Okay so we are in the thick of winter cold and flu season. Hordes of folk are stuck in bed feeling dreadful with headaches, body aches, stuffy nose, running nose, sneezing, coughing…all the stuff. And one thing is for sure, you do not want to be one of the horde!
In your desire to stay bug free, you probably are thinking about locking you and your loved ones in the house and staying there until the winter cold season is over? But, really, there is a better way! By creating healthy habits, your immune system can be ready to take on cold and flu bugs – and win!
What habits, actions you take everyday (or multiple times a day) should you employ?
Wash your Hands! Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid sickness. People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Many microorganisms prefer entry into the body via the eyes, nose and mouth.
However, know that regular soap and warm water are best! Research suggests that antibacterial soaps are not any more effective, and do not help at all with viral germs, than regular old fashioned soap. Several laboratory studies have evidence of triclosan-adapted (the most common chemical in the anti-bacterial soaps) cross-resistance to antibiotics among different species of bacteria (1). Not good. Add to that, other studies suggest the chemical can impact hormone signaling and other biological processes (2). Really not good. There is also evidence that accumulation of triclosan in the environment negatively impacts organisms like algae in aquatic ecosystems (2). So stick to regular soap and warm water and wash often.
Move your Body! Lymph nodes work like biological filter stations. They contain different defense cells, which trap pathogens and activate the production of specific antibodies in the blood. Proper lymphatic flow requires the contraction of skeletal muscles (movement) and that contraction forces tiny one- way valves of the lymph system to open and close and push the fluid to the subclavian veins. Basically, this means that to get your lymph flowing, you need to move your body.
Movement also increases body temperature which some germie wormies do not thrive in. Movement also increases your respiration helping your nose and lungs to kick out foreign material. All things that help keep an immune system happy and healthy strong.
*Tip. For most of us, over-training is not a problem, but if you are super into training and fitness, make sure to keep your activities balanced with restorative rest times. Over training puts stress on your body and will undermine a healthy immune system (see the next two paragraphs).
Sleep tight! When you are sleeping, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines. And certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress. Too little sleep decreases production of these protective cytokines therefore decreasing your ability to fight infections like cold and flu. Plus, sleep helps our bodies and minds handle the stress of everyday life, including the stress of illness. So get some sleep and feel amazing.
Take the Stress Off! Talking about stress, when we are under too much stress everything suffers including our immune system. Stress occurs when life events surpass your abilities to cope. It causes your body to produce greater levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And over time, higher levels of cortisol suppress your immune system’s ability to produce lymphocytes, white blood cells that help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are for viruses to take hold, including the common cold and yearly flu bugs.
Reducing stress in our modern world takes a bit of mindful practice until it becomes part of your life. Here are a few options to try:
Take 5-6 minutes to sit or lie down, close your eyes and breathe into your belly.
Take a short, slow to moderate speed walk. A park, backyard, or someplace with green plants will help even more.
Listen to soft, relaxing music for several minutes while doing nothing else.
Lightly stretch and move your body. Tai Chi, Yoga, Chi Gong, Your own thing...it's all good.
Take a warm bath.
Drink Water and stay hydrated! The mucosal barrier is permeable and allows nutrients into the body while protecting it from infectious agents, allergens, and other harmful substances. Being hydrated also keeps your mucous membranes healthy and better able to capture foreign invades and remove them. In fact, drinking water helps your whole body get rid of toxins and waste materials, which lessens burden on your body thus improving your immune system’s ability to fend off cold and flu bugs.
And being dehydration depress your energy levels, as well as your ability to sleep, which can make you less likely to move and train…all not sleeping and training well all lessening your immune system function.
And another negative to not drinking enough water, dehydration decreases saliva and that decreases the concentration of salivary immunoglobulin A (s-IgA), which is one of the first lines of defense of the immune system on foreign bacteria(3). So make sure you are getting 6-9 cups of water per day.
Eat Right! Okay, this is the one that we are pretty sure we all know, and yet ignore the most. Processed, chemical laden foods are devoid of the necessary nutrients to feed a well-functioning immune system. Seriously, the immune system does not run on magic. It needs all sorts of nutrition to do its job, and those nutrients need to come in frequently since the immune system is always running.
So what do you eat? Focus on whole foods like pasture meats and poultry, eggs, real ocean fish, tons and tons of vegetables especially fresh ones, one-two fruits per day, some nuts and seeds that are cleanly roasted or sprouted, butter, virgin cold pressed olive oils and seed oils, and fermented foods.
What should you stay clear of? Process foods. Things that come in bags, boxes, can and containers. Things that have a long shelf life (except fermented food that are naturally preserved). Also foods or baked goods that contain sugar. And if you have a food sensitivity, be mindful that consuming the offending food(s) will put your immune system to work dealing with it instead of fending off viral and bacterial invaders. Nourishing your immune system is super helpful to staying clear of colds and flu bugs.
What all of the above boils down to is that we all need to have healthy habits that keep us our immune systems (and whole body) healthy and strong. Because none of the actions above will help if you do them just once in awhile. You need to incorporate these actions into your everyday life and make them part of your healthy lifestyle.
**Should you or a loved one become ill, no need to wrap up in bubble warp and hid from the world, there are several nutritional food concentrates and herbals that can help the immune power up and fend off those germie wormies and get you or your loved ones back to amazing in no time.
1. Bibliographic details: Aiello AE, Larson EL, Levy SB. Consumer antibacterial soaps: effective or just risky? Clinical Infectious Diseases 2007; 45(Supplement 2): S137-S147. [PubMed]
3. Fortes MB, Diment BC, Di Felice U, Walsh NP. Dehydration decreases saliva antimicrobial proteins important for mucosal immunity. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2012;37(5):850–859
Kathi is an advocate for living a healthy lifestyle to stay on top for her game. Health is not a destination, it's a journey that one must nourish throughout life.