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Winter is almost here–the days are shorter, nights are longer, it’s COLD, and flu season is just around the corner. Not to mention that holiday air travel is not only stressful (and stress wears down the immune system) but also kind of like throwing yourself into a cesspool of nasty germs. Here are some great tips to keep your immune system in top shape this holiday season and for the rest of the winter.

1. Get enough rest. I’m talking 8-9 hours. Your immune system is most active at night, and if you’re not sleeping, you’re not getting the full benefits. While you sleep, your immune system scavenges for abnormal cells. Melatonin, a powerful antioxidant, is produced by the brain when it is dark. There is interesting research showing that night shift workers have a higher incidence of cancer because they have lower melatonin levels since they awake and not producing normal melatonin levels at night.
TIPS FOR GOOD SLEEP: Put yourself on a schedule. Get in bed at the same time every night, preferably around 11pm or before. Take a warm epsom salt bath and drink soothing herbal teas to help foster good sleep. Seriously, this works so well–dump about 4 cups of epsom salts in a hot bath and soak for 15-20 minutes, and you’ll sleep like a baby. Not kidding. If you still have trouble sleeping, try a mineral supplement at night or take about 50 – 100 mg of 5-HTP.

2. The majority of your immune system is in your gut, so balancing good & bad gut flora will boost immune health. This is your first line of defense, so give your digestive tract some love. You naturally have trillions of bacteria–both good and bad–in your gut, but when the good overtake the bad, your digestion and your immune health begin to suffer.
TIPS FOR GOOD DIGESTIVE HEALTH: first off, cut down on sugar, booze, white flour, and refined/processed foods, which feed the bad bacteria in your gut. Also, sugar kills your immune system and has been shown to feed cancer cells, so save the candy dish for special occasions only. Eat probiotic foods like cultured vegetables and kefir. Probiotics feed the good bacteria in your gut. Consider a supplement, especially if you are traveling. Look in the refrigerated section for a supplement with at least 15 million C.F.U.s (colony forming units). Udo’s Super 8 is a good brand.

3. Get at least 15 minutes of direct sunlight every day for the best natural source of vitamin D, which is essential for immune health. If you live in the upper latitudes where the sun don’t shine (enough), take Cod Liver Oil. It’s nasty but essential for good levels of vitamin D. Make sure you get a good brand, like Nordic Naturals. Take it 6 months out of the year, and have your D levels tested. It’s hard to get D from food, but salmon and eggs and liver are ok sources.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of good ole vitamin C, which not only boosts immunity but also nourishes the adrenals, which impact your immune system. Eat citrus, kiwis, rosehips OR take a supplement with bioflavinoid co-factors to maximize absorption.

5. Swap out those venti lattes for green or black tea. Caffeine (especially when paired with sugar) is health-robbing, and teas are health-promoting. Also, watch the booze intake.

6. Get out and exercise to reduce cortisol and improve stress levels–exercise boosts immune health, too.

And don’t forget to wash your hands! Have fun out there.