by Elizabeth McMillan
As the leaves are changing and nature is preparing for old man winter, it is important to keep in mind ways to stay healthy this cold and flu season. This may mean looking at current diet and lifestyle habits that can impact the immune system, as well as having a few things at home when there is a cold bug going through your living space.
Most colds and flus are considered viruses. A virus is a very tiny infectious micro-organism that requires a host to survive and multiply. When this type of infection enters the body, it takes over our cells activities and forces our cells to make more virus cells. Our body is designed to recognize these foreign cells and launch an attack to repel any further replication.
This is different from a bacterial infection—which is much larger and does not require a host to survive and multiply. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, while viruses are treated with rest and fluids. Therefore, it is important to look at our diets and lifestyle to protect ourselves from the flu.
First, it is wise to consider our personal habits that might be causing the immune system to take a dive. For instance, exercise should not be skipped during the colder months. Exercise decreases the release of cortisol, the stress-response hormone. When cortisol is high, the body’s natural abilities to fight off viruses is weakened. Aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week. This may include things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator and not skipping the gym.
Second, be mindful of how much wine or other alcoholic beverages you are partaking this holiday season. Alcohol weakens the protective cellular function of the immune system, making us more susceptible to illnesses.
Third, make sure your digestive track is working daily. This means that you are experiencing healthy bowel elimination. Did you know about 70 to 80 percent of our immune cells are located throughout our gastrointestinal tract—in specialized “pryers patches?” Probiotics help keep our digestive bacteria working for us and not against us. Increase your intake of probiotic rich foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha and fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and pickled beets or take a daily probiotic. Good bacteria found in probiotic-rich foods strengthens intestinal walls and promotes anti-inflammatory defender cells to keep the immune system robust.
Fourth, make healthy sleep habits a priority. Rest and sleep can supercharge the immune system to fight off any bugs. Some research says your body repairs the most during the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m—so try to get to bed before 10 p.m.
Since our immune system must work very hard to ward off any viruses, it is reliant on a healthy diet to obtain the much-needed nutrients. A colorful diet filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables is key to a robust immune system. Consider taking vitamin D daily, especially in the winter months. Vitamin D is not easily found in the diet and although it can be absorbed by sunlight, we are not getting enough time out in the sun.
Also, vitamin C has many immune modulating effects, but specifically targets the production of the immune cells that destroy bacteria and viruses called phagocytes. It also gets rid of the damage done by viruses through its antioxidant mechanism. There are many immune boosting herbs and nutrients that boost the immune system. Some worth considering are elderberry, cinnamon, clove, turmeric, garlic, cayenne, ginger, carrots, peppers, parsley, salmon, broccoli, frankincense and berries. Try to include some of these into your daily diet.
Finally, if you think you are coming down with a cold, consider nature’s flu shot—the juice of three lemons, one garlic clove, a quarter teaspoon turmeric powder, an eighth of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, one and a half cup of pineapple juice and one tablespoon of raw honey—all blended together. Just a half a cup daily will support one’s immune system and fend off the inevitable bugs of the colder months.
Elizabeth McMillan, CNS, LDN is a clinical nutritionist at the Rose Wellness Clinic, in Oakton, Virginia. Visit them online at RoseWellness.com for more information.