Scratchy throat and sniffles and body aches, oh my. Say it isn’t so. Yep, it’s that time of year. That festive time of year that starts with cute kiddos decked out for Halloween, moves right on to turkey and pies for Thanksgiving and manifests with the decorating, shopping, parties, baking, gift-wrapping and joy of Christmas, with a few college football parties sprinkled in. No wonder our bodies wear down and force a time out with cold, flu and the creepy crud.
This needn’t be my friends. Time to arm ourselves and invest a little TLC in our immune system before the creepy crud gets the best of us.
What is this thing called the immune system anyway, and why is it your neighbor Janet hasn’t been sick in three years while your sick days are maxed every year?
Our immune system is one of the magnificent phenomena’s of the human body. Each of us is equipped with a defense system that constantly fights disease-causing microorganisms when we don’t even know they’re attacking. The immune system resides in many parts of your body, including the tonsils, thymus gland, lymph nodes, appendix, spleen, small intestine, bone marrow and white blood cells.
There are a zillion ways our immune system breaks down, leading to not only cold and flu but also allergies, inflammation and ultimately disease. Today I’m going to look at how to keep our immune systems strong and healthy for the sake of fighting off cold and flu, but by practicing the right diet and lifestyle you’ll find that your body is strong enough to fight not only common illness, but also long-term disease.
Let’s look at them most common offenders.
Stress is a naturally occurring phenomena that our bodies are equipped to handle. When we’re in a state of stress the brain signals the adrenal glands to secrete endorphins to help temporarily handle the stress. Think fight or flight. We get sick when the body is constantly in a state of stress, working so hard to fight it that other bodily functions like the immune system become weakened. Stress levels tend to run particularly high during the winter months as we have less daylight, lowering serotonin levels in the brain, which has been linked to depression. On top of this we tend to work longer hours and overcommit during the holidays, all of which piles up as added stress. According to WebMD 75%-90% of all doc visits are stress related. Commit to not over-committing this winter, and when you’re feeling stress try these simple techniques to relax.
- Get outside for some fresh air and sunlight, even if just for ten minutes.
- Breathe! Breathe deeply from the diaphragm, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Bonus if you can try breathing exercises outside.
- Relaxing music
Lack of Sleep.
This one goes hand in hand with stress, as one inevitably leads to the other. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, period. This is when our bodies recover, rebuild and repair. Sleep is essential for almost all bodily processes to function properly. Surveys conducted by the National Sleep Foundation reveal that 60% of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. Lack of sleep not only impedes the immune system, but it also negatively impacts memory, metabolism and mood, all leading to more stress. Having trouble with sound sleep?
- Start to unwind as it gets dark outside. Our bodies are naturally programmed to wind down when it’s dark and refresh as the sun comes up. Save the housecleaning, working out or other strenuous activity for daytime.
- Maintain a consistent sleep routine, even on the weekends.
- Take naps if you need to.
- Lack of Vitamin D can be a factor in poor sleep. Try to get outside when the sun is shining and take a Vitamin D3 supplement if you don’t live in the southern part of the US.
- Magnesium may help in restful sleep as it aids in brain relaxation, helping to turn it from “on” to “off”. Get magnesium naturally through leafy greens and almonds, but for sounder sleep try a supplement.
Lack of movement.
I’m talking exercise, even though I try to avoid using the E word in fear of scaring my clients away. Stats show that people who work out regularly take half the number of sick days as people who don’t engage in regular physical activity. Exercise strengthens your heart, allowing for stronger blood circulation throughout your body. It also strengthens the lungs, allowing for greater oxygen distribution. No need to spend an hour at the gym every day if it’s not your thing. Getting out for a 30 minute walk four to five days a week will make a world of difference to your immune system.
I can’t possibly underestimate the importance of good nutrition when it comes to immune health. The old clichés are so true: we are what we eat, and an apple a day does keep the doctor away. Following are a few food based home remedies that can help to build a strong immune system and ease the symptoms of cold and flu when they do set in. Take that Janet.
Anise seed or fresh fennel clears congestion and helps ease a cough. Add 1 cup crushed anise seed to 1 cup hot water with garlic, cinnamon or honey. Raw fennel is delicious sliced and eaten on sandwiches or mixed into salads.
Apple Cider Vinegar is a powerful cleansing and healing elixir, a naturally occurring antibiotic and antiseptic that fights germs and bacteria. It also cures diarrhea, soothes a sore throat, aids in sinus drainage, and acts as a natural pick- me-up. Add 1-2 teaspoons to warm water and drink first thing in the morning or throughout the day.
