Boosting Your Immune System Naturally!
Published in: The Times Colonist - October 2011
It’s that time of year again. Your kids are coming home with the sniffles, your co-workers are calling in sick and you are starting to get that little tickle at the back of your throat. Sound familiar? Cold and flu season is here and supporting your immune system is so vitally important. It is estimated that at least 50 million people in North America get the flu each year from November to March. Children are two to three times more likely than adults to get sick. More than 100,000 people are hospitalized and at least 20,000 people die from the flu and its complications annually.
A healthy lifestyle is key in supporting the immune system’s resistance to infection and increasing optimal immunity. Consider the following immune boosting tips to keep you healthy this cold and flu season:
Wash your hands!
Adequate sleep is one of the body’s critical requirements that unfortunately most people overlook. The immune system kicks in and restores during sleep so that it may function optimally. Get the right amount of sleep – at least 7 to 8 hours.
Healthy dietary choices will help immensely to combat the cold or flu. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables – choose a multitude of colors ensuring a balance of vitamins and minerals – for example: yellow (squash), orange (carrots/oranges), green (spinach/kale) and red (pomegranate/tomatoes). Try to aim for 5 to 8 servings daily. Include herbs and spices such as ginger, thyme, oregano and garlic to boost your immune system and fight “bad bugs”. Ensure adequate protein and stick to a diet low in saturated fats, refined sugars and processed foods.
Drink at least 1-2 litres of filtered water daily. Try to avoid drinking too much coffee or other caffeinated beverages as these can undermine the immune system and dehydrate the body.
Chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on the immune system. When we are stressed, our bodies go into a stress response, a fight or flight reaction, and if prolonged – the body will shut down the non-essential bodily functions such as the immune system. Try stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, massage therapy, acupuncture or an Epsom salt bath with lavender essential oil to release stress. Also remember to support your “stress glands”, the adrenal glands with B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and herbs such as rhodiola, siberian ginseng, ashwagandha and schizandra.
Regular exercise such as walking, jogging, biking or swimming will help maintain a healthy body, reduce stress and prevent illness.
Key Immune Boosting Vitamins and Herbs
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects against infection and enhances immunity. Vitamin C works by increasing the production of white blood cells and antibodies, which both help fight off infection. Typical dosages start at 1000 mg daily but can be increased depending on bowel tolerance. Some Vitamin C sources include citrus fruits, strawberries, papaya, kiwi, broccoli, red pepper and brussel sprouts (Furuya, A. et al. Int J Mol Med. 2008).
Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that work in the intestinal tract. They fight pathogenic infections and promote recovery from infections by stimulating the production of antibodies. Don’t forget that up to 70% of our immune system is in our gastrointestinal tract and therefore it is even more critical to keep it strong with the aid of probiotic supplementation (Lindfors K. et al. Clin Exp Immunol. 2008).
Zinc is the most important immune mineral as it helps to prevent a weakened immune system. Studies have shown that a zinc deficiency can impair a number of white blood cells and platelets (blood cells involved in clotting), and can increase susceptibility to infection. Get an adequate amount of zinc in your diet by eating zinc rich foods such as oysters, extra lean organic beef, turkey and lamb, lentils, pumpkin and sesame seeds, garbanzo beans and organic yogurt (Hadden, JW. Int J Immunopharmac. 1995).
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin has powerful immune boosting, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and bone supportive properties. Typical dosages start at 1000 IU/daily but can be increased depending on the condition being treated or how vulnerable the immune system is.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential immune boosters, as they work by increasing the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that eat up bacteria. These fats also help strengthen cell membranes, thereby speeding up healing and strengthening resistance to infection in the body. Omega-3s can be found in foods such as fish, flax oil and flaxseeds (Broughton KS. et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997).
Plant Sterols help modulate your immune system. Meaning, if parts of your immune system are running too high (as in autoimmune diseases or allergies) they help to bring it down. Or, if they are running too low (like with frequent colds or the flu) sterols help to increase your immune system function (Bouic, P.J.D. et al. Int J of Immun. 1996).
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia) has been used for centuries by European healers and Native Americans and is frequently combined with other immune-boosting plants such as goldenseal. Ongoing research shows that echinacea’s active constituents stimulate the immune system to fight viral infections. It is also recommended in cases of laryngitis, cold sores, tonsillitis, and sinusitis (Erhard, M. et al. Phytother Res. 1994).
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous) is becoming as popular as Echinacea for combating the flu and supporting the immune system. It is beneficial whenever immune resistance is low, in cases of all infections, particularly respiratory infections, colds and flu, stress-related immune dysfunction, slow recovery after illness or surgery, and as a complementary treatment for cancer (Chu, DT. et al. J Clin Lab Immunol. 1988).
And, finally keep the homeopathics Oscillococcinum, Grippe Heel and Engystol on hand at the first signs of the flu. These homeopathic remedies can dramatically shorten the duration of symptoms as well as aids in flu prevention.
I hope you find this information useful and it helps keep the bad bugs away this flu season!