Welcome to the germ season!
You don’t have to be a germaphobe like me to appreciate the value of washing your hands, especially now as we enter the season germs like best.
We have had several people come into the health store where I work and share that their children have the flu. So, I was inspired to do a little research and write about five helpful tips that will help you protect yourself from catching those nasty germs that are sure to come your way. These tips are also very important for immune health overall.
Let’s start with a basic but important question: what exactly is the immune system? It is a network of organs, cells and proteins that protect the body from viruses and bacteria. These organs produce defense cells to fight invaders. There are many things that can weaken the immune system, such as diet and lifestyle habits, but here are my 5 tips on ways to optimize your health this season:
Surprisingly, sleep tops the list! I found a study which focused on the impact of sleep and the immune system (study posted below). Sleep supports the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines that are directly involved in the body’s immune response, meaning sleep will enhance the response against invaders. Prolonged periods of sleep loss can lead to increased inflammatory activity markers. “Inflammation leads to oxidative stress and cell injury that are counteracted by melatonin scavenging free radicals” (1). Melatonin is produced while you sleep to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. It can help lessen the amount of damaged cells, but if you only sleep a few hours a night then there is a greater chance for free radicals to stick around and continue to produce inflammation, which contributes to a weakened immune system (1).
Chronic stress can take a toll on your body. It produces high cortisol, the fat-storing hormone, which also inhibits many conversions of thyroid hormones and vitamins in the body. This will weaken your body’s ability to protect itself.
What are some ways you can lower stress? Some suggestions I have are: to get a massage, take walks with your family, put your phone away, make written lists, and delegate holiday responsibilities so all of it doesn’t fall on your shoulders.
What are ways that you like to relax and lower your stress level?
Perhaps you have heard that our gut contains 80% of our immune system. That means our gut health is directly connected to our overall health. Stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, toxins, and infections can contribute to poor gut health which lowers our good gut bacteria and gives the bad bacteria a chance to grow. I recommend most people take a good quality probiotic to help increase the good bacteria in the gut. Probiotics help calm and balance the immune system, which can help with inflammation.
Vitamin A, C, D and Zinc
Vitamin C is a well-known immune builder (so I won’t go into detail about that here), but did you know that Vitamin A and D are also critical to immune health? Vitamin A is a fat-soluble, steroid hormone that is found in two forms: retinol and beta-carotene. It is crucial for the health of the surface linings of our skin, eyes, GI tract, and respiratory tract. It also reduces the negative effects of inflammatory cells and is required for production of critical antibodies that help our immune system fend off the bad guys.
Vitamin D is also a fat-soluble, steroid hormone that is very important for immune system regulation. You will want to balance out any large amounts of Vitamin D with intake of Vitamin A because excessive ‘D’ intake can deplete ‘A’.
Zinc is also a great addition to your immune building collection. It acts like an antioxidant and can shorten cold symptoms. It is also needed to support Vitamin A absorption, so go ahead and round out this vitamin trio with some zinc!
Immune boosting herbs
Echinacea and elderberry are two fantastic immune boosters to help support you this winter. Elderberry Syrup is flying off the shelves right now. “Elderberry also contains flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that can help prevent cellular damages, and anthocyanidins, chemical compounds that are known to have immunostimulant effects.” (2). It is also high in Vitamin A and C. My favorite local elderberry syrup is Sweets Syrup made and sold in Charlotte, NC. It contains local raw honey to give it even more of an immune boost.
Echinacea is also an herb that is primarily used to make medicine. It can reduce your risk of catching a cold and also reduces the duration of a cold.
I hope these tips will be helpful for you this season! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. I am also open for scheduling new health coaching clients in January and would love to help you on your journey for optimal health!