Cold & Flu Season’s Here: Immune System Bootcamp
Holidays are supposed to be a time of reflection and joy. And they are, until you get sick. The Cold & Flu season is here again; cooler weather, traveling, more time spent indoors, and holiday stress all undermine your body’s immune defenses making those illnesses more likely now than at any other time of the year. It’s never a good time to get sick, but the Holidays are about the worst time. Well, we’ve got you covered. Here’s how to whip that immune system into shape and keep it running at full power so you can enjoy unwrapping presents instead of another box of Kleenex. You can do any or all of these things, but don’t wait too long to get started. Fall in, soldier!
Immune Defense 101: Know Your Enemy
The nature of most viral illnesses like colds and flu is such that by the time you realize you’re getting sick, you already are sick, and there really isn’t any reliable way of halting or reversing the process. Most viral diseases simply must run their course until they’re defeated by your immune system. That’s the bad news. The good news is that once this has occurred, you’re immune to that virus. There are quite a few natural products and approaches that can help you feel better if you are sick, but the moral of the story is that is much better to be vigilant about not getting sick in the first place.
Clear the Perimeter: Wash Your Hands
It’s been mentioned a million times before but bears repeating, you must wash your hands frequently especially when you’re coming into contact with a lot of public or shared resources such as when traveling or socializing. This is the main way harmful organisms make their way into your body. Don’t give them the chance. Ordinary soap and warm water are fine, you don’t need any special antibacterial soap. Nor do you need to be a fanatic about it, use common sense and discretion. But you certainly want to wash up before after eating, after using the bathroom, or making significant contact with other very public resources like banisters, doorknobs and ATM machines. You might consider carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you for times when soap and water aren’t available.
Pulling Back Your Troops: Get the Quantity and Quality Sleep You Need
Lack of sleep undermines immune function and, if it persists and becomes chronic, predisposes you to both physical and mental health problems. If you’ve been having difficulty sleeping well lately, as many do with the change of seasons and Daylight Savings Time changes, you need to address that right now. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure about why you’re having trouble sleeping or if it’s possible drug side-effect.
Make sure your sleep environment is as cool as you can comfortably tolerate, as quiet as you can make it, and as dark as you can make it. There are specific reasons for these, and while this may not be what you’re used to, try to get used to it since this is the best environment to induce and encourage deep, restful and consistent sleep. For trouble falling asleep try Valerian root extract, Kava extract or L-tryptophan, taking each as directed. For trouble staying asleep, consider a time-release melatonin supplement, using about 1 mg for each decade of life (i.e. a 60 year-old can start with 6 mg). It may take some experimentation to find the ideal dose of melatonin, which is generally used by those over 35. Melatonin is also a legitimate immune system booster and can be used for this reason as well as to maintain healthy sleep patterns in those who are already sleeping well.
Maintain Troop Morale and Avert Mission Drift: Resolve Your Stress!
The Holidays bring their share of stress to everyone’s life as we try to juggle all of our responsibilities, obligations and traditions. Stress, unfortunately, is a major immuno-suppressant. But we can’t just wave a magic wand and make stress go away. That makes it very important to try to at least respond to the stress in a healthy way, some way that gives our bodies a chance to discharge the pent up stress and nervous energy. A simple walk – in the park, the woods, the beach – is always good for this. Exercise of any kind is helpful; repetitive exercises like running, swimming or cardio machines are great when you’re anxious, worried or have a lot on your mind; weight training and resistance machines are great when you’re feeling agitated, irritable or frustrated. If you need a boost to get that ball rolling, we really like VPX Redline and 5-Hour Energy Drinks before a workout.
It’s also important to try and give yourself some quiet, unstructured time if possible. Whether that means a full-blown meditation session or not is up to you, but we all need some quiet time to gather our thoughts and reflect on the weeks ahead, so try and structure some unstructured-time into each week.
Weapons and Tactics: Vitamin D
Every month more studies are published strengthening the already-strong case that everyone needs a vitamin D supplement every day. 1000-2000 IU. If you live at a lower latitudes and are outside for several hours each day, then you probably don’t need vitamin D. But everyone else does. Why is it so important? Vitamin D is really a prohormone as much as it is a vitamin, and among its many functions is regulating the immune system. You should use a standalone vitamin D supplement – not cod liver oil – to get most of your 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D daily, but if you wanted to use some cod liver oil along with your vitamin D supplement, that’s a good idea since cod liver oil is 3 immune-friendly nutrients in one product; vitamin A, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
Weapons and Tactics: Wellness Formula
You could also use a multivitamin or an all-in-one immune support supplement of your choosing, but we really like this time-honored product from Source Naturals. Wellness Formula has all of the Big Gun vitamins, minerals and herbs for immune support in one product. It’s great when you are sick, too, but is best taken throughout the cold and flu season as a preventative.
