This 2018 has been particularly brutal in our neck of the woods. So far this season, my family has faced 3 stomach bugs (my daughter), pneumonia and a sinus infection (my husband), as well as laryngitis and pink eye (me), and with another 4+ months to go and lots of horrible viruses, colds, and flus circulating in the Toronto area and beyond, I’ve spent a great deal of time reading various ‘how to boost your immune system’ articles over the last couple of weeks.
There was a time in my life where I went above and beyond to keep my family healthy during cold and flu season, but once my daughter started full-time school, all bets were off. The fact that I’m a busy work-at-home mom who is constantly stressed out and sleep deprived certainly doesn’t help and given our track record over the last few months, I’m clearly doing a poor job in keeping everyone’s immune systems in good shape.
But that’s about to change.
I’m determined to make 2018 bigger and better for all of us, and today I’m teaming up with Renew Life to share 8 simple yet effective tips to help you stay healthy this winter.
And I’m committing to every single one of them…
1. GET MORE SLEEP
The amount and quality of our sleep has a significant impact on our physical and emotional well-being, and since persistent sleep deprivation can decrease our performance and alertness, cause us to gain weight, make us feel depressed, and weaken our immune systems, it’s imperative that we make it a priority.
Of course, this all sounds great in theory, but busy schedules, sick children, and struggles with insomnia can make it really difficult to get the recommended 7-8 hours of shut eye each night. If this sounds like you, give some of these ideas a try:
- Stick to a strict sleep schedule and establish a predictable bedtime routine
- Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day
- Limit caffeine and alcohol
- Unplug from electronics at least an hour before bedtime
- Trade off with your spouse for night wake-ups/weekend sleep-ins if you have children
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time as your child
- Schedule time for cat naps while your children are at school/engaged in a quiet activity at home
- Seek professional help to discuss supplement options, stress management, etc.
2. WASH YOUR HANDS
Practicing proper hand hygiene is a simple and inexpensive way to not only avoid illnesses, but to prevent spreading germs to others. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (consider singing the ‘Happy Birthday Song’ in your head as a guide) with soap and warm water when you come home, before and after eating or handling food, after using the bathroom, and after you cough, sneeze, and/or touch door knobs and surfaces sick people make have come in contact with. Don’t forget to wash the backs of your hands, in between your fingers, and beneath your nails!
3. DITCH BAD FOOD CHOICES
A healthy diet is an important, yet often overlooked natural immune booster. Fill up on immune-boosting foods such as:
- Dark leafy greens. Dark leafy greens such as broccoli, spinach and kale are potent antioxidants that help the body eliminate toxins. The high amount of nutrients and vitamins available in these vegetables fight viruses and bacteria and allow for more oxygen to get to your blood.
- Tofu is a major source of protein, which is essential for a strong immune system. It’s also a great source of zinc, which helps boost the immune system as well. A lack of protein and zinc are two of the main reasons for a weakened immune system that can lead to seasonal sicknesses.
- Sweet potato. Sweet potato is one of the best immune system boosters out there. They’re rich in beta carotene, which is turned into vitamin A, an essential ingredient for healthy skin. And since your skin is your body’s defense against bacteria and viruses, it plays a huge role in keeping your immune system in check. Don’t like sweet potatoes? Carrots, bell peppers, and pumpkin are filled with beta carotene as well.
- Turmeric has made a name for itself as the trendiest new superfood, and it’s all for good reason. The spice has awesome immune boosting properties, and due to its curcumin content, is an anti-inflammatory that helps fight sickness and disease.
- Yogurt is a great way to start the day. Mix in some granola and berries of your choice, and you have a super healthy breakfast that will strengthen your immune system. Yogurt contains probiotics, which are healthy bacteria that help keep the gut free of disease-infested germs. Look for the words ‘live and active cultures’ on the container to ensure you’re getting a good dose of probiotic content but remember that yogurt is often not enough. We’re sharing an even better way to bust your gut health below!
- Green tea. Replace your morning cup of jo with a warm mug of green tea. It’s filled with antioxidants that protect the immune system from free radicals, keeping you strong and helping you fight off infections and sickness in your body.
4. HIT THE GYM
Engaging in regular exercise each day has been shown to boost the bacteria-attacking cells in your body, giving your immune system a nice boost. The key is not to overdo it. Overtraining and failing to give your body a rest can actually weaken your immune system, so aim for 30 minutes of exercise each day and remember to rest when you feel rundown. Not a gym-goer? Go for a long walk around your neighborhood, chase your kids in the backyard, take up belly dancing, rake the lawn, shovel the driveway, or join a local Zumba class!
5. GET SOME VITAMIN D
Getting your daily dose of vitamin D is extremely important for your health. It’s an important component of T-cells, which guard your body against bacteria and disease, and while getting direct sunlight can be difficult during the winter months, you can also find vitamin D in milk, orange juice, and supplements and drops from your local health store. Just make sure you are consuming vitamin D3, not D2, which is synthetic.
