Immune System Ready...Set...Protect! 10 Ways to Stay Healthy this Season

posted on October 14, 2012

It’s that time of year again – cold and flu season!  Is your family prepared with strong immune systems?  Here are 10 easy tips to keep your entire family healthy and bug-free by boosting your immune fighting potential.

1. Steer clear – avoiding infection is the first step.  Wash your hands frequently especially before and after meals, using the bathroom, contact with someone who is feeling ill or after touching public fixtures and surfaces.  And do your friends a favour by keeping your germs to yourself by frequent washing while sick and not touching others. Avoid antibacterial soaps and gels as they may allow bacteria to build resistance (and they really dry out your skin).
2. Produce, produce, produce – One of the best ways to keep your immune system healthy is through a healthy diet and fruits and veggies are your best choice.  They contain a rich source of antioxidants which protect and repair cell damage.  This helps keep your immune cells robust and ready for action when exposed to infection.  When looking for the most antioxidant-rich produce remember the deeper the colour the more nutrition.  Stock up on the deep green, purple, blue, red, orange and yellow foods to get plenty of Vitamin C, E and beta-carotene.  Mix in some nuts to get your Zinc and Selenium too!
3. Dump the Junk – Stop suppressing your immune system with junk food.  Foods high in sugar (refined or even natural sugars) can halt your immune cell function leaving you susceptible to incoming infection.   1 tsp of sugar can reduce your active immune cells by half....which is only a couple of candies! Also, the heavy fats of chip snacking can diminish the strength of the immune system by igniting inflammation. (Mom and Dad, monitor and moderate the Halloween treats!!). 
4. Ain’t no sunshine when D’s gone – Or is it, “ain’t no D when sunshine is gone”?! Vitamin D (which we create in our skin from sun exposure) is a critical vitamin to our immune defence because it actually helps activate immune cells.   Those deficient in Vitamin D have less capacity to fight infection and get sick more often.  And guess what? Many Canadians are not only low but very deficient due to our short summers and low sun exposure.  Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D (fish is your best source) so you may want to think about supplementing vitamin D especially for the fall/winter months.  Consider a liquid supplement that the whole family can use which has superior absorption.  Talk to your doctor about dosing for the whole family.
5. Keep mucous in check – when you are sick and full of phlegm you should consider avoiding dairy products.  Milk and Dairy are mucous producing and can cause a heavier phlegm; which not only feels icky, but allows more infection to breed.  It can also have a suppressing effect on the immune system too.  If you are looking for a way to clear the mucous, consider a nasal lavage such as a Neti pot or Saline nasal spray to clear out your nose and sinuses.  You can also try a facial steam by breathing in the vapour of a hot bowl of water to loosen up the congestion.
6. Keep active – Although it is the time of year when most want to curl up in front of the fire, being active can possibly increase immune cells.  Recent studies note that those who engage in heart-pumping exercise most days of the week have a fraction of the colds of those that are inactive.  If you don’t have time to go to a gym, put your boots and snow suit on and play with your kids in the snow!
7. Rest to protect – Sleep not only rejuvenates your body and mind, but your immune system too! A lack of sleep can lower your immune potential by decreasing your defensive white blood cells and inhibit production of immune-enhancing compounds that are released during sleep. Don’t wait for the flu to knock you out...get your sleep now to keep your immune system healthy.
8. Calm those nerves – Stress is a major contributor to all disease and has a direct relationship with immune system impairment.  When stress is high, cortisol from the adrenal glands is also high and cortisol has a suppressing effect on your immune system.  As a double whammy, when the adrenals become tired, they can no longer support your immune system to function effectively.  Although stress can be unavoidable, it is all about how we deal with it.  If you are finding you are more “on-edge” than normal, explore appropriate ways to de-stress (ie. Yoga, meditation, exercise, walking the dog, reading etc).
9. Friendly bacteria? – Who would have thought that putting bacteria in the body can keep infection away?  By now probiotics (aka. good bacteria) are a regular health food buzz word, but what do they actually do?  A healthy bacterial flora lines all of your mucous membranes and helps, not only to keep bad bugs out by blocking them, but to actually improve the immune system response.  A deficient flora can leave you susceptible to infection, therefore supplementing with probiotics or increasing your fermented foods may be beneficial to keep your immune system healthy. 
10. Herbal help – Nature has provided some excellent herbs to heal our body.  After years of historical use, research has finally caught up and highlights many which support and boost the immune system.  Consider botanicals such as Astragalus, Schisandra, Golden Seal, Eleutherococcus, Echinacea and even Garlic to name a few. Although, they are mainly safe, your doctor can help you determine which are appropriate for you.

For more information on what you can do to defend yourself, consider seeking the advice of a Naturopathic Doctor.

Yours in Health, Michelle Cali, ND