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We are deep into autumn now; the days are shorter, and the nights are longer. It’s getting cold, and we’re spending more time indoors. Protect yourself from illness this winter. Here is a quick reference guide.

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.

Put yourself on a schedule. Get in bed at the same time every night, preferably around 11pm. Take a warm epsom salt bath and drink soothing herbal teas. If you still have trouble sleeping, try a calcium-magnesium supplement, or 5-HTP.

Wash your hands. This is pretty easy and a straightforward way to prevent spread of pathogens.

Avoid sugar and refined foods, which leech minerals from your body and tax your immune system. Sugar has been shown to feed cancer cells and contribute to candida, which causes yeast overgrowth in the digestive tract. Because the majority of your immune system is in your gut, if you have candida overgrowth or other gut pathogens, your immune system can be compromised. Take a good quality probiotic, consider a digestive cleanse, and use kefir and other cultured foods.

Eat seasonally. Right now, that means mineral-rich root vegetables such as yams, beets, onions, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips. Eat more chlorophyll and oxygen rich leafy greens. These mineral rich veggies are very alkalinizing, the opposite of acidosis. An acidic body is imbalanced and more susceptible to illness. Get plenty of antioxidants through seasonal fruits & veggies such as apples, winter squash, pomegranates, brussels sprouts, garlic, and the immune-boosting mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, cordyceps). Choose anti-oxidant rich spices like turmeric, curry, oregano, and rosemary.

Drink green tea, not coffee. Green tea contains powerful antioxidants that keep you well and also happen to prevent cavities. Coffee creates an acidic state and jacks up your adrenal hormone levels, creating stress and inflammation.

Keep your stress level in check. Does that seem impossible with your schedule? Even if you’re stressed at work or with the holidays right around the corner, if you get enough sleep and eat nutrient-dense, whole foods, that’s half the battle. Throw in some yoga and/or meditation or other exercise, and that’s even better. Also consider an adaptogenic herbal tincture that has astragulus, rhodiola, schizandra, and licorice root (avoid licorice is you have high blood pressure). These herbs boost immunity and help your body handle stress.

When you travel, take extra vitamin C, zinc, and probiotics. This is the immune building triumvirate. Stay healthy out there!