With the winter onset of cold and flu season, how can one best build up immunity and survive the onslaught of all the little critters that are in the air and on the surfaces around us. The first important thing is the obvious- wash your hands frequently (you must wash your hands with warm soap and water for 20 seconds to be effective)- hand sanitizers also work but must contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective. Get enough sleep. Getting at least 6.5 hours of sleep is the goal. This amount of sleep will allow your body to do internal house cleaning; during sleep, the immune system has time to do surveillance and clean up the internal environment. That way when a microbe comes along it is ready to efficiently eradicate it.
Nutrition is key to strengthen immunity in the winter. If you have a strong interior defense (built by eating well) you will not be as susceptible to getting sick in the first place. Fruits and vegetable high in beta-carotenes (think orange- yams, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots) act as powerful antioxidants that improve immune function (cell-mediated immunity) and support mucous membrane health. Foods high in zinc such as oysters, pecans, egg yolks and lamb have an important role in cell growth- everything from normal development to wound healing to white blood cell production. Zinc can be depleted from diuretic use, alcohol, chronic stress, or copper excess. An over the counter zinc tally test can tell you if you might be deficient in zinc. Vitamin C is the other nutrient needed to produce and activate white blood cells; it makes them more efficient in the bloodstream. Sources of Vitamin C include bell peppers, broccoli, kiwis, oranges, and strawberries to name a few. Other foods helpful for optimal immunity include oats and barley due to their beta-glucan content, shitake mushrooms and chicken soup. Lastly, add spices- fresh garlic and ginger root will help you ward off bugs; other herbs that have antibiotic like action include fresh cilantro, oregano and basil.
Don’t forget to move your body. Exercise is important because it helps the white blood cells move through your bloodstream and lymphatic system. If the white blood cells are circulating more freely, they are more likely to target a microbe and destroy it. Even 30 minutes of brisk walking is enough as long as you work up a little bit of a sweat; higher temperatures help inhibit germs. Even taking time for a steam post exercise will add more benefit. Don’t exercise if you have a fever though- listen to your body!
Lastly do not forget about good bacteria. The more good bacteria you have in your body, the less other bad bacteria can take a foot hold in your system. They crowd them out. Food sources of good bacteria include yogurt with active/live cultures, miso, raw sauerkraut (check out the Light Cellar in Bowness for the best), tempeh, kim chee, and kefir. Let food be your medicine!
If you need additional help with your immune system, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with me. There are some fabulous herbs and homeopathic medicines that help ward off cold and flu and clear an infection if contracted, quickly. These medicines are best taken at the first sign of infection- if you wait to long, then the infection has a chance to take hold. Until next time, think happy thoughts- optimists have stronger immune systems than pessimists.