Boost Your Immune System Naturally
By: Dr. Peggy Malone
Today is the spookiest day of the year and there will be ghosts and goblins galore running through neighborhoods tonight collecting delicious sugary treats.
As much as this is super fun for kids and some adults too (see my photo above 🙂 ), Halloween time of year brings both massive increased sugar intake, decreased immune system function and…colds and flu.
Cold and flu season finds many of us battling sickness every year at around this time. Wouldn’t it be great if you could find a way to naturally boost your immune system and sail through this time of year without sneezing, and sniffling and coughing and aching and feeling all round gross?
Wouldn’t it be doubly great if you could avoid all of those symptoms without taking boatloads of medications?
For some, influenza can be more than the annoyance of symptoms for a week or two. For some susceptible people it can be very serious and even life threatening. So anything you can do to stay one step ahead of a cold or flu and to give yourself an advantage over sickness at this time of year is greatly advised.
Let’s look at some natural ways that you can boost your immune system such that cold and flu season is less likely to get you down.
1) Feed Your Body Good Nutrition to Boost Your Immune System Naturally:
When you fuel your body with good nutrition, your body will be able to function at its highest level and your immune system will be able to function very well as it fights off the sickness invaders that are so prevalent at this time of year.
If you eat a lot of processed foods and sugar (which most of us probably do), your immune system will suffer. When you put sugar in your body, there is a decrease in the function of your immune system almost immediately.
Let’s talk about sugar for a minute. Again, this is especially relevant because most every kid you know will be filling their face with sugar filled snacks tonight and most of the this week.
Most of us think of candy and sweets when we hear the word ‘sugar’.
You should definitely avoid candy and sweets when you are on the verge of sickness or if you are sick and trying to beat it but you should also avoid some less obvious sugary choices too.
Many people reach for orange juice when they are sick to increase their Vitamin C intake. While it’s true that orange juice is rich in Vitamin C, it is better to know that orange juice is almost all sugar. In fact, it is nearly as detrimental as drinking soda. Fruit sugar that is a natural sugar called fructose is still sugar and will still cause trouble for your immune system if it’s overloaded. What? Who knew?
Eating an orange would be a better choice as you will get the benefit of the fibre in the fruit and not just the high sugar content of the juice.
Processed breads, crackers, chips and pasta are also all readily turned into sugar by your body and should also be avoided.
The best advice is this: Eat nutrient dense, whole foods. Choose whole grains rather than processed refined simple carbohydrates. Avoid processed foods and juices all together. Drink plenty of clear liquids like water and herbal tea and eat lots of green veggies.
Think about it this way. When I was a kid, I learned that when I saw a dog eating grass…it was usually because he was sick. So take some advice from man’s best friend; When you are sick, eat green stuff…..not sugar.
2) Get Plenty of Sunshine or Vitamin D to Boost Your Immune System Naturally:
When we hunker down inside for the winter, we get less exposure to the sun which decreases our bodies ability to create Vitamin D.
Vitamin D has become the star of the nutrient world in the last few years with many studies showing an association of optimal levels of vitamin D and many health benefits.
There is compelling evidence that suggests that colds and flu are very related to a deficiency in Vitamin D. So, if you can get a bit of sunshine on your face every day for even 5 or 10 minutes, your body will thank you by producing more Vitamin D.
If you can’t get into the sun, then the next best option is to take at least 1000IU of a good Vitamin D supplement. Talk to your health care provider to get more advice on what would be best for you.
3) Get Regular Exercise to Boost Your Immune System Naturally:
Those who exercise on a regular basis get sick less often. This is partly because they are more health conscious in general but there is a major benefit to your immune system every time you get your body moving and you get your blood pumping around your body.
The cells of your immune system will be better circulated with the increase in blood flow while exercising. Those immune cells then become like little detectives that can look around your body and find an invader and deal with it before it has a chance to spread and make you sick.
Regular exercise essentially allows your immune system to be more efficient at finding and acting on bacteria and viruses.
