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Our top recommendations to prepare you and your family for resilient immunity.

It may sound a bit ominous to say “winter is coming” – taken from the popular series Game of Thrones – yet the cooler, darker days of winter do bring special consideration when it comes to our health and well-being.  From food to physical activity, the fall and winter seasons require a change of pace from the relative freedom of sunny summer days. Your incredible immune system will be challenged in a very different way and we want to help you be ready and resilient!

Most of us have grown up accepting the ubiquitous nature of the common cold.  Accompanied by the runny, red nose, scratchy throat and stuffy sinuses, the cold virus manifests differently depending on its type and your innate resistance to it.  So, what is a cold virus anyway?  It’s quite simply a particular type of virus that thrives in cooler temperatures.  Heat degrades this class of virus handily – hence, the effectiveness of a good, strong fever to naturally combat this invader.  With that said it is important to have a well-functioning immune system that can launch a fever when needed and regulate it so that it doesn’t get out of control.

What organizes an efficient response by the immune system?  It’s a pretty complex system but the controllable influences include nutrition, movement and sleep. Not too surprising.

Eat fresh, whole foods as often as possible including fruits and veggies rich in anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative anthocyanins.

Let’s start with nutrition!  This includes not only the food you’re choosing but also your dietary supplements.  Our top recommendations for boosting your immunity with nutrition includes:

  1. First and most importantly, avoid industrialized seed oils used in manufacturing the majority of prepared foods.  The eight highly inflammatory seed oils are Canola (rapeseed), Corn, Cottonseed, Soybean, Sunflower, Safflower, Grapeseed, and Rice bran oil.  These oils are cheap and used liberally in the manufacture of most snack foods (chips and crackers) as well as soups, condiments, sauces, marinades and dressings.
  2. Eat fresh, whole foods as often as possible including fruits and veggies rich in anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative anthocyanins.  These are natural compounds that give berries and other fruits and veggies their deep, rich colors.
  3. Reduce your intake of processed sugars from carbohydrate-rich foods like baked goods and breads, candies and sugary sweets.  These simple carbs are like cluster-bombs to your immunity!
  4. Increase your intake of supplements that are specific immune boosters for the season; Vitamin C (ester is best), Vitamin D3 with Vitamin K2 included (Allergy Research has a good combo product), Optimal Essential Fatty Acid (EFAs) blend (Biotics), Elderberry Syrup for the anthocyanins (I love to make my own but there are good organic brands available).
  5. Start making your very own home-made bone broth!  This lovely elixir of health is more of a medicine than a food and I recommend that you keep a fresh batch in the fridge for the entire season!  You can use it in so many versatile ways from gravies and marinades to soups and ramens.  Bone broth is a staple for the season and so easy to make.  Even easier than doing your laundry! 🙂

My pure & simple bone broth recipe is available to anyone who would like it – just email me at and I’ll send it your way!

The next strategy available for keeping your immunity resilient and strong is physical movement.  You may know this as exercise but I prefer to not call it that due to the almost immediate and universal negative association with the phrase “working out.” Movement is more easily undertaken in the warmer months as we engage in things we enjoy that are often outdoors like gardening, hiking, bicycling etc.  As the days get shorter and the temperatures get cooler many of these activities can still be enjoyed.  Here are some fall/winter ideas for keeping movement part of your daily routine;

  1. Rake some leaves
  2. Take a forest walk to see the seasonal changes
  3. Hike with snowshoes!
  4. Go sledding
  5. Learn to play some indoor sports – like pickleball!
  6. Join a gym
  7. Take dancing lessons
  8. Keep a rebounder at home and bounce to music
  9. Purchase 5 and 10 pound weights and use them while watching a movie
  10.  Laugh more – it’s great for the core muscles, and the soul!

Read. Not on a device but an old-fashioned, page-turning, printed book.  The very act of moving your eyes from left to right is a way of shifting your autonomic nervous system toward parasympathetic.

And, finally, let’s address sleep.  Nine out of 10 adults have “lack of quality sleep” as their number one health concern.  And indeed it should be!  Sleep is essential to a healthy immune response and studies show that 3 nights in a row of interrupted sleep can lead to significant reduction in “killer cell” activity.

Sleep is a complex issue for sure and most people have tried everything from melatonin to white noise machines with some improvement but no resolve. The frustration and struggle, alone in the dark, can seem like a never-ending battle. What is our top recommendation for this most common of all ailments?  Surrender.

This may sound even more frustrating to anyone who has dealt with insomnia but one of the most effective responses to middle-of-the-night wakefulness is acceptance.  You’re awake and that’s what is.  When this happens it’s helpful to not fight it!  Strategies may include:

  1. Middle of the night meditation practice.  This is actually one of the most productive times for meditation.  There are many apps available now to guide you into a meditative state which can seriously shift you into a more relaxed (parasympathetic) mode.  Finding a good feeling thought and focusing on that alone will allow you to be more comfortable in your wakefulness.  And, may even lull you to sleep!
  2. Read. Not on a device but an old-fashioned, page-turning, printed book.  The very act of moving your eyes from left to right is a way of shifting your autonomic nervous system toward parasympathetic.  Scrolling on a device actually has the opposite effect on your brain and can keep you more awake.  Also, the light emitted from devices can be stimulating and should be avoided as well.  We recommend turning off all devices for at least 2 hours prior to bedtime for anyone suffering with insomnia.
  3. Avoid sugary snacks within 4 hours of sleep time.  Sugar is energy and if you don’t have time to burn it off before bedtime it will most likely interrupt your sleep.  Fat and protein snacks prior to bedtime (if needed) are a better choice for helping induce sleep.  In fact, some turkey slices wrapped around slivers of avocado may be a perfect before bed snack as it provides your brain with tryptophan – a natural sleep inducer.
  4. Avoid strenuous exercise within 4 hours of bedtime.  Choose instead an evening stroll, gentle dancing, or easy stretching.  All of these can assist the body in moving toward a more relaxed state of being.
  5. Lastly, but most importantly, check your breathing!  In a Mayo clinic sleep study it was discovered that insomnia is more commonly linked to breathing than to psychological disorders.  They even have a term for it called “Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB)” contributing to the majority of cases in their sleep labs.  The number of patients we see moving towards sleep apnea machines has grown ever-larger but the inconvenience and limitations of these devices are evident.  Perhaps start with creating new breathing habits.

To calm the Autonomic Nervous System and move to a calmer more relaxed state for rest try practicing Resonant Breathing.  This simple technique is non-intrusive, cost-free, easy and available at anytime, anywhere.  Close your eyes and focus on your breath using only your nose for both the inhale and the exhale.  It is important that you do not exhale through the mouth as many breathing practices recommend.  Breathe in deeply and slowly to the count of five and, without pausing, exhale slowly through the nose to the count of five.  You may even visualize the air coming in and going out as an infinity symbol to keep your brain occupied and free from wandering.  Try this for at least five minutes either lying down or resting comfortably sitting up with a supported straight spine.

This breathing technique is a tried and true method for shifting your nervous system, endocrine system and even the pH of your body into a neutral state.

In conclusion, your health and resilience is in your hands.  Every choice we make is either in support of our better health or against it.  We certainly are not going to make those “perfect” choices all the time – a yummy small treat or a drink with good friends can be good for the soul and help us avoid feeling deprived.  Yet, the strategies listed here for better choices in nutrition, movement and sleep optimization will help you strengthen your immunity and make the dark days of winter something to enjoy.

Maria Zilka

Clinic Director, Nutritional Therapist, DNRS Specialist

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