Weapons and Tactics: Whey Protein
Whey protein is a legitimate immune fuel full of good things for your immune system; high quality protein, glutamine, essential amino acids and immune-friendly peptides like lactoferrin. You can use whey protein powder to make shakes or use ready-to-drink protein shakes when you’re on the go.
Weapons and Tactics: Glutamine
There a few reasons you may want to add glutamine powder to your shakes and drinks over the next few months. Although your body can manufacture some glutamine, and although you can get some glutamine in proteins like whey, it still might be a good idea to take some extra glutamine since it’s in constant demand throughout your body. It’s the preferred fuel for many immune cells, so it’s a legitimate immune fuel. But glutamine is also needed by the rest of your body too – all of your muscle tissue, intestinal cells, the brain, liver and kidneys….your whole body. Muscle mass serves as your body’s primary reservoir of glutamine, and glutamine is ‘cannibalized’ by breaking down muscle tissue the moment demand exceeds supply. You won’t necessary know that that’s happening or when you’ve reached that point. On top of that, the Holidays bring interruptions to your workout schedule and many of us will need to skip the gym for a few days or even weeks. So, especially if you’ve been training for strength and size and want to hang on to 100% of your gains this season, glutamine might be a particularly good option to help retain muscle size and strength while keeping your immune system strong. Glutamine also benefits your immune system indirectly by supporting the health and integrity of intestinal cells. Your intestines and immune system work very closely together to help keep you healthy.
Weapons and Tactics: Vitamin C
Vitamin C is another key immune nutrient that shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re trying to max out your immune function. It’s inexpensive, extraordinarily safe and very important. You don’t necessarily need a lot of vitamin C, 500-1000 mg per day is a common range, but you do need to take it consistently, every day, preferably in divided doses at least twice a day, for the maximum benefit.
Special Weapons and Tactics: AHCC
A product of Japanese research, AHCC is one of the few, legitimate “immune boosters”, if by “immune booster” we mean something that can actually increase the activity and proliferation rate of immune cells. It’s a totally safe and nontoxic extract made from hybridized medicinal mushrooms. Its main drawback is its price. This is something to use when you’re already sick and need to bounce back as quickly as possible.
Form Protective Alliances: Probiotics/Acidophilus/Bifidus
There are only a few ways you can actually, literally ‘boost’ immune function in terms of speeding up the activity of immune cells. AHCC is one. Another approach, just as good, is to try to reduce the burden on your immune system; clean diet, sufficient sleep, supplements, avoiding alcohol, smoking, etc. One of the ways you can do this is to use probiotic supplements that fortify and replenish vital intestinal bacteria that play a critical protective role in concert with your body’s native immune system. These bacteria are a virtual second immune system. They are uniquely positioned to protect you from the harmful compounds and organisms that are present to some degree on all foods. And in case any of this debris somehow makes it past this living barrier, about 60% of your immune cells are stationed around the perimeter of your digestive system, full time, ready to engulf and destroy any harmful debris or organisms that may have gotten into your system from the food you’ve eaten. Poor or erratic diets and drugs like antibiotics can weaken this protective bacterial flora, forcing immune cells to work harder and spreading their resources more thinly. Strengthen it back again with a good probiotic supplement because your immune system just isn’t anywhere near 100% until your intestinal bacteria are healthy and flourishing. It’s impossible to know exactly how strong and robust your bacterial flora are, but since probiotics are completely nontoxic and safe, it makes sense to run a course now so that you’re fully protected for the season.
Air Force: Filters and Humidifiers
You may be aware that the air inside most homes and offices in considerably less clean than the air outside. Airborne contamination inside the home is a complex mixture of inorganic particulate matter and biological debris some of which can make you sick, some of which can’t but all of which is just that much more debris to be processed and eliminated by your body. So it may be beneficial to use good air purifiers in the rooms in which you spend the most time.
Similarly, indoor air can easily become very dry from the use of heaters and lack of indoor-outdoor air circulation. This dries out the protective layer of mucus that lines our respiratory tract and serves as a flypaper-like “trap” for inhaled debris, so they can be eliminated. In addition to being uncomfortable, dry air makes many people much more sensitive to dust and allergens and may increase vulnerability to airborne pathogens that cause colds and flu. So it’s a good idea to pick up an inexpensive mist-type humidifier if the air in your residence or office is extremely dry.
Again, you can use any or all of these approaches depending on how aggressively you want to support your immune system. But don’t wait too long to get started or take your current wellness for granted – the toughest weeks are just ahead. Take some action now and whip that immune system into shape. You’ll enjoy perfect health this holiday season!