6 easy ways to boost your immune system this fall

Written by contributor Stephanie Langford of Keeper of the Home.

The green tomatoes on the vine outside my window make me want to deny the truth that summer is winding down and fall will be here in a matter of weeks. (Sniff, sniff.) With the change in seasons comes the usual struggles with various colds and flus that work their way through our homes and communities.

Like the other writers here at Simple Homemade, I prefer to handle bouts of illness with simple and effective home remedies. Even better, though? Not getting sick in the first place!

It’s not as hard as you think and I’m going to give you six easy ways to shore up your immune system and stay healthy this fall:

Soak up as much sun as you can

Before it leaves us for much of the winter, now is the time to soak up as much sun as you can get. It has been well documented that vitamin D, which is formed in our body through exposure to sunlight, is crucial for maintaining a strong immune system.

I was surprised to learn this year that (particularly for those in less sunny regions, like the Pacific West Coast), it can take up until about September for our vitamin D levels again to become optimal after the winter! That’s why it’s important to take as many opportunities as you can to boost your levels, and then once fall settles in, go out again whenever the sun shows its face. Tough assisgnment, huh? Go play in the sun.

To keep vitamin D levels high throughout the gray parts of the year, cod liver oil is my preferred method for supplementing. There are other real food options that you can turn to as well to help you stay healthy through the fall and winter months.

Photo by grongar

A garlic clove a day…

May keep your husband away. But hey- at least you won’t be sick! (Just kidding. Eat the garlic with your husband and then you can be healthy together.)

Garlic is a superstar in my arsenal of natural health tools. Raw garlic contains allicin, sulphur compounds and many other health-boosters, which have potent antiviral and antibacterial qualities.

You can simply eat raw cloves whole (I know some people who cut them into large chunks and swallow like a pill), but crushing them is even better because it activates more of the antibiotic effects. My children take a crushed clove on a spoon, covered in raw honey. I like to put several crushed cloves on toast, with lots of butter and cheese. You can also add extra raw garlic into your hummus, guacamole, salad dressings, or anything else you enjoy it in.

Nurture a healthy gut

Did you know that 75-80% of the immune response is actually based on the health of your gut? That’s huge! Which means that keeping your digestive system functioning at its peak should be a priority.

The best ways to enhance digestion are to cut back on sugar, eat whole, unprocessed foods, and add lacto-fermented foods or foods high in beneficial bacteria (like yogurt) to your diet. Another popular way is to take probiotic supplements, and this can definitely be helpful, but stick to high quality supplements. Your best bet is one like Bio-Kult or one that requires refrigeration (ask your local health food store for a recommendation).

Photo by DannySan

Plenty of Vitamin C

Many people already know to take this, but they often do it in pill or powder form. While this may have some benefits, it’s far better to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are naturally high in vitamin C.

  • papaya
  • broccoli
  • bell pepper
  • strawberries
  • broccoli
  • pineapple
  • kiwi fruit
  • oranges
  • cantaloupe
  • lemon juice
  • cauliflower

Here’s the only catch: eat these foods fresh and raw. Not that there’s anything wrong with enjoying them cooked as well, but if you want to get as much vitamin C as possible, raw is best. Vitamin C is very fragile and easily lost through exposure to light and heat.

Get some extra sleep

Speaking as a homeschooling, work-at-home mom of four children under the age of seven (including a nursing baby), I know well the challenge of getting sufficient sleep each night. So, I’m preaching to the choir with this reminder that a well-rested body is one with a higher capability to fight off potential infections and viruses.

Even if you are struggling to get enough sleep most nights, be creative and find ways to grab some extra rest when you can. Maybe it’s an afternoon nap here and there, one extra early bedtime each week, or take turns with your honey to each sleep in one morning on the weekend. Sometimes just that additional bit of sleep is exactly what your body needs to stay strong.

Photo by AForestFrolic

Cut back on sugar

I know. I’m killing myself with this picture, too. I tell you to cut back on your sugar as I show you just about the yummiest looking dessert possible?

Sugar really does do a number on our immunity, though. I’ve actually had times when I have enjoyed dessert (knowing I probably should have said no) and literally began to feel my throat get sore and my lymph nodes get tender within 30 minutes of eating it. Even if you don’t notice it like I do, sugar really does depress your immune system that dramatically.

I’m not saying you have to go off of all sweet goodness for the season (cinnamon lattes? pumpkin pie?). What I’m really saying is to be mindful of your sugar consumption, and particularly if you feel yourself dragging or you know that you’ve been exposed to something, stay off of it for a couple days to give your body the best chance to fight things off.

