When sleep is restorative and adequate, it helps keep stress hormones down and so in a virtuous cycle, sleeping helps protect sleep quality. Sleep begets sleep. The same fundamentals are true for teenagers and adults. When we stay up too late and push the boundaries, stress hormones are circulating and quality sleep can become elusive.

Always wash your hands
And honestly you really can’t wash your hands enough this time of year. Basically any time you go out in public you should be washing your hands immediately after. And exercising can sometimes be hard to fit in when you’re feeling run down but it really does help bolster your immune system. Even moderate daily exercise can help increase your white blood cell count.

Up your immunity 

But there are a few other things you should put in your immunity quiver to help fight off those coughs, colds, and flus. Here are three other suggestions to help build your immune system:

  • Eat more Vitamin C rich foods – this is also a great way to boost your white blood cells. You need these cells to be in fighting form because they’re the ones who are your first defence against any sickness. More Vitamin C equals happy blood cells.

    Some easy additions to add to your diet are fruits and veggies like kiwis, cantaloupe, oranges, peppers, sweet potatoes and broccoli. Check out the list at the end of this post for the the amount of Vitamin C in each – just make sure you watch your sugar intake if you’re adding lots of fruit. 

  • Take an immune booster – I recommend taking a probiotic year round to help keep your system happy, but to really amp up your immunity in the fall, try adding one of the following to your wellness routine (if you’re local in Victoria I love shopping at Lifestyle Markets):
  • Eat more protein – adding more lean protein to your diet helps build your immune system because antibodies are made from protein. Try to have protein with every meal and get creative about what goes in your belly – I love roasted chickpeas this time of year or hummus.

    Or if you want to try something new, try this seriously good lima bean dip which I’ve adapted from the Food Network. I know, you’re thinking “ew yuck lima beans are NOT yummy.” That might be true way back when your mom used to buy them in a can and you’d have to gag them down all mushy and flavourless. But when you buy them frozen, they are bright green, buttery tasting, delicious and a great source of protein. Give it a try, I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised. 

The bottom line is this time of year is all about taking care of yourself so you don’t get run down and then fall victim to a virus or bug. My job as a naturopathic physician is to help keep you healthy through all the seasons. And the best way to do that is by dedicating yourself to health, from the inside out.

Lima Bean Dip

  • 1 10-ounce box frozen lima beans
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley
  • Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pita chips and/or vegetable sticks, for serving

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the lima beans and garlic and simmer until tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool slightly (the beans should be warm but not hot). Pulse the lima beans, garlic, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in a food processor until just combined. With the motor running, pour in the olive oil and process until incorporated but still slightly chunky. Transfer to a bowl and serve warm or at room temperature with pita chips and/or vegetable sticks.

Adapted from the Food Network Magazine

Vitamin C Rich Foods

Food Amount Mg
Orange Juice 1 cup 124
Green Peppers ½ cup 96
Sweet Peppers 1 medium 95
Cantaloupe ½ medium 90
Grapefruit 1 medium 82
Kiwi 1 medium 74
Mango 1 medium 57
Orange 1 medium 50
Strawberries ½ cup 45
Sweet potato 1 medium 28