4) Get Adequate Rest to Boost Your Immune System Naturally:
In a previous post, I emphasized that most of us don’t get enough sleep any time of the year. During cold and flu season, when your immune system is at its most vulnerable, you should make an extra special effort to add more sleep into your schedule.
This is especially relevant if you feel that you are on the verge of sickness and even more so if you are in the grips of a cold or flu. Your immune system will function best in a body that is well rested.
5) Avoid and Learn to Manage Stress to Boost Your Immune System Naturally:
Chronic stress will suppress the immune system. Studies have shown that those in high pressure jobs or struggling with troubled relationships have a lower than average white blood cell count which is an important measure of immune function.
6) Laugh and Have a Positive Mental Outlook to Boost Your Immune System Naturally:
Laughing helps to decrease stress hormones circulating through the body and it increases the activity of Natural Killer T Cells, another measure of immune function.
It has been well documented that Optimists get sick less often than Pessimists and when they do get sick, Optimists get better faster.
Your mind really is an important healing tool and your mindset can help you to ward off illness.
7) Good Hygiene Habits
This is the area where everyone can improve and if everyone did, the spread of the cold and flu would be hugely decreased.
-WASH YOUR HANDS. This is the number one thing that will stop the spread of cold and flu. It is a very simple thing
but is often overlooked. The key is making sure that you are using a good hand washing technique. Use regular soap and water and get a good lather. Lather up to the wrists and scrub all areas of the hands, front and back.
Most of us do a quick rinse and off we go. It should take you at least 15-20 seconds to do a good hand-washing. A fun guide for the proper amount of time it should take you to wash your hands is singing the song ‘Happy Birthday’ as you scrub your hands. If you get sick of that one, switch to ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’.
Using a good alcohol based hand sanitizer is good if you are in a pinch but it doesn’t replace a good soap and water scrub and it has the added interesting problem of potentially creating superbugs that are antibiotic resistant.
-Cover up When you Cough or Sneeze: Here’s a fun fact: When you sneeze, it comes out of your body at 150km/hr (93mph) and can travel over a metre (3 feet) away from you! In a single sneeze there are more than 4500 droplets, each one carrying bacteria or a virus looking for a target. You can see why it’s so important to keep those sneezes and coughs guarded. It’s also a good idea to cough or sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands. This will decrease the spread of sickness.
-Keep Shared Surfaces Clean: This is another often overlooked but simple thing we can do to decrease the spread of colds and flu. Surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, telephones, and keyboards are all areas where bacteria and viruses are busy having a party.
Here’s an interesting question: Would you rather lick a public toilet seat or a telephone receiver? I’m guessing neither but if you had to pick one I’ll bet you picked wrong!
A public toilet seat has about 49 germs/square inch and a shared telephone receiver has 25000 germs/square inch!!!
Ewwwwwww. It’s a good motivator to clean those shared surfaces in your home or work place.
8) If you are sick….Stay Home.
If you have done everything on the list here and you still happen to get sick, you will decrease spread of the sickness and you will allow yourself time for rest and recovery if you stay home.
Here is to a Happy and safe Halloween and a healthy cold and flu season!
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. Her weekly Television Series 'Living Well" inspires people from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.
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This is a great article. Thank you.
I would like to seek your advice as I lead an extremely healthy lifestyle yet still get flu about 4-5 times a year.
I have a moderately stressful job, however, I am a competitive mountain biker and exercise / train regularly (4-5 times per week).
I eat at least one entirely raw food meal per day. I eat a lot of organic food, legumes and greens; and very little bread, pasta or sugar.
I sleep on average 7-8 hours per night.
I suppliment with a good quality multi-vitamin, vit C, zinc and echinacea among others.
I visit my chiropractor at least once a month.
I am quite particular about cleaniness, and am a generally happy, upbeat person.
Despite the above, I still get flu regularly. I am not sure what else to try. Any further advice would be truly appreciated.
It seems like you are doing most things right!
The thing that I would add that you haven’t mentioned is a good quality pro-biotic.
