Holiday season brings joy and excitement. Unfortunately, it can also bring an abundance of cold weather, stress and, worst of all, invasive germs. But don’t worry! Exposure to these elements does not mean you will be sentenced to 7 days of sneezing, sniffling, and holiday flus. There are several, natural remedies that can be done to fortify your immune system and allow your body to fight off infection before you ever experience a single symptom!
In addition to changing behavior, there are many foods, vitamins and botanicals, that we can add to our diet in order to achieve optimal immune function. Boosting the immune system has both short term and long term benefits–a well functioning immune system protects us from colds and flu, as well as cancer, chronic fatigue, auto immune diseases, allergies, food poisoning, asthma and all forms of infection, just to name a few.
10. Vitamin C
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is an essential vitamin for your body and is in especially high demand during infection and times of stress. This is why we often feel under the weather after a stressful event or a series of stressors, such as final exams, major work deadlines, or even holidays and weddings. Vitamin C is readily available as a dietary supplement, but is also found in common foods such as oranges, limes, lemons, kiwis, broccoli, bell peppers and kale.
Zinc deficiency has been proven to cause an impaired immune system, which, in turn, makes you more susceptible to diseases. Zinc also reduces the severity and duration of cold symptoms such as coughing and sinus drainage. Research conducted at the University of Helsinki has found that 75 mg per day will help substantially decrease the length of the common cold or this season’s flu. Zinc lozenges are a great way tohave a cooling and soothing effect on irritated, sore throats caused by a cold or flu.
Probiotics are known as “the good bacteria” in your body and can be found as a supplement or in foods. Probiotics help to strengthen and support your immune system, making you better able to fight infection and illness. Fermented soy (tempeh and miso) and dairy (yogurt and kefir) products are the most common sources of probiotics. Be sure to check labels on yogurt products to see if bacterial cultures exist or have been added to them.
Garlic has long been used to prevent the common cold and flu. As one of the main ingredients in therapeutic chicken soup, garlic has potent anti-viral activity helping to eradicate the bugs causing these seasonal ailments. Good healing choices for your soup include garlic, onion, carrots, broccoli, spinach, kale, squash, and peppers.
Chamomile is well known as a soothing sleeping aid. However, chamomile also stimulates immune system function. The chemical compounds in chamomile can increase your body’s production of white blood cells that destroy bacteria, viruses and fungi. Another option is ginseng tea, which encourages healthy immune system function.
The Mayo Clinic reports that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or swimming, is a great way to stimulate your immune system. These forms of exercise help to increase the rate at which toxins, such as cold and flu causing bacteria and viruses, are removed from the body. Research has shown that exercise increases the number and effectiveness of certain immune cells, such as natural killer cells, by as much as 50% to 300%. Regular exercise can help make your immune system more efficient at destroying intruders. If your symptoms include a fever, take your time to rest and recover until you reach a normal body temperature of 98.6 in order to avoid taxing your body.
4. Wash Your Hands … and quit touching your face!
As simple as it sounds, washing your hands is the first and most important effort at staying healthy during the cold and flu season. Remove germs by washing frequently with warm (not too hot as this will damage skin and allow germs to penetrate) water and soap. The most common point of entry for both influenza and cold viruses are the eyes, nose and mouth–so avoid touching these areas as much as possible. Get in the habit of always using a tissue, instead of your hand, to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
3. Get Your Z’s
Getting enough sleep each night can also benefit your immune system. Most adults need an average of eight hours of sleep per night. Too little sleep can actually suppress your immune system. Listen to your body: it’ll tell you when you’re not getting enough sleep. Also, take special notice of feeling more fatigued that normal as it could be the early stages of your immune system working overtime to keep you healthy. Help it out and provide your body and immune system the time and energy they need to fight the invaders and clear out trash by making more time for sleep, and it will inevitably improve your health.
Studies have shown that elderberry syrup, an extract made from elderberries, can be more effective than vaccinations at combating influenza. The study participants also experienced significant relief of symptoms in half the time it normally takes the virus to subside. Elderberry works to stop viral cells from invading and infecting healthy cells thereby preventing replication of the virus and providing the immune system an opportunity to clear away the pathogen.
1. Stay Hydrated
Drink lots of fluids to stimulate lymph flow and maximize immune function–consuming 64 oz. of water each day is a good rule of thumb. Healthy and optimal hydration provides your body the opportunity to flush out unwanted toxins, germs and bacteria through lymph, mucous, urine and bowel movements.
Bonus: Count The Cocktails
Alcohol affects how well your liver can filter toxins from your body. Inefficient or slow filtering means germs stay in your body longer and increase your risk of infection. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which causes us to lose fluids in greater quantities causing dehydration – see previous section: “Stay Hydrated”.
The immune system protects the body from pathogens that cause infections, illnesses and diseases. Lifestyle choices, dietary changes and vitamin supplementation can have a dramatic impact on the health of your immune system and increase your body’s ability to prevent disease. Adopting healthy-living strategies is the best, most cost-effective way of keeping your immune system healthy.
Author: Dr. Karen Lamb, NMD, LPC