The cold and flu season lasts from October to May were we live in the northern hemisphere and while these are the colder months of the year the temperature outside has little to do with the risk for getting sick. The primary reason why we get sick is our bodies ability to fight off a pathogen when we come in contact with it. During the winter months we have little to no exposure to UVB rays which our bodies require to make vitamin D. The cold dry air may dehydrate our mucous membranes making our bodies more permeable to pathogens. Viruses may live a bit longer on surfaces during in colder weather. While taking precautions like hand washing is important to limit the transmission of pathogens these steps to boot your immune system may mean more to stay healthy this winter.
We come into contact pathogens every day but mostly our bodies are healthy enough to fight them off but during the colder months are risk is greater so boosting your immune function is important and starts with a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle includes both eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercise. Eating a diet high in raw fruits and vegetables is important because these foods provide our bodies with the essential nutrients that we need to live. I mention eating raw vegetables because cooking them does deplete the nutrients from them, eating vegetables is better than not but if you can eat them with minimal cooking it is far better for you. Limit your exposure to foods high in Omega 6 fatty acids such as corn and soy to name the two biggest culprits. When we eat too many foods high in Omega 6 and not enough foods high in Omega 3 we put our health at risk. Getting enough sleep is important, the suggestions of 7-9 hours a night is a good baseline but the topic is more complex than that. Read this white paper by the national sleep foundation to learn a bit more about what it means to get adequate sleep. We don’t know exactly why exercise helps immune function but the evidence is clear, if you exercise regularly you will be more healthy than not. You do not have to run 5K’s every weekend or do Cross Fit to exercise the evidence suggests that just going to the gym 3 days a week, walking 30 minutes a day, cycling several times a week, or even golfing regularly can be enough. I can help you find a specific exercise program that meets your needs if you want.
If you eat a healthy diet you don’t need to worry too much about taking vitamins and supplements but if you are honest with yourself you know that you don’t eat perfectly healthy every day, in this case taking vitamins and supplements is important. A supplement that includes vitamins A, B2, B6, C, E, and zinc is important because the evidence points to the importance on these vitamins on immune function. I purposely left out vitamin D because this is one you should take either separately or in addition to whatever amount of D is in your multivitamin. If you are taking a multivitamin, look at how much D is in it and feel free to take more up to 5000 IU. It is also good to take and Omega 3 supplement, Omega 3 is a fatty acid that our bodies cannot make so our only source is from what we eat see this post for more info. You can take up to 2500 mg of Omega 3 per day usually in the form of fish or krill oil.
There are a number of other things you can take into account to boost your immune system. Taking probiotics can help your gut health and there are a number of papers on the importance of gut health on immune function. There are a number of herbs and essential oils which can help boost your immune function as well and these are topics work looking into. My wife is into essential oils and I might bet able to get her to write on essential oils as I do not know as much about it as she does. Don’t discount the odd things out there without doing serious research, there are many odd remedies and ideas that are bogus but there are many more that hold water.
Of course I couldn’t have a post on immune function without mentioning chiropractic care. Today chiropractic care is most commonly associated with back pain but the profession of chiropractic was built on treating illness. There is a connection between the spine and immune function, Dr. Murphy who teaches at Life Chiropractic College in California describes this best. Watch this 5 minute video to see a great description, based on peer reviewed published research on the spine and immune function. Getting adjustments, or chiropractic care specifically can improve your immune function based on what the evidence shows regarding neurophysiology.
This is not exactly an all encompassing list of steps to boost your immune system but more of a few items I have found to be most overlooked by the average person looking to stay healthy. Doing any or all of these things may not give you guaranteed protection from getting sick, because there is nothing that can give you that, but by taking these steps your body will have more of what it needs to function properly to fight off infection.