6. KEEP STRESS UNDER CONTROL
We live in a world where we are encouraged to overschedule ourselves and our children, but there is only so long we can live in a constant state of stress and fatigue before our bodies start to break down. We become anxious and irritable, depressed and withdrawn, and start to lose interest in the things that are happening around us. Chronic stress has been linked to mental and physical challenges, including high blood pressure and heart disease, digestive problems, insomnia, anxiety, and depression, making it extremely important that we find the right balance in our lives and put our emotional well-being first. Taking up a hobby, curling up with a good book, meeting a friend for coffee, treating yourself to a manicure, taking a yoga class, and cooking a favorite meal are all simple, yet effective ways to schedule a little R&R into your day so you can keep stress at bay.
7. STAY HYDRATED
Drinking eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day decreases bloating, makes our skin look brighter and clearer, improves our energy, makes us feel less sluggish, and aids in weight loss, but few people realize that when we actively rid our body of toxins and waste materials by consuming the right amount of H20, we are actually making it easier for our bodies to fight off infections.
Not a fan of water? A good infuser bottle will remedy that! There are zero calories in infused water, and so many of the ingredients have health benefits that do such great things for your body. Infuse water with lemon and berries, and you have the perfect detox mix that will flush your system and taste amazing while doing so. Infuse water with ginger, pineapple, and orange and you have a drink that’s packed with vitamins and nutrients. When it comes to infused water, the sky is the limit!
8. SUPPORT YOUR GUT HEALTH
You may have noticed the terms ‘gut health’ and ‘probiotic’ popping up more often these days. Why? Because 70% to 80% of our immune system is located in our gut and improving our gut flora by consuming probiotics has been shown to improve our immune health.
WebMD defines probiotics as…
‘…live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of these as germs that cause diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.’ (SOURCE)
And while it may be weird to think about eating living foods or supplements, probiotics are really important to have in our bodies. From supporting our immune health and helping to decrease inflammation, to improving our digestion and increasing our energy levels, the benefits of probiotics cannot be ignored.
I was first introduced to probiotics about 2 years ago by one of my BFFs. I had been suffering from iron-deficiency anemia as a result of poor diet and overtraining at the gym, and I was getting sick constantly. I was also tired all the time, and my mood wasn’t what it used to be. It took tremendous energy to get through the day, my anxiety was worse than usual, and I just felt down in the dumps. My digestive system also felt out of whack, and I often felt bloated and uncomfortable. She suggested I try a probiotic for 3 months to see how it made me feel, and I’ve never looked back.
My local health store highly recommended the Renew Life brand, and I’ve remained a loyal customer ever since. I’ve tried a few of their probiotics over the last 24 months, and I’m currently loving the Ultimate Flora VS for Women 50 Billion (Refrigerated) as it’s specifically formulated for women’s gut health. Ultimate Flora Critical Care 50 Billion (Refrigerated) has also served me well.
Benefits of a Healthy Gut
- Improved immune health. While I still get sick thanks to having a child in elementary school, I find I’m not getting as sick as often as I did before I started taking probiotics, and I feel healthier all around.
- Better digestive health. My bowels are (finally) regular and I rarely experience bloating anymore.
- Reduced belly bloat. I don’t know if this is a result of getting my digestive issues under control, but my belly looks better than it has in AGES, which makes me one happy gal!
Probiotic Use in Children
My experience with probiotics has been so positive that my husband and I decided to start our daughter on them about 12 months ago. We initially started with FloraBABY (Refrigerated) as it’s a flavorless powder that can be mixed with water, milk, and soft foods like yogurt and applesauce, and we’ve since tried FloraBEAR (citrus-flavored chewable tablet) and Ultimate Flora Kids Probiotic (Refrigerated) (berry-flavored chewable tablet).
My daughter has tolerated all of them well, and I have seen signs of a healthy gut, the most noticeable being that the occasional constipation she experienced as a baby and toddler is now a thing of the past!
What should I look for in a probiotic?
Not sure what to look for when choosing a probiotic? It’s not as hard as you might think. Here are 3 things to pay attention to:
- Strains. A good probiotic will have a nice mix of both Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria for optimum large and small intestine support. With that said, some probiotics contain additional strains, making it that much more important to educate yourself and discuss your specific needs with someone who is knowledgeable about probiotic formulas.
- CFUs (Colony Forming Units). While 3 billion CFUs is said to be good for daily maintenance, talk to your naturopath or someone knowledgeable about probiotics at your health food store to determine what CFU range is best suited to you and your digestive health. Consider things like your immune function, stress levels, age, and whether you’re currently taking (or have recently taken) antibiotics.
