Updated: Apr 5
With the rapidly changing weather and back to school happening for students and teachers right now, I wanted to start this month with some practical tips to protect your immune system. Our immune system can become compromised by poor diet, lack of regular exercise, constant stress and lack of sleep, to name a few. The key to preventing illness is not to let yourself get run down. You’re much more susceptible to getting sick when you are overtired, stressed out and not eating well. Here are some basic guidelines to keep you healthy this season.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables – aim for 5-10 servings daily. Have fruits and vegetables in smoothies, salads, stir-fries, soups and stews. Bring vegetable and fruit snacks to work or school and combine with nuts and seeds / nut butters / hummus for variety.
Just as we teach children to eat a rainbow on their plate, choose different coloured vegetables and fruits to ensure a good balance of vitamins and minerals – for example yellow (squash), orange (carrots), green (spinach) and red (grapes). Colourful vegetables and fruits provide an abundance of phytonutrients.
Include garlic, onions, thyme and oregano to boost your immune system and fight viruses.
Reduce sugar intake – sugar has a direct and strong affect on your immune system. For those of you watching labels, aim to keep your sugar intake less than 25 grams per day.
Drink plenty of water – at least one 8-oz glass of water for every 20 pounds of body weight you have. (For example, a 120 lb. woman needs at least 6 glasses of water each day). If you’re not drinking enough water right now, you’ll notice a big change in energy levels when you pay attention to this simple habit.
Get enough sleep, ideally at least 8 hours per night to allow your body time to regenerate, and for your immune system to function optimally. This is especially important if you’re feeling run down.
Exercise regularly – walking, yoga, stretching, working out at a gym – all of these will help maintain a healthy body, reduce stress and prevent illness. Be cautious not to over-exercise though, as this can cause a weaker immune system due to the additional stress on your body.
Take a good look at your stress levels – try yoga, breathing exercises, meditation or a warm bath to release your stress. Acupuncture and massage are also very effective at lowering stress levels.
Know what to do at first sign of illness:
Even if you start to feel sick, with a sore throat, body aches, chills, fatigue or a stuffy nose, you still have a window to turn around an illness. This is the time where excellent self-care is required. Don’t try to push through it!
The most important thing here is REST – get to bed early, and really allow yourself to sleep.
Eat well and lightly, avoiding all dairy and sugar to keep your immune system strong. Soups and warming foods are best.
Drink hot tea with grated ginger, lemon and honey to soothe a sore throat and keep you warm.
Treat Underlying Causes:
If you are prone to getting sick more than 2x per year, or have any kind of recurrent infection, it is very important to get to the root of the issue. Some of the most common causes of frequent illness include:
Food intolerances can cause daily, chronic stress on the immune system, leaving less reserve for fighting illness. If you are sick more than 3x per year, and especially if you have allergies, eczema, asthma or an autoimmune condition, identifying your food intolerances will make a big impact on your health.
Stress hormone imbalance – low or high cortisol – can impact the immune system. For some this can be frequent colds, and for others a cold or infection that takes a long time to clear. Supporting the adrenal system can greatly reduce winter illness.
A little known symptom of hypothyroidism is frequent cold and infections. This would also be accompanied by typical low thyroid signs such as fatigue, weight gain, feeling cold, dry skin, hair loss and difficult concentration.
Some bacterial infections have a tendency to recur due to antibiotic resistance of organisms. When an infection is treated with an antibiotic, there is a chance that it may not clear completely and can then rebound again when you are run down. This is very common with urinary tract infections, and bacterial tonsillitis, for example. By supporting the immune system overall, treating an infection at early signs with strong herbal medicine, and addressing biofilms, we can often break this cycle of chronic infection.
Use Supplements for Prevention:
There are many supplements that can help boost your immune system this fall and winter. These include vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, herbs such as Echinacea, Astragalus and Elderberry, Garlic and Oregano. If you have questions about dosing, please ask during your next appointment. Some can be taken throughout the season preventatively, such as vitamin C, elderberry and astragalus.
Vitamin D is the most critical for those of us in many parts of North America, and this is also essential for your child. Safe starting dosages of vitamin D3 are: 400 IU daily for infants to 1 year old, 1000 IU daily for children age 1-12, and 2000-3000 IU daily for teens and adults. Vitamin D absorption can vary tremendously, so if you are prone to lots of winter illness, please check your levels to confirm that you are taking enough. Note: vitamin D is toxic in high amounts, so do not increase the dose higher with out medical supervision and monitoring.
If you would like help to put together an immune-boosting plan for yourself, or your family, please book an appointment to discuss this further. We will go through nutrition and supplements both for prevention, and what to do and take at first sign of illness, along with assessing any underlying factors that may make you more prone to illness. This is especially helpful if you have a high stress lifestyle, frequent work travel, young children in daycare, or for anyone who had a difficult year with colds and illness last year.
Here’s to a healthy September!
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