When the weather changes, viruses always seem to sneak into our homes, offices, and schools. Here are some tips to avoid sickness this time of year and boost your immunity!
Lifestyle factors and immunity:
Stress: Chronic stress and chronic exposure to stress hormones can weaken the immune system by reducing the activity of essential immune cells. Sleep: According to the CDC, 50 – 70 million adults in the US suffer from sleep disorders and do not get enough sleep. Multiple studies show that sleep deprivation causes a dip in immune cell numbers which can increase the likelihood of contracting a virus or an infection. Alcohol: A high level of alcohol intake can also weaken the immune system in a similar way to stress and sleep deprivation. Physical activity helps support immune function in multiple ways. Increased circulation helps flush out bacteria from mucous passages and helps white blood cells become more efficient. The rise in body temperature that comes from physical activity also helps to slow the growth of bacteria. If you want to keep your immune system strong and prevent illness, avoid excess alcohol, engage in regular stress reduction practices such as yoga or meditation and ensure you get adequate sleep and physical activity.
Nutrients and foods that support a healthy immune system:
Vitamin A helps support the protective mucosal barriers that line the digestive tract and nasal passages and is important for the creation of immune cells. Foods rich in vitamin A include green, yellow and orange vegetables, liver and fortified milk. Vitamin C concentrates in the cells of the immune system and is an essential nutrient. Food sources of vitamin C include oranges and citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit and rose hips tea. Vitamin D helps coordinate the immune response and is important for preventing infections. It is known as the sunshine vitamin because we can make vitamin D with exposure to sun – but only in the summer months. There are not many meaningful food sources apart from fortified milk and fish, so it is best to take a supplement. The reference intake is 600 IU for adults but your doctor may suggest a different amount based on your lab results. Zinc is a mineral that helps white blood cells work efficiently and also keeps the gut barrier strong and in tact. Food sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, meats, fish, shellfish and legumes (especially lentils). Water: staying hydrated also helps support the mucosal barriers and circulation of immune cells.
Some pants have anti-microbial and anti viral properties including garlic and elderberry. Add garlic liberally to your meals, sauces, marinades and condiments. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has a natural hemagglutinin inhibitor which prevents viruses from entering a cell and becoming infective. It can be made into a tea or syrup and taken when exposed to an illness or in recovery. Typical dose is 1-2 teaspoons per day for prevention and 3-4 tablespoons per day for treatment.
The probiotic connection:
Good gut health is essential for immune health as roughly 60% of the immune system resides int he gut. Probiotic bacteria help regulate the immune response by communicating with the cells and nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract. Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, miso, lacto-fermented pickles and vegetables all support a healthy bacteria balance. Eating a variety of high fiber plant based foods is also supportive.
Take a multi pronged approach to immune health this winter. Make sure to get enough sleep, practice stress reduction, stay well hydrated and nourish yourself with immune supportive foods.
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