3 Natural Ways to Stay Well This Winter

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

My mom still believes that going outside with wet hair will catch you a cold. I hear she's not alone. There's a lot of misinformation and myth out there surrounding how to fight colds, boost immunity, and generally stay well come wintertime, because most people don't understand what weakens immune systems in the first place. But when you get that, it's fairly easy to counteract those cold-causing forces and boost your immune system naturally.

Two of things that give our immune systems the biggest beating are oxidative stress and inflammation. These processes leave cells more vulnerable to both viruses and bacteria. A lot of things can trigger inflammation and oxidation, including psychological stress, radiation, carcinogens, and poor diet. In the diet realm, sugar is one of the worst culprits, as are certain kinds of fats (like trans fats and omega-6s). So your first best bet against colds this winter?

1. Cut Out Sugar (At Least Temporarily)

Seriously, if you feel a cold coming on or notice everyone around you making sniffling sounds, take a break from the sugar. This includes refined carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta, etc.), as well, since those are nothing more than simple sugars too. Sugars feed inflammation, weakening your immune system and making your body more hospitable to illnesses from the common cold to cancer.

2. Up Your Antioxidant Intake

Health news tends to take a magic-bullet approach to wellness: Eat blueberries to fight colds! Eat broccoli to fight the flu! Eat chia seeds to look like Angelina Jolie! But the truth is that most fruits, vegetables, herbs, seeds, and spices have potent disease-fighting capabilities, because they're all loaded with antioxidant vitamins and anti-inflammatory "phytochemicals." Antioxidants do much what they sound like — they're anti oxidative stress, thwarting all those free radicals and reactive processes that drive inflammation. Anti-inflammatories, of course, also fight inflammation. Both give your immune system a boost.

Also keep in mind that antioxidants go beyond things like apples and carrots. "Herbs and spices are incredibly potent antioxidants," Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian and author of The Flexitarian Diet, told ABC. "In terms of herbs, [oregano] is the highest in antioxidant compounds." Turmeric is another potent immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory herb.

3. Probiotics, Probiotics, Probiotics

Probiotic supplements are a good idea all the time and a great idea when you're trying to double down on immunity (or soothe stomach issues). These days there are perpetually new studies announcing how important the bacterial makeup of your gut is for everything from weight maintenance to mental health. Beneficial bacteria in the stomach also play a crucial role in building up the immune system, but antibiotics and the standard American diet have a way of wiping out these good bacteria. That's where probiotic supplements — or probiotic rich foods like kombucha, kimchi, and miso — come in, to get the gut back in good working order and keep your immune system on track. Numerous studies have shown that probiotics can boost T-cells, the white blood cells that pretty much power the immune system. In one 2009 study, women who took a daily probiotic supplement saw a 1709 percent increase in T-cell levels.