Winter is a time when the immune system needs extra support. Decreased sun exposure, flu season and spending more time indoors all contribute to higher infection rates during these months. However, with proper care and planning you can bolster your immune system and fight off viral and bacterial infections before they make you sick. Here some of the best known tricks.
- Have your Vitamin D levels checked– Early Fall is a great time to visit your doctor and request a blood test to check vitamin D levels. This critical fat soluble nutrient plays an important role in keeping your immune system balanced. Without adequate vitamin D blood levels, the immune system can become underactive in times of need and over-reactive at times when inflammation can be damaging. Before taking Vitamin D supplements, it is always best to have your levels checked first so you can determine the appropriate dose. 2000iu-5000iu of Vitamin D taken daily is generally recognized as safe but some people with severe deficiencies may need higher doses to balance blood levels. In addition, too much vitamin D can be harmful to the body so knowing the best dose is very important.
- Increase exercise and sleep– These two recommendations go hand in hand because usually more exercise leads to better sleep. Exercise stimulates the immune system and studies show that regular exercise increases activity of the cells that initially target viruses and bacteria. In addition, exercise helps to relieve stress which also supports immune function. Human clinical trials clearly demonstrate that stress significantly inhibits immune function and increases susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections. Sleep is our body’s chance to revitalize. The hormones released during the day to keep our energy levels up and sustain activity have a suppressive effect on immune function. When we sleep, and only when we sleep, a different set of hormones are released that stimulate immune function and repair the damage we do from our busy and active lifestyles. If your sleep is suffering, so is your immune system. If you have trouble sleeping, consider trying some gentle, natural sleep aids like melatonin, valerian or passionflower.
- Reduce sugar– Food can be a major factor when it comes to either supporting immune function or suppressing it. Sugar is the number 1 culprit when it comes to crippling immune activity. Sugar also fuels pathways of inflammation which increase your susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections. Reducing refined sugar in your diet from sources like soda, candy, cookies, cake, brownies and other sweet treats is a great way to give your immune system a added boost. While not considered actual sugar, many commonly consumed foods convert to sugar very quickly in the blood stream and have a similar immune suppressive impact. Bread, pasta and baked goods all have this property and can be limited if you want to further support immune function.
- Elderberry Extract– This herb has been used over the centuries to help combat viral infections. Extensive research has shown its ability to stop viral replication even against flu virus. In fact, no other herb has been shown to be more effective against the influenza virus as elderberry. It’s action is very gentle and has no known side effects. The safety profile of Elderberry is so good that it is a top choice for use in young children to combat viral infections. I recommend using it at the first sign of an illness or, it can be taken preventively. For example, if a family member or co-worker is ill or if your exposure risk is increased from stress or travel.
- Mushroom Extracts– The tiny proteins that naturally occur in medicinal mushrooms look similar to the proteins that coat viruses and bacteria. As a result, they stimulate the immune defense cells in our body without causing any infection or harm. Increased stimulation of these defense cells (natural killer cells) leads to better immune surveillance and a lower likelihood that a virus or bacteria can set up in your body and create an illness. Extensive human clinical trials have shown medicinal mushrooms like shitake, maitake and coriolus to have potent and powerful immune stimulating properties and many people report much lower rates of illness when they are used regularly. Because these medicinal mushrooms are basically a food, they have no know side effects or toxicity (not true for all mushrooms) and can consumed on a daily basis. It is one the safest and most effective ways to boost your immune system during winter months and times of stress. They are used extensively around the world in cancer treatment protocols due to their ability to improve immune function and help the body target and destroy cancer cells.
Implementing these five tips will go a long way in supporting your immune system through the winter but remember they can be used at anytime whe