How to Boost Your Immune System When You Get Sick

It’s that time of year again — cold and flu season — and while we’ve examined many holistic approaches to staying healthy during this time of year, it’s always helpful to tackle the issue from another angle. So if your attempts to ward off a cold fall short and you need a way to bounce back, this post is for you. We asked naturopathic doctor Jaty Tam, of Toronto’s Body of Knowledge Healing Arts, to fill us in on how to speed up the healing process when we get sick.

Get some sleep!
When you get sick, the key is to boost the immune system. This can be done in a number of ways, including something as simple as getting a good night’s sleep. During sleep, the immune system is the most active, and it’s also when our body performs wound-healing and tissue repair. The average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep, but this can increase when we are sick. Just listen to your body and what it needs — allow yourself to sleep longer or take naps when you are ill.

Eat well and feel better
The other simple thing to remember is to eat well. Sugar depresses your immune system, so avoid sugar while sick, especially refined (white) sugar. Alternatively, there are foods that can actually boost your immune system, like garlic and ginger, as well as spices that can be made into a tea to help fight off infections, like sage and thyme. When you have a fever, you will likely find you’ve lost your appetite. Your body increases the temperature to help kill off certain types of bacteria or viruses and to help speed up the fight. However, during a fever, your digestive function is lowered, causing a decrease in appetite. Don’t force yourself to eat when not hungry if you have a fever. Instead, drink lots of water and clear broths to maintain hydration and get some nutrients in without placing a huge burden on your digestive system.

Hit the showers
One thing I really like to use to improve the immune system is a type of treatment called “hydrotherapy.” It involves the application of hot and cold water to affect the circulation of blood, which will in turn affect the immune system. One technique, called “Contrast Showers,” is simple, free and has profound effects. This technique involves alternating hot and cold water during your regular morning shower, always starting with hot and ending with cold. The ratio of hot to cold is three to one, which means if you do one minute of hot, you should do 20 seconds of cold, and the cold part should never exceed one minute. Alternate between hot and cold water at least three times, always ending with cold.

The way this works is that the hot water causes the blood to come to the surface of the skin, while the cold water causes the blood to go towards the heart. By alternating between hot and cold, your blood is being forced to go inwards and then outwards, increasing your circulation. Since immune cells travel in your blood, improving circulation will have a profound effect on boosting your immune system. This technique, if done daily, can not only help your body to prevent catching that cold or flu and help your body recover faster from an illness, but it can also generally help your circulation, getting rid of cold hands and feet and keeping you warmer in general throughout the winter months.

Try a few herbs
Lastly, there are a number of herbs that work great to kill off bacteria and viruses, and help to boost your immune system. There are also nutritional supplements like Vitamin C and D and zinc which can help your immune system. To get the best herbs and supplements for your condition, you should speak to a health professional, such as a naturopathic doctor, who will be able to assess your condition and prescribe an appropriate herbal formula and supplement regimen, as well as follow up with your status.

For more immunity-boosting tips, check out these posts:

Vitamin D to Fight the Flu
Immune-Boosting Foods for Winter

Author by Sarah Treleaven