70% of your immune cells are in your guts so you may have to add some good bacteria
to keep your immune system happy and functioning better.
I would also suggest you work with a naturopath to make sure that you don’t have any
sensitivities that are making you more susceptible to illness. A Naturopath could also
help you with some homepathics to increase your immune function.
I love hearing from people who are really taking control of their health.
Good job! Let me know if you have more questions.
I sent the link to my oldest daughter who is a personal trainer in Miami, she is very health conscious.
This is really useful. I already do most of these things but I still found a few more things I could do.
Great common sense tips, Peggy! I never really thought of rest as a way to boost my immunity but totally makes sense. Thanks!
You have some wonderful tips for the flu season! Thanks for sharing!
Great tips, Peggy. I'd like to say they are common sense, but so many people don't follow them and then wonder why they aren't healthier.
Common sense is not so common sometimes Marie….in matters of health or in many areas of life…..that’s why I keep gently nudging people in the right direction 🙂
Thanks Doctor Peggy, it was informative and full of great advice. I am an avid fruit lover, so I never thought about the sugar content. I have recently cut down on them because of the seasons changing but in the spring and summer I usually have at least five servings per day. Its something that I may have to adjust.
WOW! This I have to print out asap and put as a reminder on my board! Thank you so much Doctor Peggy, it is so useful to know! 🙂
First off – LOVE the costume. You are so stinkin' cute 🙂
Secondly – these are fantastic tips… we tend to follow most of these, but I never really think of the impact of fruit sugar on my kids' (or my own) immune system. Thanks for the eye opener!
Thanks Amity…you are sweet 🙂
I’m glad you could find a tidbit to take with you back to your family.
These are all excellent tips that I usually stick to and I rarely get sick! All it takes is a little discipline at first and then staying healthy simply becomes routine!
I love your take on this. Thanks. Lorii at http://www.manifestingmydestiny.com
Appreciate the timing of this article! Last winter I had just had my third child, my husband was on long-term military orders, and I kept getting cold after cold, in spite of a healthy diet and exercise (guessing the whole lack of rest thing wasn't my friend)! I'm newly pregnant again by choice and am dreading this cold and flu season if it's anything close to what last year was.
Good luck with cold and flu season and your pregnancy Pauline!
All wonderful tips..but you missed one…Chiropractic adjustments also help to enhance your immune system…:)
Thanks for sharing!!:)
PS.. cute costume
So true Dr. Daisy!! The research does support the fact that Chiropractic adjustments help you to better fight off sickness 🙂
There is so much more to food than meets the eye or that lands on the butt. After listening to car smarts #5 I opened my email and you had this article which just double confirmed what the CD said. I downloaded " fooducate " app to my phone and scan the foods I purchase and have been WOW'd by what I thought was good food – had so much hidden items – love the app – love the information!!
Thanks for your comments Angela! That app sounds great! I shall check it out 🙂
Great article! Very well thought out and written with great recommendations! I will admit right here and now that every year I gobble up Halloween candy like a 12 year old. Halloween and Easter are the only times I allow myself to do this – so already I'm setting the stage for lowering my immune system. I can't seem to help myself!
Also, this time of year is always most stressful – I make many gifts for Christmas, plus I'm putting in that "year-end push" to try and accomplish goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Also, for some reason our clients all get the same memo to step up our workload considerably before the year ends. The result of this is every year at this time I'm eating more sugar, getting a lot less sleep, finding it hard to keep up with exercise and stressed out. I don't think I'm alone in this – I think that is why they call it "cold & flu season".
Thanks for your comments Kelly. Hopefully this year you can outsmart your immune system and keeping it working hard through cold and flu season 🙂
This is great advice, Peggy, thanks. With the exception of getting a lot of sleep, I follow all of these and never get sick. (Well, I did have a slight cold for a couple of days after Halloween, undoubtedly because I was worse than my kids about the sugar . . .) Thanks for the reminders and for dispelling the myth about juice being good for you!