By Dr. Shawna Darou
With the rapidly changing weather and abundant colds circulating these days, here are some tips to keep your immune system strong this autumn. Our immune system can become compromised by poor diet, lack of regular exercise, constant stress, over-use of antibiotics 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 a diet rich in 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.
- 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).
- 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 example a 12 ounce soft drink can depress your immune system for up to 5 hours! As mentioned in a previous blog article, challenge yourself to limiting sugar intake to no more 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). Water not only helps to flush out toxins, but also improves your energy levels.
- 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.
- 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.
- Reduce your stress, since chronic stress can depress your immune system – try yoga, breathing exercises, meditation or a warm bath to release your stress. Acupuncture and massage are also very effective at lowering stress levels.
Use Supplements for Prevention:
- There are many supplements that can help boost your immune system this fall and winter. Vitamin C is very effective in improving immune function. Generally 1,000mg daily is recommended. Other antioxidants such as vitamins A and E, and zinc also help to support immune function. Herbs such as Echinacea, Astragalus and Elderberry are effective in improving immune response to colds and flus. A favorite combination is St. Francis “Deep Immune”, which is used preventatively.
- By the mid-October it is time to resume daily vitamin D supplements and continue through the Winter months. At our latitude in Ontario, we cannot absorb sufficient vitamin D from the sun from November through April. Starting dosages are 2000-3000 IU daily for adults, and I highly recommend blood testing for vitamin D levels in December or January to make sure that you are taking enough. Some people need much higher dosages to maintain their levels in an optimal range.
Know what to take 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.
- 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.
- Get lots of sleep – this is the night to go to bed early, and rest.
- Use immune stimulating supplements to boost your immune response: vitamin C, oil of oregano, echinacea, and some of my favourites “Cold Quell” (Chinese herbs by Blue Poppy), and “Phytogen” (by Thorne) – both are available at the office.
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: 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 will make a big impact on your health.
- Chronic high stress: In cases of both high stress hormones and low, 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.
- 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 very common with urinary tract infections, and bacterial tonsillitis, for example. In many cases, treating an infection naturally, will break this cycle of chronic infection.
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 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, or young children all of which increase your risk.
Here’s to a healthy season!