When it’s chilly and rainy outside, and cold and flu season is at its height, it’s time to pull out all the stops to keep our families in good health and tiptop shape. Regular doctor visits and appropriate seasonal vaccines are, of course, a must. But when it comes to easing the sniffles and preventing illness on a day-to-day basis, many of us turn to the content of our medicine cabinets — or our kitchens. However, there are several natural treatments that not only help us feel better, but have also been proven to help boost the immune system. Learn more.
The Benefits of Natural Remedies for Seniors
Those of us with senior loved ones are well aware that dietary needs, physical abilities and immunity itself all change with age. The immune response tends to get weaker, making vaccines less effective and infections more likely. Diet — specifically, getting the right nutrients — is one of the keys to maintaining immune health, but there are numerous other little steps we can take at home to boost immunity in ourselves and our families.
Herbal teas, dietary supplements and even some types of gentle exercise like tai chi fall under the category of naturopathy, or naturopathic medicine. Using therapies both traditional and modern, “Practitioners view their role as supporting the body’s ability to maintain and restore health, and prefer to use treatment approaches they consider to be the most natural and least invasive,” says the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Introduced with care and attention, naturopathic remedies can empower us to take charge of our own health and help us boost our immune systems to prevent illness and promote well-being.
Remember that consultation with a qualified physician is always the best route to take before implementing any major changes to the daily routine, particularly with herbal medicines or other dietary interventions that may have unexpected interactions with traditional medications.
How to Boost Your Immune System Naturally
According to Harvard Medical School, in order to function well, our immune systems require balance and harmony. Here are several ways to promote that balance through diet, exercise, supplements and other healthy-living strategies.
1. Remember your A-B-C-D-Es. A lack of micronutrients — i.e., vitamins — has been linked to reduced immunity. Taking a multivitamin supplement, along with eating a healthy diet rich in natural sources of nutrients, boosts overall health as well as the immune system. In particular, vitamins A, B2, B6, C, D and E have been studied in relation to immune response, and seem to play a key role in helping us avoid illness.
2. Get some sun. Spending some time in natural light is one of the key ways our bodies manufacture vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a role in helping our immune systems produce antibodies; low levels of vitamin D, on the other hand, have been correlated with a higher risk of respiratory infection.
3. Open your mouth and say “om.” While the physical effects of stress are still being studied by scientists, studies have so far proven that chronic stress can lead to a variety of negative effects on physical and emotional well-being, including a reduced immune response. Stress-reducing practices like meditation, massage, and even music can help us relax and improve our immune function.
4. Try turmeric. The bright orange-yellow spice that gives curries a distinct flavor and mustard its color also has anti-inflammatory properties, and there is increasing evidence that it helps prevent illness, too. Particularly relevant for seniors, extracts of turmeric seem to play a role in preventing cancer, slowing Alzheimer’s, and alleviating arthritis pain.
5. Run a relaxing bath. A nice hot bath, with Epsom salt or relaxing aromatherapy scents, can go a long way toward reducing our stress — and making us sleepy. Sleep is one of the key ways our bodies repair themselves, and sleep deprivation, reports Mother Earth News, “activates the stress response, depresses immune function and elevates inflammatory chemicals.”
6. Eat more vegetables. Vegetables, as well as fruits, nuts, and seeds, are loaded with nutrients that we need to keep our immune systems in top health. In particular, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, kale, and broccoli help support liver function, a key part of our bodies’ natural detoxification process.
7. Micromanage your minerals. In addition to a range of vitamins, it is important to get enough — but not too much — of key minerals that are important to daily health. Selenium, according to Harvard Medical School, may help prevent cancer, and zinc is a critical ingredient for the proper function of our immune cells. However, experts caution that too much zinc can actually impair immune function, so it’s important to stick to the recommended daily allowance.
8. Make room for ‘shrooms. Certain types of mushrooms, particularly Japanese mushrooms like shiitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms, have recently been shown to help support the production of immune cells. They’re also loaded with antioxidants.
9. Try herbal remedies. Scientists are still studying the effectiveness of many herbal supplements traditionally used as health boosters, like echinacea and ginseng, but whether or not they have a measurable effect on the immune system, a soothing tea can help with relaxation, sleep, and stress reduction. Of course, you should always talk to a doctor before making herbal treatments a regular part of your arsenal.
10. Spice up your cooking. Pungent but tasty garlic and ginger are both delicious, immune-boosting additions to the family diet. Raw garlic in particular contains antimicrobial and cancer-fighting agents, and ginger has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat nausea, colds, and flu symptoms.
11. Keep on moving. Regular exercise contributes to our overall health in numerous ways, and a healthy body means a smoothly functioning immune system. Some forms of exercise, like tai chi and yoga, are also particularly suited for reducing stress and improving the strength, balance and flexibility that we often lose as we age.
12. Consider taking probiotics. Probiotics, or “good” bacteria, are not only an important part of a healthy digestive process but also our immune systems, though scientists are still studying exactly how and why this happens. A study on athletes found that probiotic supplements helped prevent and combat colds, but you can also get probiotics from naturally fermented food sources, like yogurt and kimchi.
Boosting your family’s immunity doesn’t have to be a chore — in fact, it can be delicious, relaxing, and fun. Just make sure to consult a doctor before beginning any major changes to your regimen, and don’t forget those medical tests and flu shots, especially for senior loved ones.