- Product Guarantee. When purchasing a probiotic, you want a guarantee that the potency of the product (or the number of CFUs) is guaranteed until the date of expiration. This should be clearly indicated on the packaging.
- Storage Instructions. Make sure to check how your probiotic should be stored. Many require refrigeration, and it’s important to know ahead of time so as not to decrease the potency of your probiotic.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Sara Celik, a Naturopathic Doctor with 15+ years of experience in the health & wellness industry, and she shared some great advice on the Do’s and Don’ts of taking probiotics, possible side effects, and which products are best aimed at supporting immune health. Here’s what she had to say:
Should I take probiotics with food or on an empty stomach?
Since probiotic bacteria can be destroyed in the stomach – a low pH environment – it’s often recommended that they are taken with food since the stomach pH increases after a meal. That being said, the best advice is to look for a probiotic that has a delivery system such as enteric coating or delayed release capsules. Probiotic supplements that have a delivery system can be taken any time of day, with or without food since the capsule does not open in the stomach. The specialized delivery system ensures the capsule opens in the intestines, allowing the probiotic bacteria to populate the small and large intestine where the bacteria are needed.
What is the best time of day to take probiotics?
Probiotics can be taken any time of day. Since most people lead busy lifestyles, my recommendation is to choose the best time of day for you. Setting a routine practice for your supplement regimen can help with remembering to take them so you don’t miss a dose.
Are there any side effects from taking probiotics?
Side-effects from taking probiotics are rare, however, I have heard of digestive discomfort such as gas, bloating or bowel changes occurring in some individuals. Typically, this occurs within the first few days of starting a new probiotic supplement and subsides once the body adjusts to the daily dose of probiotic bacteria. Although rare, loose stools or diarrhea could indicate that too high a dose was taken.
How can I alleviate side effects from taking probiotics?
If you are uncomfortable with introducing probiotics, start slowly. You can start with a lower culture count probiotic and work your way up to the higher counts, depending on your individual needs. Always listen to your body as it communicates with you. Pay attention to signals and if you experience side-effects, it may simply indicate that you need a different formulation that better suits you.
At what age can I start my child on probiotics?
Check the label to ensure the probiotic is appropriate for your child’s age. There are some probiotic supplements available, such as FloraBABY, where the label states that it can be taken from one day old.
For a long time, probiotic supplements were only recommended to children one year old and up. However, as a result of research showing the safety of probiotics in infants, there are now probiotic formulations that are indicated for babies as young as one day old.
Probiotics are known to be quite safe since Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are bacterial strains that are naturally found in food and the intestines. Children’s probiotics vary in potency and you will find a range of probiotics on the market for children.
What is the best kind of probiotics for supporting immune health?
There are specific probiotic species that are known to support immune health. One study showed that Lactobacillus acidophilus in a dose of 70 billion CFU per day for 3 weeks, increased phagocytic capacity in healthy adults, demonstrating positive immune health benefits at a higher potency in healthy populations.
Another study published in The British Journal of Nutrition in 2015 showed Bifidobacterium bifidum improved immunity and reduced the number of sick days in stressed undergraduate students.
My advice? Look for a variety of strains in your probiotic supplement. Multiple strains appear to be most effective in boosting immune health.
How long does it take to reap the full benefits of probiotics?
It depends on the individual. Although some people notice changes right away or within a few days, others don’t notice much at all. The good news is that even if you don’t experience obvious changes, having a healthy dose of probiotic bacteria has been said to support gastrointestinal health and immunity.
Do probiotics lose effectiveness if taken over a long period of time?
No. My patients take probiotics along with their multi-vitamin every single day, not just when they have symptoms. I describe probiotics like a multivitamin for the gut. With a range of health benefits, it surprises me that more people don’t include them in their supplement routine. It’s a misconception that probiotics are only of value while people are taking antibiotics. Probiotics may support better health even in healthy populations.
Do probiotics interfere with any medications?
There are some individuals that are not advised to take probiotics, such as those who are immunocompromised or who have a history of serious illness such as leukemia. Probiotics are not recommended for those taking corticosteroids. If you are on antibiotics or antifungals, take probiotics at least 2-3 hours before or after.
If you’re interested in trying Renew Life probiotics, they can be found at your local Grocery, Drug and Health Food Store!
Cold and flu season can be a real drag, especially when you have small children who seemingly bring home every illness imaginable between October and May, but there are things you can do to support your immune health, so you don’t get sick quite as frequently. From making lifestyle changes to exercising proper hand hygiene to investing in a good probiotic, I hope these tips to stay healthy this winter prove useful to you!
If you found these tips to teach you how to support your immune system and help you stay healthy this winter helpful, please share this post on Pinterest!
And if you’re looking for more health-related tips and tricks, please follow my Health board where I share all kinds of great stuff I find each day!