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10 Immune-Boosting Steps for Flu Season
10 Immune-Boosting Steps for Flu Season
Fall and winter are glorious seasons—but along with the fresh, crisp air, crackling fireplaces and family gatherings comes the risk of waking up with the sniffles, aches and coughs that signal flu. Not to be confused with the common cold, flu is the result of a virus that bombards our systems and leaves us feeling as though we have a bus parked on top of us.
While each year’s flu vaccine is touted to address the most current version of the virus, not all experts agree that these vaccines offer any real protection. Taking steps now to boost your body’s immune system can go a long way toward helping you ward off the flu virus whether you choose to get the vaccine or not. Here, we offer 10 holistic strategies for strengthening your immune system.
1. Rack up some Zzzs. Getting adequate rest is important to a healthy immune system. A 2011 study published in the journal Exercise Immunology Review concluded that getting enough sleep is essential to the optimal functioning of our immune systems, and that lack of sleep weakens our ability to fight off viruses and pathogens. Tough to get the recommended eight hours? Taking a brief, 20-minute nap in the afternoon can help meet overall sleep needs. If possible, consider setting the alarm on your phone and putting your head down on your desk, slipping away to your car or finding a safe place to shut your eyes for 20 minutes each afternoon.
2. Work it out. The same study determined that regular exercise also plays a crucial role in creating and maintaining a healthy immune system. Take advantage of the cooler temperatures and make a walk a part of your daily routine. Some pre-bedtime yoga counts as well—and has the added benefit to contributing to better quality sleep.
3. Eat your soup. Turns out, having a bowl of chicken soup is more than a grandmotherly solution to beating the flu. “Chicken soup has shown benefits in several investigations beyond its benefit as a hot beverage,” explains Michael T. Murray, ND, coauthor of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Atria Books, 2012). “The latest study focused on a specific small protein in chicken soup that was shown to protect against viral injuries to the immune system.”
4. De-stress. Stress is a known trigger for all manner of health problems, including suppressed immune levels. Make an effort to reduce the stress in your own life by adding a daily meditation, participating in a hobby or activity that you find fulfilling, listening to soothing music, spending time with friends or loved ones (yes, that includes your dog, cat or hamster), or adding deep breathing exercises, such as the pranayama practice in yoga traditions, as a regular part of your day.
5. Nix the sweet stuff. Study after study has shown the relationship between sugar consumption and poor health, including compromised immunity. “Overconsumption of sugar is a major cause of susceptibility,” says Murray. “Clinical studies have shown that ingesting 100-gram portions of carbohydrates as glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey or orange juice significantly reduces white blood cell function. Considering that the average American consumes 175 grams of refined simple sugars each day, it could be a major factor determining whether a cold catches or not.”
6. Stock up. On nutrients, that is. While supplementing is an option, your body can better utilize the powerful phytonutrients found in vegetables and fruits when they arrive in the purest possible form. Aim for two servings of color-dense vegetables and fruits at every meal. A study appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that adequate vitamin D may be an important factor in fighting off respiratory infections. While sunlight is the preferred source, consider adding a vitamin D supplement to counteract the lack of sunlight that accompanies winter months, especially if you live in the north.
7. Beta test. “Some of the most interesting recent research in natural approaches to fighting colds and the flu,” offers Murray, “has focused on extracts and preparations of Baker’s yeast and medicinal mushrooms like maitake (Grifola frondosa), shiitake (Lentinus edodes), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and Cordyceps sinensis. All of these agents possess significant immune-enhancing effects due to the presence of molecules known as beta-glucans.”
8. Be a pro. Adding a daily probiotic may be a smart way to boost immunity. Preliminary results of a number of studies conducted at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine suggest that probiotics show potential for increasing immune response to viral infections and certain diseases.
9. Breathe easy. Dry, cracked mucous membranes are the equivalent of an open door to viruses and bacteria. Keep your nostrils moist by rubbing a bit of pure organic oil—such as sunflower or walnut—on the inside of your nostrils in the morning before you leave for work and at night before you go to bed.
10. Hydrate. Drink some more water (add a slice of citrus for an extra health boost). Keeping your body adequately hydrated supports every one of the body’s systems. Water alone or in the form of tea, broth and herbal infusions made with ginger and a fresh squeeze of lemon or orange are all good ways to hydrate in a healthy way. Avoid sweet drinks, alcohol and concentrated fruit juices, which diminish immune efficiency.
By: Debra Bokur
Debra, a former Contributing Editor at Fit Yoga Magazine, Travel & Wellness Editor at Healing Lifestyles & Spas, and Managing Editor at Delicious Living Magazine, has been covering health, travel and wellness for over 25 years. She currently writes for Global Traveler Magazine and serves as the poetry editor at the national literary journal Many Mountains Moving. Previously, she trained horses for the sports of dressage and combined training, and worked for a variety of equestrian magazines including Spur, Horse & Rider, HorsePlay, and Discover Horses.
October 18th, 2012