What do you do in the fall to maintain a strong immune system?

top photo source

Stephanie Langford has a passion for encouraging homemakers who want to make healthy changes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke, and (her newest!) through successful meal planning. She is the editor and author of Keeper of the Home.

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  1. These are great tips! I do try to do the raw garlic, luckily I love it. When we feel like we are getting sick, we make the health drink that is listed on the Braggs raw vinegar bottle – water, honey, raw vinegar – and that seems to help as well.

  2. Great tips. I was cooking with minced garlic one day when my daughter was about 18 months old. She insisted on trying some – I put it on a spoon and she ate the stuff and asked for more. I couldn’t believe it but I figured hey, it’s good for her. Now passing up on sugar, that’s harder for the whole family…

    • It’s amazing what kids will happily eat, isn’t it? Mine actually request raw garlic on a spoon. Granted, it might just be for the raw honey. 🙂

  3. Thanks for this. We just went through a bout of sickness in August (who gets sick in August??) that convinced me I needed to be more proactive about fueling our immune systems going in to winter…but I wasn’t sure where to start! Thanks for the checklist.

  4. Mandi @ Life Your Way says:

    I’ve been reading a lot about bone broth recently; is that part of your arsenal as well?

    • Yes, it definitely is. I focus on including a lot more bone broth once we hit the fall and winter months. I was just trying to keep this list short and sweet and a bit more basic, but if you’re already making bone broth, that’s such a good thing to include at least a couple times a week. We also really load up on it once we already feel sick (we’ll just drink it by the mug, or I’ll specifically make huge pots of soup for all the sickies).

  5. I just wrote a post about probiotics and how we are just starting to take them on a consistent basis. I bought mine in the refrigerated section at Whole Foods. I’m curious to hear why you like Bio-Kult?

    • There are lots of good probiotics out there, but I learned about Bio-Kult back when we were doing the GAPS diet, which is all about completely restoring the gut and was formulated with this in mind (you can read a bit about it here- http://gapsdiet.com/Bio-Kult_Probiotic.html). But, it’s certainly not the only one you can take!

  6. Laura Jacoby says:

    These are really good ideas. But fruits and vegetables, while they are organic, natural, and antioxidants they are still foreign on the inside of our bodies. I still limit my sugar, I do take extra vitamin D, a multi-vitamin, B-complex and I’ve added the only immune booster of it’s kind, ASEA. It is native to our cells which means that our cells know how to use it. The ASEA has revamped my immune system by helping me to stay healthier and helping my cells to communicate better with each other. This product has really changed my life because I have one kidney and I used to get sick so much easier. During the 9 weeks that I’ve been on it, I haven’t had one cold or even the sniffles. http://www.teamasea.com/well2day/usa/product/what-is-asea/

  7. Caitlin Blaine says:

    I’ve never tried the raw garlic. I think I may have to as this cold season approaches! I love garlic yum! It’s crazy how quickly sugar messes up the body. Just the other night I was enjoying a pumpkin spice beer and I went into a sneezing fit for the rest of the night and had to blow my nose multiple times!! Those sugars will get you every time! My husband always gets sick after we go to the movies because he eats a box of candy! Lol, he’s learned his lesson now, so he watches himself and doesn’t indulge much.

    • It really is crazy, I know! But I think it helps once we have those experiences, because then we don’t just know with our head, but we know experientially, and that makes it a bit easier to say no. At least, most of the time. 🙂

  8. This sugar thing is completely baffling me! I know that sugar isnt good for you on so many levels but I have never heard of it making you sick! I have some pretty serious ‘issues’ with sugar- like binge eating only sugary things in quantities that you wouldnt believe possible. I know its terrible and its something that i struggle with/work on constantly. I work out a ton (an attempt at damage control) and eat healthy at all other times. Im at a healthy weight so that isnt a concern. I do get worried about what all this sugar is doing to the parts of me i cant see. That being said, i never ever ever get sick! I think i was probably in jr high the last time i was sick….

    • Well, to clarify, the sugar isn’t making you sick (as in, eating sugar doesn’t cause you to come down with a cold, flu or whatever). What it does is suppress your immune system, so that if you’re exposed to something, your body is a lot less likely to be able to fight it off. You must just have a really strong immune system for other reasons, I guess!

