Cold and flu season is quickly approaching. Is your body ready to fight whatever comes its way? The focus of my article today is on natural ways to boost your immune system. Try the tips below to prep your body for the upcoming cold and flu season.
Diet and Lifestyle:
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and protein. Protein is important for optimizing immune function and the vitamins in fruits and vegetables will help fight infection and keep your immune system primed and ready to go.
- Sleep sleep sleep! It is dark in the morning and early in the evening for a reason! In the winter time, we require more sleep to get us through the cold days. Aim for 8-10 hours of sleep per night to ensure optimal immune function.
- Water water water! Drink lots of water or herbal tea in the colder months. Keeping your body hydrated is important for the first line immune defense of the mucus membranes and skin. Our muscles cannot function optimally when they are dehydrated and neither can the immune system.
- Wash hands regularly! Sounds simple but is easy to forget. Carry hand sanitizer in your bag or backpack for times when you don’t have access to soap and water.
- De-stress! As I spoke about in a previous article, stress and cortisol have immune suppressing effects, making our body less able to fight illness when we are stressed and worn out. For ideas on how to naturally manage stress, click here.
- Various vitamins and minerals are important for immune system function. Ensure adequate intakes of vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, B6, B12, chromium, copper, and selenium. Many of these nutrients can be found in a balanced diet. However, supplementation is often necessary to reach therapeutic dose. Speak with a naturopathic doctor to determine appropriate dosages.
- Anti-viral botanical formulations are effective in the prevention of colds and flus. Some herbs that demonstrate immune boosting effects include Echinacea, Ginseng, Astragalus, Eleuthrococcus, Garlic, Andrographis, and Baptisia. Small dosages of these formulas can be taken for the prevention of illness. Naturopathic doctors can create formulas that tailor to individual patient needs or combination formulas can be purchased such as those made by St. Francis Herbs or Natural Factors. Caution: people with autoimmune conditions or who are pregnant should consult a health professional before taking immunostimulating formulas.
- Contrast showers are an effective and easy way to boost the immune system. Start your morning shower at as warm a temperature as you can handle for 3 minutes. After the time is up, switch the shower to as cold as you can handle for 30 sec – 1 minute. Repeat this cycle a total of at least 3 times, ending on cold. Contrast showering promotes circulation to the internal immune organs such as the spleen and lymphatic system, and it helps our internal thermometer become less sensitive to the extreme changes in temperature that we experience throughout the day as we move from outside to inside. The Scandinav Spa in Collingwood is an example of contrast bathing and works via this exact principle. Who would have thought water could be so therapeutic?
The Flu Shot
Deciding to get the seasonal flu shot is a difficult decision for many people. There are definitely pros and cons to the flu vaccination, and in some people (like the immune compromised or elderly), it saves many lives and prevents illness. Like any vaccination, it is important to educate yourself on the pros and cons and then make a decision that is best for you and your body. You know yourself best and in the end, the decision will be the right one for you. Speak with your medical doctor or a naturopathic doctor for more information on flu vaccine alternatives or check out this link for a position paper from the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors on the flu vaccination (titled “Flu Vaccines”) https://cand.ca/Position_Papers.papers.0.html?&L=0
So, you have done everything you can to boost your immune system this winter seasion. But what happens when you get a bad nights sleep and wake up one morning with a runny nose or a splintering sore throat? Stay tuned for my future article on how to naturally sooth a sore throat and cough!