As we enter cold and flu season, I’m frequently asked for tips on strengthening the immune system and preventing illness. Reports are showing that the flu is especially strong this year, and Flu B (a stronger strain of flu) is on the rise this year. Yikes! The good news is that there are many ways we can stay healthy and many things we can do at the first sign of illness. For instance, recent research has shown that people with Vitamin D deficiency are 11 times more likely to get a cold or flu, while those people supplementing with a great source of Vitamin D3 can reduce their risk of illness by 42%!
Here are some simple tips to stay healthy this season:
- Drink lots of fluids. Drinking plenty of fluids supports your immune system among many other systems in your body. Homemade soups and broths contain lots of vital nutrients to keep your immune system strong while also hydrating you.
- Avoid Sugar. I know, it’s the holiday season and treats are around every corner. Not only will sugar pack on additional holiday pounds (which is another topic altogether) but research shows that consuming just 2 teaspoons of sugar suppresses your immune system for 4 hours (if not longer) and makes you much more susceptible to pathogens lurking on surfaces. Remember: this also includes foods that quickly convert into sugar inside the body…white flour, breads, pastas,etc…
- Try a daily saline flush. Keeping your sinuses moist and flushing them with saline can protect you from pathogens.
- Eat meals with adequate amounts of protein plus fruits and vegetables. Proteins are the building blocks for your body and needed for proper immune function. Fruits and vegetables will supply a wide array of nutrients and phytonutrients for immune support. Aim for all meals and snacks to contain a protein and fruit/vegetable source. For example, an apple with almond butter is a great and balanced snack.
- Add garlic, onions, ginger, and spices to each meal. In Chinese medicine, when someone is starting to get a cold/flu, the first piece of advice that is given is to make a warm broth with lots of fresh scallions (green onions) and garlic. Research on these amazing foods and spices continually shows that they have strong antimicrobial functions and help to fight off pathogens.
- Get adequate sleep and exercise. Without sufficient sleep or 30-45 minutes of physical activity a day, the immune system becomes suppressed and you’re more likely to get sick. How many times have you found yourself sick in bed after a challenging week at work, stressful life event, or just running yourself ragged? Yep, that’s what I thought….
Supplements and Herbs for Adult Immune Support:
There are many supplements and herbs you can take to keep your immune system strong throughout the season.
- Multivitamin/Mineral. I’m often asked whether one should just eat a balanced diet or take a multivitamin for additional support. A good multivitamin/mineral supplement is the foundation for immune system support. Even with a balanced and colorful diet, our soil is so depleted that our fruits and vegetables contain about 30% fewer nutrients than they did 20 years ago (and this doesn’t account for nutrients lost during transport and storage at the grocery store). If you’re not on a high quality multivitamin/mineral, you should get on one and stay on one. The supplement market is confusing so if you need a little extra guidance on what to choose, feel free to call for suggestions in a wide variety of price ranges. There is something for every budget.
- Vitamin D3. Optimal Vitamin D is critical for robust immune function. During the winter months, we are not exposed to enough sunlight to make enough Vitamin D. Proper supplementation is important for most individuals. Look for a supplement containing 2,000IUs for adults and 1,000IUs for children.
- Probiotics. Did you know that about 60% of your immune system is concentrated in your gut? A healthy gut flora is critical for proper immune functioning. Look for a probiotic that contains many different active strains and a count of at least 5-10 billion organisms per capsule or call for questions and recommendations.
- Fish Oil. Once again, Grandma was correct. This old time remedy for robust health still stands true. Fish oil supplements will supply a health amount of Omega 3s which have a wide array of health benefits, but in the form of cod liver oil, you also get additional Vitamin A and D for increased immune support.
- Anti-viral herbs and supplements. Did you know that when you’re suffering from a viral infection like a common cold or flu, you have many herbal options instead of just treating the symptoms? Chinese herbal medicine has very potent herbs that have broad antimicrobial and immune-enhancing functions. In Chinese pharmacopeia, there are over 300 commonly used herbs, many of them used to strengthen the immune system and prevent illness, as well as many robust herbs that are used to kill bacteria and viruses at the onset of illness.
Our office carries many high-quality supplements listed above. If you have questions or don’t live in the Austin area and would like specific recommendations, feel free to email or call.