There's a reason we have a cold and flu season. Viruses are able to survive in the air longer in cooler temperatures, and they're more easily spread between people in an indoor social setting. We all lead busy lives ... between work, family and other personal commitments, we're always on the go. Getting sick can get in the way. The good news: You can actually take proactive steps to prevent illness this season.
Diet and Nutrition: We really need to use our diet to fuel our bodies properly. Incorporating whole foods instead of processed foods will provide necessary vitamins and minerals. Focus on particular "power foods" like garlic, onions, mushrooms, red peppers and leafy greens, which are packed full of antioxidants and polyphenols to improve cellular and immune function.
Sleep: Getting adequate sleep is important for overall health. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep can negatively affect different parts of the immune system, making you more susceptible to sickness and delay recovery. Aim for at least seven hours nightly.
Hydration: We can't survive without water so it should be no surprise that the immune system needs proper hydration to work at its best. Specifically, our lymph and blood plasma are mostly water, and our immune cells travel through these fluids. Stay hydrated with water, coconut water or green tea.
Reduce stress: Stress produces cortisol and an increase in cortisol can suppress the immune system. Consider practicing breathing exercises or meditation to bring cortisol levels back down.
Exercise regularly: Moderate-intensity exercise can stimulate cellular immunity by increasing the circulation of immune cells in your body. This helps your body better prepare for a future infection by detecting it earlier. All it takes is aerobic activity for 60 minutes or less to support the immune system.
Supplementation: There are few supportive supplements to aid in immune support.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Our body isn't able to store any excess vitamin C so it has to be supplied via diet or supplementation constantly. The need for vitamin C is amplified during times of stress and infection. Supplemental vitamin C has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. It can also speed up wound healing and is great for the skin and collagen production. Best practice is to take daily as a preventative at 1000mg, but it can still boost immune function once cold/flu has already come on.
- Zinc: Zinc is an important trace mineral that supports growth and normal function of our immune cells. Like vitamin C, it can shorten the duration of symptoms and speed wound healing. A daily dose of 15-25mg is well tolerated.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is very common, and low levels have been associated with every chronic health condition. While most know its role in bone health, vitamin D does support proper immune function. Studies show that vitamin D can prevent many upper respiratory infections. Since majority of our vitamin D comes from sunlight, a daily dose of at least 5000IU can help maintain levels during the winter months.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil): Omega 3s are considered essential, meaning our body is not able to manufacture them and they must be supplied by diet and/or supplementation. Recommended mostly for cardiovascular and cognitive benefits to bring down inflammation, Omega 3s are also required for immune function. A big component of cell walls, they strengthen specific immune cells to target pathogens, bind to them and eliminate from the body. Found in highest amount in cold water fish, supplementation is often preferred at a dose of 2-4 grams daily.
It's important to remember that the FDA does not regulate most supplements, and they may not work for everyone. Some supplements can even be harmful when taken with prescribed medicine. Always check with your doctor before trying a new supplement.
Written by Brandi Grimmer, BS, CNC, Nutritional Consultant, Age Management of West Michigan.