  9. I always start giving regular doses of elderberry syrup in the Fall and using On Guard (from doTERRA) essential oil as well. I love using garlic but usually wait until we’re sick to start in with it…do you use it on a regular basis as a preventive measure?

    • Oh yes, elderberry syrup is another great one!

      I use garlic in moderate amounts preventatively (as in, I try to make sure that we eat it cooked frequently and then raw at least once a week), and then if we start to feel sick, that’s when I really bump it up (then we’re talking every day, several times a day). I will also use it if I know we’ve been exposed to something, or if we were out somewhere where everyone got wet and cold, etc. just to try to boost our systems in case.

      You also mentioned essential oils. This winter is the first time I’ve had a nebulizer, and I’m planning to experiment using antibacterial and antiviral oils to try to help ward off sickness even better. We’ll see how it helps!

  10. Tracy of shutterbean.com posted an interesting remedy — Garlic Ginger Sriracha Butter on toast. http://www.shutterbean.com/2007/premium-wrapped-garlic/ I haven’t tried it yet, but I am just waiting for that first tingle in my throat!

  11. Jessica Lunsford says:

    Hello, dear.

    I am an actual, in the flesh, immunologist. That means I actually study the immune system for a living. This further means I have access to the journal articles that “marksdailyapple” links to, that the rest of the population can’t read or access. The article he linked didn’t even do any actual science experiments. They just speculated based on other research published. Like writing a book report, basically. Anyway, I’d like to tell you things you are wrong about and things you are right about.

    You’re right about Vitamin D!! Vitamin D is wholly important. It is what gives your “eating” white blood cells the ability to eat the bacteria and viruses. With low vitamin D, these white blood cells literally can eat less. The eating process is not what eliminates pathogens in your body. The eating cells then “show” the killing cells what they have eaten, and the killer cells then divide rapidly to build and army and attack! Less eating ability therefore literally leads to a smaller immune army in your body.

    Garlic: you are partially correct!! Garlic and honey are POWERFUL antimicrobials! They can easily help reduce the load so that your immune system doesn’t have to fight so hard. They don’t help your immune system DIRECTLY, more like act as a support character to help lighten the load. Still incredibly important (and tasty) parts of a good diet though!

    The benefits of a healthy gut: “75-80% of the immune response is actually based on the health of your gut?” and have you heard that “49.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot?” I’m sorry, but that is total malarkey. It is certainly important to keep your intestinal flora healthy, but that statistic is total bunk.

    Vitamin C and Sleep? Nobody is disputing those! There are some insanely persuasive studies (with actual scientific experiments involved) that show that lack of sleep will nearly decimate a healthy immune response.

    Sugar? No. I’m sorry, but no. Sugar CAN lead to inflammation. Sugar does lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. These I am not disputing. But sugar does not have any long term effects on your immune system as a whole. The fact that you think you can feel your lymph nodes get tender after a dessert makes me, honestly, laugh at you. That’s just absurd, lady.

    Here’s a big one that you missed though!! EXERCISE! Did you know, and I have done the studies myself, that immediately after aerobic exercise, the amount of white blood cells circulating in your blood is up by almost 50%?? This effect isn’t permanent though, and only lasts a little while, so aerobic exercise (15-30 minutes) every single day is of utmost importance! Exercise not only gets the blood moving, and immune stimulating hormones moving, but your lymphatic flow system is not on a pump. You don’t have a lymphatic heart! Your lymph flow is only moved around your body by physical movement forcing it around. You may want to add this to your list! After all, a brisk walk around the block is free!

    • I enjoyed your comments belatedly (over a year later) and respect the scientific approach you took regarding the article. There are too many diets, supplements and opinions it is difficult to sift through it all to find help for my aging body and over reactive immune system. I try not to BOOST my immune system and am on Remicade and Methotrexate to help supress it. My question is whether or not you have heard about whether ASEA does anything positive or negative regarding the immune system. I recently experimented with it for a week and it seemed to boost my immune system, I had more energy, etc; but when I stopped taking it the inflammation has run rampant. While I’m taking it I feel somewhat less inflamed by my PsA, just don’t understand the backlash now. Thanks again for your helpful words.

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  13. Char Kennedy says:

    Stay with the garlic and green leafy veggies along with the entire brassica family. The more we do that the less often we get sick.

  14. Candy Stanford says:

    Another technique in boosting your immune system is by keeping your body with good antioxidant according to http://organicindia.mercola.com/tulsi-tea.aspx and this can be achieved by eating foods rich in antioxidant and if it is not possible you can even take some antioxidant supplement is suggested too.

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