With kids back to school, the weather getting cooler and the days getting shorter we should all be asking ourselves a couple of questions. How do I boost my family’s immunity this winter? and Did I get enough sun exposure this summer to optimize my Vitamin D3 levels? If you are still avoiding the sun and not supplementing with 2000-6000 IU of Vitamin D3 per day your immune system may be sub par.
According to the Vitamin D Council, optimal benefits are achieved when blood levels are between 50-80ng/ml. If vitamin D3 is not maintained in the optimal range then there may be an increased risk of decreased immunity, heart, blood sugar and mood issues. (1) In one recent study 50-78% of Americans were below 30ng/ml, which puts most of us and our children at risk. (2).
In this article I want to share with you my top three recommendations that my wife and I do to keep our six children healthy and happy each winter. The first is to optimize Vitamin D3 levels for your family!
1st Immune Supportive Technique: More Sun = Less Colds
Kids who get less sun exposure are twice as likely to get a cough and three times as likely to get a runny nose compared to kids with the most sun exposure. (3) In one study, Russian athletes who were exposed to adequate sun exposure had 50% fewer respiratory infections. (4) In another amazing study, kids who frequently got colds were given 8,500 IU of vitamin D3 a day for 6 weeks and were followed for six months. During the six months after the vitamin D3 supplementation there was a complete disappearance of any such infections. (5)
While I am excited about the research on Vitamin D, I do not expect miraculous results. I think of it as great immune support particularly in the winter.
New research has found the mechanism to explain how vitamin D3 boosts immunity and winter protection:
- It activates immune boosting proteins that have been in charge of our immunity for almost 60 million years. (6) Bottom line: the sun has been the trigger for optimal health and immunity for 60 million years but recently we have been told to avoid it! Without proper sunlight the immune system lies dormant.
- Pro-inflammatory cytokines are known to be responsible for much of what we call chronic disease today. Vitamin D3 down regulates or balances this inflammatory immune response. (7)
- The killer T cells in the immune system cannot go into battle and fight against an infection unless they find and attach to optimal levels of vitamin D3. Without vitamin D3, the immune system’s T cells remain dormant. (8) If the immune system had a gas tank, the gas would be vitamin D3.
2nd Immune Boosting Technique: Manage Stress
Stress is believed to be the leading cause of disease mostly because of it’s immune compromising impact. When we are under stress the adrenals are forced to produce an excess of stress fighting hormones. These hormones are degenerative, immune compromising and pro-inflammatory. This is just what the doctor orders for getting sick a national average of 6-8 times a year, which I report on in my book, Perfect Health for Kids.
Ashwagandha to the Rescue
Most adults recognize when they are under extreme stress, run down and at risk of getting sick. Kids though, often internalize stress and don’t talk about it. Social stress can have a huge impact on immunity, as can physical exhaustion. Kids who play sports often get run down and complain of frequent colds. During sleepovers kids can get overly excited, stay up very late and become exhausted. When kids get run down they don’t handle stress well and are more susceptible to getting sick.
There are a group of herbs called adaptogens that help reverse the ravages of stress. My favorite winter harvested, immune building adaptogen is called Ashwagandha. It acts neither as a stimulant nor as a sedative because it may both boost energy and support better sleep. Ashwagandha also acts more like a deep rejuvenative that helps the body increase immunity naturally by helping the body handle stress better.* Here is how it works:
- Ashwagandha may increase infection fighting WBCs (white blood cells) which are depleted in times of stress and are the soldiers of the immune system. (9)
- Ashwagandha may help the body fight stress and not get run down by regulating the production of stress fighting hormones. (10)
- Ashwagandha supports immunity as an adaptogen, helping the body to endure stress and rejuvenate so an exhausting sleepover doesn’t cause a cold.
- Ashwagandha may help stabilize moods. (12)
I prefer whole herbs rather than extracts. Our Ashwagandha is combined with ginger to make it more easily absorbed and more potent naturally.
Note: See winter dosing suggestions at the end of this article.
3rd Immune Boosting Technique: Turmeric
There are many kinds of digestive imbalances that contribute to a compromised immune system. Constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and acid reflux are just a few. Any irritation of the gut will affect the function of the villi. The villi are responsible for assimilation of nutrients, immunity and the removal of toxins that are responsible for compromising the immunity.
Experts believe that eighty percent of the immune system lies in the half inch between the intestinal villi and the lymphatic drainage that surrounds the gut.
There is one used to enhance digestive function, restore healthy villi and increase bile and lymphatic flow. This herb is called turmeric or Curcuma longa. While much of the research is on the extract of turmeric, I prefer to use simple whole herb combinations to enhance their effectiveness rather than use extracts. In 1998 researchers at St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, India found that turmeric taken with black pepper – a common ingredient in curry- increased the absorption of turmeric by an astonishing 2000%, with no adverse effects!
- Turmeric supports gallbladder function and bile flow. Bile flow in the gut is the intestine’s first immune responder against infection. Bile also emulsifies disease producing fat soluble toxins. (13)
- Turmeric supports gastric, duodenal and respiratory mucus membranes. (14)
- Turmeric supports immune boosting antioxidant activity by increasing production of glutathione and super oxide dismutase (SOD). (15)
- Turmeric, much like vitamin D3 decreases immune compromising cytokines that cause lymphatic congestion and a sluggish immune response. (16)