By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
The biggest discussion lately is how to support your immune system right now, especially as the weather change, and as we enter typical cold and flu season.
Please note that this is not an article on how to treat or prevent COVID-19, but rather some reminders on what you can do to keep your immune system working optimally right now for regular seasonal concerns. The reality is that something as simple as a sore throat or low-grade fever can keep a whole family home for 2 weeks, so here are some reminders. The biggest 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, minerals and antioxidants – for example yellow (squash), orange (carrots), green (spinach) and purple (grapes).
- Include garlic, onions, thyme and oregano as natural anti-viral and anti-bacterial spices.
- Reduce sugar intake – sugar has a direct and strong affect on your immune system. For example a 12 ounce soft drink can depress your immune system for up to 5 hours!
- 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).
- Get enough sleep, ideally at least 8 hours per night to allow your body time to regenerate. This is especially important if you’re feeling run down or over-worked.
- Exercise regularly – walking, yoga, stretching, cycling, running, home-workouts – 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 reduce congestion. 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 twice 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: A food intolerance is causing a 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 can make a big impact on your health.
- Chronic high stress: In cases of both high stress hormones and low stress hormones, the immune system is affected. 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.
- Low thyroid function: A little known symptom of hypothyroidism is frequent colds 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.
- Poor sleep quality: Without sufficient high-quality rest, your immune system may not be working optimally.
- Antibiotic resistance: 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 quite common with urinary tract infections, sinus infections and bacterial tonsillitis. In many cases, treating an infection naturally and early, will break this cycle of chronic infection.
Use Supplements for Prevention:
- There are many supplements that can support your immune system this fall and winter. These may include vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, herbs such as Astragalus and Elderberry, Garlic and Oregano. If you have questions about dosing or which ones are best for you, please ask during your next appointment.
If you need a personalized plan to support your immune system, or want to look into underlying causes of frequent winter illness, please ask during your next appointment.
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