If you are not already thinking about it, now is the time to ramp up your immune defenses to help you stay healthy during the upcoming cold and flu season. We are all, at times, exposed to cold and flu viruses, but not everyone succumbs to every little bug that the children may bring home or a coworker may bring to the office. If you are highly susceptible and seem to catch colds often or get the flu every winter, perhaps you should take a closer look at how well you support the health of your immune system.
The immune system is not a single entity. For optimal function, the entire immune system requires balance and homeostasis. For optimal function, your immune system would likely welcome a little help on your part. Other than the obvious advice to wash your hands frequently, politely decline handshaking and avoid getting close to people who are coughing, sneezing and sniffling, there are steps you can take to minimize your chances of getting sick or, at the very least, lessen the severity or duration of a cold or flu illness.
Perhaps the best way to fight off colds and flu is through preventative measures. When the immune system operates at peak function, your body has the upper hand in warding off invading pathogens to keep you illness free. When the immune system is impaired, a virus is much more likely to gain a foot hold. As 70% of your immune function originates in your intestinal tract, a strong immune system must rely on a healthy and well functioning gut.
The health of our gut flora is critical for overall immunity. Gastrointestinal immune cells are among the first line of defense, as white blood cells, T-cells and B-cells rush to defend the digestive tract against invading bacteria and pathogens that cause illness. These beneficial bacteria provide additional immune defense by protecting the intestinal wall to prevent the absorption of pathogens into the blood stream.
- Probiotic foods and supplements ensure that there are plenty of friendly microbes to help reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. One study showed that those who took probiotics were 42% less likely to succumb to a cold virus. Prebiotics, such as FOS, and fermented foods, such as kimchi and kefir, support the health of beneficial microbes.
- Don’t skimp on nutrition or hydration. Studies show that those who restrict their diets during flu season are more likely to catch the flu and suffer more ill effects and a longer duration. Staying well hydrated helps your mucous membranes and immune cells defend against cold viruses.
- Ramp up your defenses with high antioxidant foods, such as berries and walnuts, and with supplements that support immunity and fight inflammation. Avoid sugar and processed foods that feed the pathogens and viruses that are detrimental to immune health.
- Don’t use weather as an excuse to stay indoors. You are more likely to pick up viruses indoors rather than outdoors. Being outside and getting regular, moderate physical activity helps to boost your immune defenses and increase your resistance to illness, which may result in fewer colds.
- Don’t ignore your allergies. Allergies are an immune disorder that cause the immune system to mistakenly attack a harmless substance. If your upper respiratory tract is already inflamed, it’s easier to acquire a virus. Research has shown that high levels of stress can exacerbate existing allergies. Mediation, which helps to reduce the physical effects of stress that weaken the immune system, may also help improve allergy symptoms.
- Don’t skimp on sleep. Although many of us don’t get enough sleep, making sleep a priority can help keep you healthy through the winter flu season. Your immune system is most effective when you are not sleep deprived. According to a study at Carnegie Mellon University, poor sleepers were almost 3 times more likely to catch a cold. Aim for 7- 8 hours of sleep nightly.
- Make sure you are getting adequate amounts of Vitamin D by getting small amounts of sunshine, eating vitamin D fortified foods and supplementing. Published studies show that vitamin D is a very effective antimicrobial agent that can aid your body in fighting and preventing illness.
- Zinc has powerful immune-boosting properties and may prevent cold cells from replicating, which may help to shorten the duration of a cold and the severity of symptoms, especially when taken at the first signs of illness.
- Find ways to add garlic to your diet or take a garlic supplement. Allicin, a substance found in garlic, has been shown to fight viruses and help prevent colds. Other herbs and spices, such as oregano and turmeric, have also been shown to support immunity.
- Those who regularly drink green tea appear to have an overall lower rate of infection. Add in some manuka honey with propolis for an additional immune and antioxidant boost.
- Medicinal mushrooms contain some of the most potent immunosupportive agents, providing both nutrition and health benefits. Long considered a functional food, mushrooms, such as shiitake, reishi, cordyceps and turkey tail, have been shown to have antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, which may offer some protection from seasonal colds and flu by boosting immune defenses.
- Deficiencies in micronutrients can increase susceptibility to infection and illness, as nutritional status and immunity are closely linked. Take out additional insurance by getting your full array of vitamins and minerals daily to help your immune system fight off colds and flu.
Supplements that support immune health include:
UltraNutrient® by Pure Encapsulations – This advanced formula is designed to provide high potency, broad spectrum nutritional support. The formula includes core vitamins and minerals, advanced antioxidants, standardized phytonutrients and herbal extracts in bioavailable forms. Gluten and soy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.
Immunitone Plus by Designs for Health – This powerful immune supportive formula contains standardized herbs known for their antiviral and antibacterial properties. Contains green tea extract, echinacea, astragalus, beta glucans, an array of medicinal mushrooms plus additional herbal extracts. Gluten, soy and dairy free, vegetarian formula.
ImmunePro by PRO Symbiotics – This immune system stabilizer provides professional strength immune boosting Colostrum with Immulox. The formula contains a high concentration of immunoglobulins and proline-rich polypeptides along with beta glucans. Gluten free.
Vital-Immune Biotic by Klaire Labs – This hypoallergenic blend of 3 strains of lactobacillus plus bifidobacterium is designed to assist the growth and maintenance of beneficial microflora that support immune system function. One daily capsule provides 5+ billion CFUs. Gluten, soy and dairy free, vegetarian formula.
Immune Support Kit for Kids by Childlife® Essentials – This immune support kit for children contains 3 liquid formulas – vitamin C, echinacea and First Defense, a unique herbal and mineral formula designed to stimulate natural immune responses. Suitable for ages 6 months to 12 years. Gluten, soy, dairy and egg free.
Allergies and the Immune System. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/allergy_and_asthma/allergies_and_the_immune_system_85,P00039/
7 Ways to Boost Your Immune System for Cold and Flu Season. http://www.everydayhealth.com/pictures/boost-your-immune-system-cold-flu-season/#07
The “forbidden fruit” of medicinal mushrooms. http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/02/health/tedmed-mushroom-man/
23 Immunity-Boosting Tips. http://www.prevention.com/health/health-concerns/colds-flu-prevention-strategies-and-immune-boosters
How to Boost Your Immune System. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system