Cold and Flu Season is here.
Be ready with these 7 tips on boosting your immune system.
Our immune system is exquisitely designed to handle just about anything we can throw at it. We come into contact with countless microorganisms every single day: they’re on our skin, in our food and in our air. Remarkably, most of us very rarely fall ill to this endless microbial invasion. Except when we do.
Why do we get sick more in the winter months?
A long-held misconception is that cold weather makes us sick. But the cold itself isn’t responsible for colds and flus, it’s the viruses that are to blame. However, there are a few ways in which the winter chill is indirectly related to the observed increase in respiratory infections:
- More time indoors: More people spend more time in enclosed spaces increasing the opportunity for germs to spread.
- Dry air: Cranking the central heat dries out the air which dries out nasal passages. Flu viruses may be more likely to get a toehold in your respiratory system under these conditions. Additionally the airborne viruses appear to survive longer in dry air than more humid air.
- Cold-loving viruses: It appears that the outer coating of viruses is more resilient at temperatures close to freezing. This means that they are more able to cause an infection if you come into contact with them. Also viruses will replicate more quickly at around 33 Celsius, which may be the temperature inside the upper airways as cold air is breathed in, even if just transiently.
Factors that Affect Immunity
Babies and children have immune systems that aren’t fully developed. Their internal army is still in training and so microbial invasions are more likely to lead to sickness. And indeed, kids get sick a lot. But with each passing infection their army gets better-trained and more powerful and sick days become less frequent.
Meanwhile, as we approach old age, our immune systems become less responsive leaving us more susceptible to developing infections and less able to fight them off. This is likely a normal consequence of the aging process. It may also be due the fact that the elderly often have lower levels of certain nutrients vital to immune function. This could be explained by decreased food intake and diminished capacity to absorb nutrients from food, both of which are commonly observed in older populations.
The relationship between stress and our physical health is a strong one. Whether it be physical stress from a major illness or surgery, or psychological stress from life’s challenges, the body’s response is the same. That response involves the release of hormones, namely cortisol, which allow us to cope and be resilient in the face of stress. The downside is that cortisol is a powerful inhibitor of the immune system. Not surprisingly, people often get sick during times of high stress.
The immune system is dependent on a continuous supply of certain nutrients: Zinc, Selenium, Folic Acid, Vitamins A, B2, B3, B6, D, C and E, antioxidants…just to name a few that we know about. Researchers are still discovering new ways in which the diet is linked to immune function and we might never completely understand it. However, it’s undeniable that a wholesome diet rich in a wide variety of nutrients is a safe bet on supporting your immune system.
It probably won’t shock you to learn that lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, poor sleep and too little exercise all play significant roles in depressing the immune system. Conversely, not smoking, limiting alcohol, getting lots of sleep and regular exercise will promote stronger immunity.
Medical Conditions and Medications
Certain medical conditions like COPD and asthma will impair the lung’s defence mechanisms making respiratory infections much more likely. Some medications like steroidal anti-inflammatories may also suppress immune function.
7 Tips on Boosting your Immune System
1. Make sleep a priority
Your immune system recharges while you sleep. Every hour of sleep you get before midnight counts the most. Stay on a regular schedule, waking up and going to bed at the same time every day. If you’re a light sleeper, try using ear plugs and an eye mask to block out distracting sensory stimuli. If you can, take naps.
2. Eat real food
Your immune system goes to work every day and recharges every night. It needs fuel to keep that up and that fuel comes from the nutrients in your food. Take a good hard look at your diet. How much of it is real, whole food that has no packaging or labels? How much of it came in a box, a bag or from a restaurant? Pre-packaged and processed foods have been stripped of the nutrients contained in the original ingredients. They are simply not nourishing. Whereas real food like fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, eggs, meat and fish are unprocessed with all of the immune-supporting nutrients intact. Make a conscious effort to shift your diet to include more whole foods and less processed food-like substances.
3. Address your stress.
Don’t underestimate the negative impact stress can have on your immunity and long-term health. Be honest with yourself about what sources of stress you can feasibly cut out and take steps to do so. As for the rest, adopt a daily stress-management practice that you make as mandatory as brushing your teeth. Deep breathing, mediation, yoga, nature walks, casual cycling, reading. Whatever brings you joy, peace and nourishment to your soul, do more of it.
4. Wash your hands
It’s obvious and you’ve heard it a million times. But are you doing it?? Because it really does help significantly limit your exposure to microorganisms. Be sure to use regular soap and not anti-bacterial soap as this has been shown to promote antibiotic resistance.
5. Feed your gut bacteria
Although we still don’t understand all the details, or even a fraction of the details, we know without a doubt that the bacteria that inhabit our guts are inextricably linked to the proper functioning of our immune systems. So treat them well! The best thing you can do is feed them what they love most: fibre. Steel-cut oats, seeds of all kinds, beans and hearty vegetables are all great sources of fibre and will also increase your immune-boosting nutrients. Voila. Two birds, one stone.
6. Supplements and IV Nutrient Therapy
Nothing beats maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle and good diet. Nothing! While supplemental nutrients and herbal remedies can certainly be helpful they cannot make up for all your bad habits. If you have have limited time, money and motivation…put it all towards improving your lifestyle.
That said, under certain circumstances a little extra help and fine-tuning is totally appropriate. If you’re dealing with higher-than-normal stress, have recently undergone major surgery or illness or have a health condition that places extra burden on your immune system (or any one of your systems for that matter) then a supplement and herbal regime may very well be exactly what you need.
Intravenous nutrient therapy is unique in that it bypasses the digestive system and can deliver much higher doses of many nutrients than could be obtained orally. IV therapy is especially appropriate if you have digestive issues (IBS, IBD) that would make it more difficult for you the get the most out of your diet. Of course, consulting someone who is well-versed in nutritional supplementation and herbal medicines is highly recommended. Which brings me to my next point…
7. Talk to a professional
If you’re especially prone to getting sick over the cold and flu season or if you have specific medical concerns that you believe relate to your immunity then make an appointment with your naturopathic doctor or healthcare provider that you feel most comfortable with. Don’t try to guess or put your health in the hands of Dr. Google. Your health is important enough to seek professional guidance.