Although Christmas music and holiday cheer are behind us, this year’s influenza strains are still going strong. If you haven’t fallen ill yourself by now, you no doubt have seen other family members, colleagues or strangers in public places (Why? Why do they insist on going out?) who have fallen prey to the flu bug.
What can you do to make sure you and your family have the best chance of not catching it? It’s the most popular question patients have had for me all season. And the answer is, plenty. While there isn’t a foolproof guide to strengthening your immunity, there are many ways to easily and effectively build up your defenses. They may seem simple and that’s probably why they get overlooked and underdone. But don’t let that fool you into underestimating their power.
What To Do
-Eat Anything Berry: Why? Because they are full of antioxidants, flavonoids and other immunity enhancing compounds that protect health, increase immunity, and fight illness all at the same time. Eat a variety, as this will provide you with a comprehensive scope of goodness. Start with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and goji berries. Yum! This one is probably the easiest to do because its cheap and kids love it because its sweet. They should not be dried, they should be fresh.
-Sleep: Why? Sleep heals. When you’re sick, what would you rather do more than anything else in the world? Sleep. Why? Because you need rest in order to properly heal. If sleep is powerful enough to heal someone when they are sick, why would it not stand to reason that it is necessary to prevent illness in the first place? A well rested individual has all of their pistons firing and operating efficiently (not everyone needs 8 hours, but in general, the more the better). When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re essentially punching holes in your immune system, weakening it. This leaves you susceptible to any bugs that may be going around. And believe me, bugs are very good at finding holes. (http://www.springerlink.com/content/q808l2x12t860k1j/)
-Exercise: Why? Because it amps up all your white blood cells, especially your T cells which guard and fight against infection. Moderate exercise most days of the week is the most recommended approach (30-45 minutes of something brisk with resistance training combined). Beware of continuous, intense workout regiments or extreme programs that promise the moon in less than 30 days. Research shows that these are linked to immunodepression, leaving these individuals at higher risk for infection. Not only are they more likely to get sick, they stay sick longer. (http://jap.physiology.org/content/103/2/693.long)
-Garlic: Why? It is the ultimate anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant and is so powerful, even cancer is having trouble getting around it, as reported by recent research. Now that’s some good stuff right there. Try eating a raw clove daily during the flu season for best results. (http://www.cancerletters.info/article/S0304-3835(11)00364-8/abstract; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3204569/?tool=pubmed)
-Vitamin C: Why? Because it works. Its very effective at preventing it and also effective at shortening the duration of a cold when you’ve already caught one. 2000-3000 mg/day during flu season to fight off bad bugs is a good place to start. (http://www.cfp.ca/content/57/1/31.long)
-Vitamin D: Ahh, the most recent vitamin to make a splash in the news. And for good reason. It works. Hailed as the “miracle vitamin”, Vitamin D is capable of quite a bit. Boosting your immunity is one of the those things . . . and at that, this vitamin hasn’t even had a chance to flex its nutraceutical muscles. Read more about Vitamin D here. If there was only one preventative measure you would take against the flu this season, it should be this one. Its that powerful.
-Probiotics: A nice little extra measure you can take this season is to include probiotics in your daily supplement agenda. Why? Research shows they are promising in numerous immune mediated responses, especially viral infections (goodbye, flu!). (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21897224) And if you are taking an antibiotic, or have taken one, you will most definitely need this as those types of medications disrupt normal intestinal flora, i.e. immune goodness. Pick some up today!
Things to Avoid
-Sugar: Sugar decreases the immune system’s ability to respond properly and decreases white blood cell production (cells responsible for eating bacteria and fighting off dangerous germs) by 50%. Need we say anymore? Do yourself a favor and skip the desserts.
-Dairy: While its not strictly responsible for suppressing the immune system in all individuals, it aggravates flu/cold conditions once they are already present by increasing congestion and mucosal secretions. In my own private practice, I have anecdotally observed that those who don’t consume dairy tend to avoid the flu more successfully than those who do.
-Processed Foods: Want to catch the flu? Eat a poor diet rich in processed foods. This is the sure fire way to make sure your body does not have the proper nutrition it needs to run properly in good health, let alone sickness. A well balanced diet of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans and whole grains is far more advantageous at creating a solid immunity whose foundation is rooted deeply in harmonious balance.
-Alcohol/Tobacco: Another way to make sure your immune system can’t rise to the occasion when the flu bug comes knocking. Not only does tobacco zap all of your immune boosting nutrients, it interferes with a good night’s sleep (important for immunity, remember?). And alcohol is a depressant by its very nature. This makes it very effective at bringing, well, just about everything down. Enjoying a glass of wine here and there won’t paint a red target on your head. But if this habit is a chronic one, make sure you prepare for sick leave.
-Stress: Chronic stressful experiences can have a profoundly negative impact on your health. Why? Your entire being is already so consumed with handling whatever situation it is in, and it is using its resources to help you cope. So, when you come in contact with the flu bug and your body calls in the cavalry of defenses, it gets a busy signal. This leaves the door wide open to any pathogenic strain that may wander your way. By the time your system has a chance to respond it may be too late. Stress is unavoidable in our culture but we have plenty of ways that it can be successfully mediated. Prayer, yoga, meditation, tai chi, and journaling are all effective at helping you cope with serious stressors. A combination of some of these together is even more powerful. Pick up one of these practices now to experience relief from your particular situation.
Why You Should Do These Things
These preventative measure are things you can implement into your life right now. They are easy, inexpensive (or free) and are optimal approaches to enhancing overall immunity. Why these suggestions? Because they are the most powerful.
And if you did happen to catch the flu, maintaining these practices would shorten the duration of your cold by at least 2 days, if not more! Our clients actually report that if they do fall ill, they aren’t nearly as sick as everyone else and seem to bounce back sooner.
And if you’re a busy parent, have a career, want to enjoy your time with your family and aren’t interested in an hour long wait in a fold out chair in the waiting room of a doctor’s office next to a million other sick people . . . . then that’s important.