5 Tips to Prep You for the Cold/Flu Season
The old adage “prevention is the best medicine” is definitely true when it comes to acute viral infections. Surely there are numerous ways in which your health care physician can assist you in speeding up recovery from infection. Optimizing your immune function right now could mean a winter season without the need for any recovery – short or long!
- Getting Enough Sleep
The repair/regeneration of cells, and the balancing of hormones responsible for our immune system both occur primarily at night during our sleep. What’s more is that the physical repair of body tissues is at its most efficiency between the hours of 11pm-2am. Also, research has shown that chronic sleep deprivation has the same type of impairing effect on the immune system as physical/mental stress. Imagine the immune system of a stressed person who is not sleeping too well… NOT a good combo at all.
- Avoiding Food You Are Sensitive To
When we ingest food that we are sensitive to, the immune system in our digestive tract is called to arm. When these foods are being consumed on a regular basis, our immune system becomes constantly distracted. An active immunity may sound like a good thing – and it is; it means your tissues are healing and growing. When our immune system is busy dealing with food sensitivities in the gut, however, it is less available for dealing with the actual PATHOGENS such as the cold and flu virus.
Food sensitivities are different from food allergies, which usually cause immediate anaphylactic reactions (those require an antihistamine medications, or EpiPen for example). Food sensitivities, rather, affect your body in a more delayed manner and are not as symptomatic. If you are not sure of your unique food sensitivities, speak with your naturopathic doctor about your options for diagnosis and treatment.
- Limiting Sugar Intake
Most of us know inherently that consuming too much sugar is not good for us for a various reasons. Specifically in terms of normal immune function, limiting sugar intake truly can be helpful for two key reasons.
- A sugary meal will cause a rising spike in levels of the hormone insulin, which over time can contribute to systemic inflammation, and then cause immune system depression.
- Colonies of bad bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract that act to disrupt immune function actually thrive on sugar. By limiting sugar intake, you are doing your part to prevent these pesky troublemakers from overgrowing.
When the holidays come, it can get quite difficult to avoid sugar. Fear not since it’s not too late to start adapting some lifestyle changes. Right now is the time to sample rather than indulge in sweets, opt for herbal teas rather than sugary beverages, and always consume a small quantity of protein with sugary meals to avoid rapid spikes in blood insulin levels.
- Keep Being Active
The idea of exercising out in the cold rain definitely sounds far less appealing than curling up inside with a warm blanket and a hot beverage. However, in addition to making up for a little holiday weight-gain, setting physical activity a priority can also keep your immune health in check.
Studies have shown that regular, moderate exercise produces an increase in the number of immune cells (eg. white blood cells, macrophages) in the body. Note that I say “moderate exercise” as “excessive exercise” can become a physical distress and in turn suppress the immune system. The rhythmic shift between the body’s two circulatory patterns that occurs with regular exercise means that immune cells are reaching all parts of our body more often, keeping invaders like the cold and flu viruses at bay.
- Keeping Stress in Check
You can probably think of numerous times when your immune system succumbed to a cold or flu virus right at the peak of a stressful time. From my experience, I find that most of the time people get sick at the end of a stressful work week, during an exam period, or when family obligations started to become overwhelming.
When our bodies are under extreme stress, our bodies respond by increasing the levels of the stress hormone called cortisol. While under short term stress, increases in this hormone are normal and necessary; in the long term they can suppress your immune system to a point of getting the cold and flu and needing a week or two to recovery as your body resorts to temperature and other defenses.
What can you do to reduce stress in your life? All of the above mentioned points – eat well, sleep well, exercise, and make a point of removing yourself from stressful encounters whenever possible. If you make stress reduction a priority in your life, you will find it easier to monitor and avoid stressful situations as they arise.