Blueberries are antioxidant powerhouses, helping to protect cells from harm caused by free radicals, or molecules responsible for illness, aging and certain diseases.
Cacao, ounce for ounce contains more antioxidant power than green tea or berries, and it’s loaded with zinc. Add cacao nibs or powder to a morning smoothie, in yogurt or snack on cacao nibs on their own. You can find powder or nibs at your local health food store.
Celery is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, fights viral and bacterial infection, supports the digestive tract, boosts your immune system, aids in hydration and as a bonus fights cancer and helps to lower blood pressure. Juice celery or eat it chopped in a salad or try sliced celery sticks with hummus.
Cinnamon has a healing effect on the body because of its warming property. Try making a tea with 1” slice fresh ginger, ¼ tsp cinnamon, ¼ lemon, 1 cup hot water. Or sprinkle cinnamon in your morning yogurt, over brown rice with honey or on roasted sweet potatoes.
Fluids are key when fighting a cold. Drink plenty of fluids to maintain a moist respiratory tract, helping to repel viral infection. Staying hydrated also improves the function of white blood cells. Stay away from concentrated sugars in soda pop and store bought juice, which can weaken the white blood cells ability to kill bacteria.
Garlic is a highly potent antioxidant offering anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-yeast properties. Strive to eat two cloves a day. Garlic is most powerful eaten raw. Try a supplement if garlic isn’t appealing or make a habit to cook with it.
Ginger eases GI distress, treating nausea and promoting healthy digestion. It is highly anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Ginger is known to be cleansing, warming and has been used to treat symptoms of cold, flu, PMS and arthritis pain. Try juicing fresh ginger root or make a tea with a 1” slice of ginger, ¼ fresh lemon and 1 cup hot water.
Green tea is full of catechins, powerful antioxidants that help rid the body of free radicals and are thought to help kill influenza viruses.
Honey. This age old flu fighter contains 22 amino acids, 27 minerals, a full-range of vitamins, and 5,000 live enzymes. Be sure to buy raw, local honey if possible. Try making a tea with ¼ lemon, 1 Tbsp raw honey and 1 cup hot water.
Leafy greens are some of the most nutrient dense foods on earth. The darker the green the higher the nutrient content. Leafy greens have a purifying affect, amp the immune system and promote lung health. Eat cooked or try raw in a salad or green smoothie.
Lean proteins: be sure to eat enough in the winter months to help build antibodies and fight infection. Protein also has a warming effect on the body.
Lemon is the most concentrated form of Vitamin C when juiced. Try lemon in warm water to soothe a cold. Lemon with sea salt in warm water soothes a sore throat.
Mushrooms are full of antioxidants and have major anti-inflammatory properties and cancer fighting power. Eat mushrooms in endless amounts raw in salads or sautéed with stews, soups or animal protein.
Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, a side effect of colds. People that regularly take a fish oil supplement are also shown to suffer from less anxiety, which itself breaks down the immune system. Fatty fish like wild salmon, tuna, mackerel or anchovies are high in Omega-3’s, or add a high quality fish oil supplement to your diet.
Pineapple is effective in helping treat bronchial conditions as it contains the protein digesting enzyme bromelain, which helps to break down thick mucus and offers some mild antibiotic effects.
Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that live in our gut. This healthy gut flora makes up 70% of the immune system. It works to keep harmful bacteria from entering the bloodstream and helps the body absorb nutrients. Get your daily dose of probiotics by eating “live” food like cultured greek yogurt, fermented foods like sauerkraut or kim chi, through drinks like kombucha or kefir, or you can take a high quality, whole foods based probiotic supplement. Look for one that needs to be refrigerated, which means the cultures are live, not freeze-dried. Take an acidophilus supplement when on antibiotics to prevent the risk of yeast overgrowth.
Spirulina, a blue green algae has been called one of the most nutritious and concentrated food sources on the planet. It has 58 times more iron than raw spinach, 25 times more beta-carotene than carrots, 3 times more Vitamin E than Wheat Germ and is high in cancer-fighting selenium. Spirulina has antimicrobial properties, known to destroy a wide range of viral, bacterial and fungal infections while boosting the immune system. It aids in respiratory health, fighting asthma and the histamines that cause allergies. Spirulina is a complete protein with a very high protein efficiency ratio. It is anti-inflammatory. Add spirulina powder to your green smoothie or try a supplement. Both can be found at your local health food store.
*This content is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consulting your physician regarding medical advice pertaining to your health.