Natural Ways to Boost Your Immune System
By: Dr. Peggy Malone
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 Nutritious Food to Boost Your Immune System Naturally:
The foods you eat will heavily influence whether or not you get ill and, if you do, the severity and length of your symptoms.
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.
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 is a natural sugar called fructose. It 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 cereals, breads, crackers, chips and pasta are also all readily turned into sugar by your body and should also be avoided.
All of these sugars also feed the pathogenic bacteria in the gut. 80% of your immune system is in your guts (gastrointestinal system) If your gut flora is out of balance, you will get sick far more often.
This can be addressed by eliminating processed sugars and restoring healthy gut bacteria through fermented foods like sauerkraut & kefir or taking a good probiotic supplement.
The overall best advice when choosing what to eat 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. Exercise also enhances lymphatic flow. One of the lymphatic system’s primary roles is to rid the body of invading organisms & toxins.
Regular exercise essentially allows your immune system to be more efficient at finding, acting on and getting rid of 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 healthy and happy you!
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.