• Dr Emma Sheehan

Boost your immune system naturally!

Updated: Jul 26

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about how to best support the immune system so I decided to write out my top recommendations for general immune support, including

lifestyle and nutritional recommendations. Please note that this is not intended as medical advise. To optimize your individual health I suggest booking a naturopathic visit so that I may tailor a plan specifically to your health needs.

Emma’s Top Tips for Optimizing the Immune System:

Sleep - Do not underestimate the power of rest! It’s not a coincidence that your body is telling you to curl up on the couch with a blanket and a cup of tea (or to just straight up hibernate!) during these blisteringly cold days. Ours bodies adapt to the different seasons in many ways, one of those ways being our circadian rhythm. As a result of the decrease in natural light, we tend to produce more melatonin and subsequently sleep longer in the winter than in the warmer months. If your schedule allows, try to wind down earlier, and/or let yourself sleep in a little longer this season. A good nights sleep can go a long way in supporting our body’s natural defences.

Movement - Daily movement is always an important factor in promoting good health, but perhaps even more important now, as our desire to enhance our immune systems has never been higher! Movement helps to optimize our immune system by increasing the circulation of lymphatic fluid throughout our body. This helps to enhance the number of antibodies and white blood cells (our bodies immune cells that help the body recognize and fight disease) that are circulating throughout the body. Movement also decreases the release of stress hormones, which have a negative impact on our immune system.



Increased Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables - This sounds like a no-brainer, right? Of course a variety of fruits and vegetables are good for us. But there’s more.. remember how I said our body adjusts to the seasons? This includes our digestive system as well. While it may make sense to consume a lot of salads and smoothies during the warmer months, our digestive fire tends to burn a little less bright in the winter, so consuming raw produce is less optimal.

Try to have more cooked vegetables (roasted roots vegetables, brussel sprouts, soups, stews) and warm salads (roasted squash, zucchini, red pepper, and mushroom with some warm tahini dressing on a bed of arugula, for example) to help support your digestive system. Try to incorporate fruits like cranberries, pomegranates and blueberries into a warm bowl of oatmeal, chia pudding, or a stack of flax pancakes instead of a cold smoothie. Citrus fruits are also a wonderful addition in the winter, as they are full of nutrients including vitamin C that play a big supportive role in our immunity, and they help support digestion as well (which, as I mentioned, needs a lot more help in the winter!). Try slicing up a grapefruit and adding some to your water throughout the day, or warming up a small pot of water with lemon, orange, and ginger on the stove and drinking as tea.




Vitamin D - Vitamin D is a wonderful, wonderful vitamin (though really it's even a lot more than just a vitamin!). It plays an important role in not only immune function, but also in hormone production and mood. Your muscles need vitamin D to move, your nerves need it to carry messages, your brain needs it to function properly, your bones need it to develop and stay strong, and your heart needs it to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Let’s hear it for vitamin D!!! We get vitamin D when our bare skin is exposed to direct sunlight (extremely difficult in Canada during the fall and winter months). One way to enhance our vitamin D intake in during the darker months of the year is with a UV lamp (often referred to as a SAD lamp). To a lesser extent, we can get vitamin D from dietary sources. The best natural dietary sources of vitamin D are fatty fish (like trout, salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel) and fish liver oils. Other dietary sources include fortified foods like milk and plant-based milk alternatives, breakfast cereals, some orange juices and yogurts.. so yeah, not a lot of foods! This is why supplementing with vitamin D in the winter can be crucial. There are different forms of vitamin D supplements available, which is just one of the reasons we recommend consulting with your health care practitioner first.

There are many other nutrients that play a supportive role in optimizing our immune function. For many reasons, I do not recommend supplementation without detailed instructions from a medical practitioner. I recommend booking an appointment with myself, another naturopath, or your primary care practitioner in order to determine which specific nutrients and doses are right for YOU.

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