It’s that time of year. Coughs, colds and flues are going around, and for many of us, it feels like just a matter of time until we’ve caught one too. Luckily, with the right support, our immune systems are quite capable of fighting off most bacteria and viruses without us ever knowing we’ve been exposed. Here are seven simple ways to help your immune system be its most efficient and effective this season.
I once read “sleep is free medicine,” and it’s true. The act of sleeping actually increases the number of antibodies we make against foreign bacteria and viruses. The more of a full-night’s sleep we get (usually 7-9 hours for an adult), the more antibodies we produce and the more protection we have against invading bacteria and viruses. Sleep also lowers stress hormones and reduces inflammation, two other important factors in immunity. Difficulty getting to sleep? Getting some light exercise during the day, reducing alcohol intake and turn off electronics one hour before bed will help; you can also ask for help from your acupuncturist.
2) Wear a scarf
When our bodies are cold, our immune system is less active. Just a 5 degree drop in temperature in our nostrils shows a measurable effect on our ability to fight off the cold virus. When our necks are exposed to the cold, we lose valuable body heat lowering our immune function while also leaving our neck muscles to become more easily stiff and sore. Try and keep the base of your head and neck covered and protected from cold and wind, and cover your nose when possible as well. If you work in an air-conditioned building, this advice is applicable in the summer too!
3) Cut out the sweets
Sugar has been proven to notably reduce immune function up to several hours after consuming sweets by upsetting the environment in which our white blood cells work efficiently. Our white blood cells tag, attack and remove invaders, but an increase in blood sugar can reduce this capacity by more than half. So work on having nourishing meals during this time period and reserve sugary treats for special occasions.
4) Take a probiotic
Did you know you are never alone? Our bodies are inhabited by billions of tiny microorganisms that live on our skin and in our digestive tract. These organisms play an important role in mood, digestion and immunity. They support the capability of our white blood cells to patrol and protect the body, while others can stop invasive bacteria from binding to our digestive tracts, protecting us from gastrointestinal illnesses like the flu, parasites and even food poisoning. Taking a probiotic has been shown to significantly reduce the number of respiratory tract and other types of infections and has even been shown to improve vaccine responses! Oh, and these guys hate sugar and love veggies, so remember them when choosing your diet!
5) Eat warm foods
Warm foods are a way to preserve your body’s energy while providing it with easily accessible nutrients. Great foods to stock up on this time of year are soups and stews, squash, garlic and onions, and greens like broccoli, brussels sprouts, chard and kale. Many of these vegetables still grow during the fall and winter months, and so are chock-full of the nutrients we need this time of year. Bone broths improve probiotic health and provide essential amino acids to help reduce respiratory tract inflammation, boost immune function and protect against a number of respiratory and digestive illnesses.
6) Stay Hydrated
Our throats, lungs and nostrils are meant to be moist as a way to trap invading viruses. Keep them nourished by drinking plenty of hydrating fluids, such as water and herbal tea. Reduce caffeinated beverages, which tend to by drying, and sugary drinks which reduce immunity.
7) Nip it in the bud
If you do find yourself coming down with a cold or flu – such as a feeling exhausted, a sore throat, or a feeling of being chilled or feverish, now is the time to make sure your immune system has everything that it needs. Enact steps 1-6 if you haven’t already done so, and schedule a visit with your acupuncturist. Acupuncture can encourage healthy immune function, helping your body fight the pathogen and recover more quickly.
One great home remedy for colds in which you feel chilled (but don’t have a strong sore throat or fever) is ginger scallion root tea. These herbs warm up the body, promoting immune function, while the small amount of natural sweetener stimulates digestive function.