Between shopping for gifts, planning parties, visiting loved ones, and lots of travel, the holidays can be a hectic and busy time. The last thing you want is an unexpected illness to ruin the festivities. So in between the holiday hustle and bustle – and with peak cold and flu season underway – here are some healthy habits to support your immune system this season.
Common immune stressors during the holidays
First, let’s talk about why the holidays are so hard on your immune system in the first place.
Holiday traveling and family gathering
When people are on the move, there’s an increased risk of illness. This is due to multiple factors. One is the uptick in colds and other viral activity during the colder months of the year. We’re also spending more time in crowds – whether at family gatherings, work parties, or traveling through crowded airports. Studies show that increased exposure to potentially crowded places, public transport, and individuals with a cold increases your risk of acquiring circulating acute respiratory infections.
Stress and your immune system
The holidays can also be a stressful time with having to juggle so many responsibilities in between all the festivities. Unfortunately, too much stress can take a toll on the immune system. This is because when we experience stress, our body releases a stress hormone called cortisol. White blood cells contain receptors for cortisol that have been shown to directly impact the function of these critical immune cells . If we’re experiencing too much, or chronic stress, this can hinder the portion of our immune system, Th1, responsible for fighting infection and make us more susceptible to viral illnesses [2, 3].
Tip: Ready to tackle chronic stress and high cortisol levels? Learn more about creating a personalized program to conquer stress.
Lack of sleep
Whether it’s from traveling across time zones, or simply staying up late catching up with family and friends, our normal sleep schedule tends to take a back seat to holiday festivities. This spells bad news for our immune systems as well. That’s because the cells that act as defenders of our body’s immune system also operate on a circadian rhythm. When we disrupt our natural sleep cycle, we negatively impact our body’s immune response via T cell function and cytokine levels . Just like chronic stress, sleep deprivation can leave us more vulnerable to seasonal colds and flus.
Prepping your immune system for the holiday season
Now that you know the additional challenges your immune system faces during the holidays, let’s talk about what you can do about it.
The first step involves eating a nutrient-rich diet. Sure, you can still partake in your favorite holiday sweet treats, but it’s also important to have a diet rich in the following immune supporting vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin D: This vitamin is a key facet in supporting healthy immune function. The problem is that colder winter months make it harder to get vitamin D through the sun and few foods are rich in vitamin D. Vitamin D blood levels decrease over winter months with lowest levels in March. Testing your vitamin D level and supplementing based on your needs is a great way to support immune health in the wintertime.
- Vitamin C: The iconic immune-supporting vitamin. Not only does vitamin C act as a potent antioxidant that helps clear the body of free radicals, it also improves immune cell function. Studies have shown supplementing with vitamin C can increase natural killer (NK) cells that fight off foreign invaders. Vitamin C also enhances T and B cell function . Our body can’t make vitamin C on its own, so it’s important to get enough through diet or supplementation.
- Zinc: Zinc is an essential mineral that also ensures our immune system functions optimally. Similar to vitamin C, zinc plays a role in the creation of neutrophils and NK cells, two key white blood cells that provide a first line of defense against pathogens in the body . Again, much like vitamin C, zinc is not made in the body has to be obtained through either diet or supplementation.
- Selenium: Selenium is a lesser known mineral but can play a big role in keeping you healthy. Studies show a deficiency can lead to an increased risk of certain viral infections . Adequate levels of selenium are also important in regulating our body’s inflammatory response, and in turn our immune response .
- B vitamins: While each different B vitamins play different roles in supporting immune health, there are a couple to know about. Vitamin B6 assists in the production of white and red blood cells that revitalize the immune system. B12 has been shown to improve the body’s ability to fight viral infections in recent research . B vitamins are nutrients that you shouldn’t neglect in your diet if you’re looking to stay healthy this holiday season.
Studies show that daily micronutrient intakes necessary to support immune function may be higher than current recommended dietary allowances. But don’t worry! If you’re looking for a short cut to optimizing your diet and health, knowing the levels of nutrients in your body is a great place to start.
Celebrate Holiday Cheer In Moderation
Tis the season for celebrating. And while many of us will reach for a glass of wine or beer to celebrate the holidays, it’s important to drink in moderation. Alcohol disrupts immune cells that help fight off infections and can also disrupt our natural sleep cycle. While we tend to think of alcohol as a sedative, too much can lead to disrupted, poor quality sleep during the REM stages of sleep  and lack of sleep is a fast track for putting yourself at risk for illness.
Hygiene Best Practices
Finally, the tried-and-true method for mitigating risk of illness is to follow good hygiene best practices. This can include washing hands frequently (especially while traveling!) and sanitizing frequently touched surfaces around the house before and after guests.
Tip: Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes with your hands and use tissues to clear your nose or cover sneezes. Since most viruses attach and invade through our nasal passages, using a nasal spray to clean out your nose and sinuses can help keep your immune system in tip, top shape.
The Bottom Line
Getting sick is a surefire way to ruin holidays. Support your immune health with these healthy tips and consider treating yourself to the gift of good health this season with a baseline of your nutrient levels. Rootine’s blood mineral and blood vitamin test shows your body's current levels of 12+ nutrients and uses your data to customize a multivitamin dose for you. Your precision multivitamin includes all the nutrients listed above to support an optimal immune response.
- Hayward, A. C., Beale, S., Johnson, A. M., Fragaszy, E. B., & Group, F. W. (2019). Public activities preceding the onset of acute respiratory infection syndromes in adults in England - implications for the use of social distancing to control pandemic respiratory infections.. Wellcome Open Research, 5. https://doi.org/10.12688/wellcomeopenres.15795.1
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- Batista KS, Cintra VM, Lucena PAF, Manhães-de-Castro R, Toscano AE, Costa LP, Queiroz MEBS, de Andrade SM, Guzman-Quevedo O, Aquino JS. The role of vitamin B12 in viral infections: a comprehensive review of its relationship with the muscle-gut-brain axis and implications for SARS-CoV-2 infection. Nutr Rev. 2022 Feb 10;80(3):561-578. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuab092. PMID: 34791425; PMCID: PMC8689946.