The holiday season is a war zone for your immune system, rife with germy airplane cabins, family induced stress, and the punch bowl at your office holiday party. It takes everything you have just to avoid feeling under the weather. Here’s what the pros recommend to fend off bugs and send the sniffles packing.
Protect Your Gut.
Surviving on a diet of winter lager and cheese logs isn’t doing your immune system any favors. "Seventy percent of your immune system resides in your digestive system, so if that’s not working well, you get sick more often," says Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS, and Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition. He follows the simple rule of consuming two to three servings of foods rich in prebiotics (non-digestible fiber compounds that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines), like garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, and flax seeds, and one to two servings per day of food rich in probiotics (live bacteria and yeasts that promote good gut health), like kimchi, miso, and yogurt or kefir with live and active cultures.
Embrace the Shroom.
Sorry, we’re talking medicinal. "Medicinal mushrooms activate the white blood cells in a variety of different mechanisms," says Kate Strobe, Associate Naturopathic Doctor at San Francisco Natural Medicine. "They trigger natural killer cells, T cells, and help to ultimately kill bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens." Shiitake, reishi, and chaga mushrooms all boast immunity-boosting benefits when eaten, or you can pick up a tincture — the distilled liquid form — or capsule at health food stores like Whole Foods to target acute colds.
Chill Out Already.
If you’re cramming for last-minute deadlines before the holiday, buried under credit card debt after buying your family’s gifts, or even already dreading the moment the election comes up at your parents’ dinner table, your stress levels could be compromising your immunity. Healthy adrenal glands will be better able to regulate the stress hormone cortisol, which also plays a role in your immune system. To support adrenal health, Erik Peper, Ph.D. and professor at the Institute for Holistic Health Studies at San Francisco State University, recommends guiding yourself through a muscle relaxation exercise every morning: Sequentially tighten every muscle in your body for ten seconds before relaxing it for 15 seconds. "When students practice this simple sequence in the morning, they report that they are calmer and more centered during the day," he says. Studies have also shown that better posture can cause a decrease in cortisol — so sit up, slouch. "The moment you become aware that you feel 'low,' sit up tall [and] breathe slow, diaphragmatic breaths three or four times," Peper says.
Skip Your Long Run.
Regular exercise can aid your immune system, but if you’re already stressed out, you run the risk of breaking your body down too much. "When you burn out, your immune system is compromised, and the cycle of feeling ill and weak perpetuates," says Mike Clancy, C.S.C.S. and founder of Mike Clancy Training. "Since intense exercise is a stress to the body, incorporate some low-intensity activity. Try walking uphill on a treadmill for 30 minutes or do two to three slow, long sets of resistance training with light weight. The idea is to stimulate, not annihilate."
Hold Off On Happy Hour.
It’s important to unwind, but consider skipping the spirits. "While alcohol may soothe your anxiety, the effects on the hormones of the body, coupled with its interference with digestion and proper sleep mechanisms, make alcohol contrary to true decompression and rejuvenation," Clancy says. "Choose an activity or environment that allows your mind to regain clarity and your body to rebuild function and energy." You’re better off booking a massage, taking a yoga class, or giving yourself a night off to re-watch Stranger Things to give your immune system a chance to recharge.
Get a Hit of Vitamins.
If you already feel a bug coming on, IV Nutrient Therapy can be another way to stop infections fast. Offered by many holistic and traditional health centers around the country, these intravenous drips deliver a hit of vitamins and nutrients — like Vitamin A, C, D, Magnesium, and Zinc — directly to your blood stream. “Instead of supplements or tea that has to go through your digestive tract and takes time, this fights infection immediately,” says Strobe. While not suitable for everyone, especially if you suffer from kidney problems or bleeding disorders, IV Nutrient Therapies like the Myers Cocktail can be a great solution for those feeling run down, who are traveling and need a boost, or even for curing or preventing a hangover.