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Holistic Winter Wellness Tips: Supercharge Your Immunity, Balance Stress, and Boost Your Energy

Getting ill and struggling with self-care right now isn't really surprising. The winter season can be a difficult time to stay healthy. The days are shorter and the weather is colder, which often means that we spend more time inside and are exposed to more germs.

There are some key changes you should make to your routine, since staying well during the winter can be trickier than during the summer. Pay attention to these tips to supercharge your immunity, strengthen digestion, balance stress, and boost your energy during winter.

Need a little extra support to stay well this winter? Begin your journey or schedule a followup with a member of our knowledgeable functional medicine team.

1. Adapt to the change

Dark winter mornings can make it a little hard to get going, but instead of reaching for more caffeine, a natural pick-me-up might be just what the doctor ordered. Adaptogens such as rhodiola, ashwagandha, and eleuthero (or Siberian ginseng) are used in traditional medicine to elevate energy, increase physical performance, and even balance the body’s stress response

One study found that health benefits of adaptogens extend beyond mood, and also show potential to enhance physical and mental endurance, support cardiovascular health, and improve metabolism (1). Some adaptogens may also promote resilience to certain cold and flu viruses during the winter months (2).

You can find these adaptogens in capsule, powder, or tinctures, or combined in one supplement like HPA Adapt. 

2. Beat the blues with B’s

A vitamin B complex supplement should be in everyone’s winter wellness arsenal to combat stress and promote a healthy mood. There are a total of 8 B complex vitamins, and they play an active role in metabolism, the immune system, neurotransmitter function, and hormone production. Studies show the health benefits of B vitamins promote a stable mood, while helping the body to be more resilient to stress that's likely to pop up at some point this holiday season.

Could B vitamins be one solution to stave off the winter blues? A double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled study found that supplementing with B vitamins for just 12 weeks improved participants’ mood and decreased workplace strain (3). Aside from supplements, you can get more B vitamins from foods like salmon, dark leafy greens, whole eggs, oysters, beans, poultry, and yogurt.

Try Boost from the East West Way for metabolically active B vitamins

3. Boost your immune system

The basics of healthy eating, exercise, sleep, and time to recharge are the best way to boost your immune system in the winter months. So if this is your goal, focus on behaviors that help you make better choices involving daily habits. Whether it's cooking more meals at home, getting that new cozy duvet cover to encourage better sleep, or trying a new fitness class, the foundations are truly the best place to focus.

You can also add supplements like liposomal vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin D, or zinc. These micronutrients fight free radicals that can weaken the immune system, and help regulate the development and function of immune cells.

Read: 6 Steps to Boost Your Immune System with Functional Medicine

4. Make time to recharge

While the holiday season typically drums up visions of nights by the fire, gifts, and cheer, many people admit it’s also filled with an “overwhelming amount of physical and emotional discomfort,” according to the American Institute of Stress (4). And because the mind influences the body, prolonged stress can depress immune function and is a risk factor for many illnesses (5). Common physical symptoms of holiday stress may be headaches, insomnia, exhaustion, digestive or respiratory issues, and much more.

Experts recommend communicating with family about plans early, setting boundaries to give yourself time to recharge, and creating a schedule for holiday gatherings.

If you have a difficult time coping with stressful events, you should learn to spot symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

Want to learn more?

5. Balance the gut

Some studies show that the first line of defense for illnesses like the flu actually begin in the gut. Your microbiome, or the collection of good bacteria that reside in your gut, can block virus replication in various locations within the body, including the respiratory system (5).

Support your gut flora diversity by eating prebiotic foods like fiber-rich vegetables, and by upping intake of fermented foods such as kefir and kimchi. If you end up taking an antibiotic, always be sure to replenish your beneficial flora afterwards with a probiotic. 

A high-quality probiotic during this season is also a great idea to boost the health and diversity of good gut flora.

6. Eat seasonal foods

Fruits and vegetables that are actually in season during the colder months will be more nutrient-dense than their out-of-season counterparts. Embrace all that “winter superfoods” have to offer by eating produce that’s in season, like:

  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Citrus fruits
  • Collard greens and chard
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Parsnips & turnips
  • Pears
  • Pomegranate
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet Potatoes & yams
  • Winter Squash

Beets and Brussels sprouts are high in vitamins A, C, and K, and a good source of fiber. Winter squashes and pumpkin are good sources of vitamins A and C, and B vitamins, high in antioxidants, and provide crucial minerals such as potassium, and magnesium. 

For an easy way to pack some of these superfoods into your diet, try a smoothie with beetroot, carrot, apple, ginger, orange, and turmeric. You can also make delicious soups using pumpkins or squash.

If you need a little extra help staying on track this season, find out if nutrition counseling is right for you.

7. Flu-fighting botanicals

Many plants contain phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that stimulate and support the immune system. You’ve probably heard of elderberry or echinacea, but there are dozens of others. Astragalus root, which has been shown to support respiratory health, is a staple in Eastern medicine (7). These traditional herbs have been used for centuries to help fight off germs and support immune health. Astragalus root extract has also been shown to decrease the frequency and severity of upper respiratory infections in children and older adults (8). 

Related: The 8 Best Immune Supplements for the Whole Family

8. The sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D levels often drop during the winter as most people spend less time outdoors. Low vitamin D can not only harm immune function, but also negatively affect mood and mental health. It’s important to keep your vitamin D (aka the sunshine vitamin) levels within a healthy range during the winter. Countless studies have linked low vitamin D levels to autoimmunity and other chronic diseases, making it an essential support for overall wellness. 

If you live in the northern portion of the U.S., or suspect you may have low vitamin D, consider speaking with your doctor about testing vitamin D levels to properly guide supplementation.

9. Stay ahead of SAD season

Many of us have a case of the winter blues once the days get shorter, colder, and darker, but it’s important to be aware of your body adjusting to changes in sunlight during the winter months, versus the type of clinical depression that occurs with the changing seasons. 

SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is characterized by fatigue, moodiness, loss of interest, difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping, weight gain, feelings of hopelessness or despair, and thoughts of suicide. SAD is real depression triggered by the changes in season. You can be proactive by reaching out to your integrative provider to do things like evaluate vitamin D levels, increase antioxidants, and discuss coping strategies.

Vitamin D supplementation in the winter is a must if you live in an area with really short days. Light therapy can also be beneficial. And finally, proper diet, exercise, hydration, and sleep are always important and will help your body adapt to the changes in sunlight.

Winter Wellness with Functional Medicine

No one likes getting sick, least of all during the winter months. Fortunately, there are things you can do to lessen your chances of succumbing to cold and flu viruses or other illnesses. Taking supplements, eating certain foods, and practicing self-care are all great ways to keep your body healthy during the winter. Additionally, functional tests can help identify risk factors that may make you more susceptible to illness. So don’t wait until you’re already feeling under the weather to take steps to improve your winter wellness routine. Go ahead and stock up on vitamin D, get a massage, and eat those oranges—your body will thank you later.

Resources 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/ 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7558817/
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51636684
  4. https://www.stress.org/a-neuroscientists-advice-for-combating-stress-this-holiday-season 
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341916/
  6. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2020.01877/full  
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23118903/ 
https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-021-00425-5

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