Influenza (flu) season in the United States usually ranges from November through March, and sometimes into early spring. Flu is caused by viruses, which infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu is very contagious; a person can spread the flu starting one day before he or she feels sick, and continue to pass the flu virus to others up to 7 days after symptoms start.
With the recent outbreak of the swine flu (H1N1) virus, this winter’s flu season might start sooner and is looking to be a challenging one. However, there are ways to substantially improve your immune strength and reduce or eliminate your risk of contracting the flu. The following are some important guidelines to keep your immune system healthy and strong:
Optimize your vitamin D level. This is probably the single most important action you can take to fend off infections of all kinds. Through a blood test called 25 (OH) D, you can find out if your vitamin D level is within the optimal levels of 50-70 ng/ml. Since it is very difficult to obtain enough vitamin D from the diet and if you regularly use sunscreen when you go outdoors, you probably need to take a vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplement.
If you find out that you are deficient in vitamin D, it is quite safe to supplement with 1,000-2,000 IU daily. Since vitamin D is fat soluble, you need to take it with food that contains fat. Although Vitamin D is not toxic up to 10,000 IU a day, if you intend to take a high dosage for any duration of time, you should seek advice from a health care professional.
Wash your hands. This will decrease the likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose or mouth. Use a simple chemical-free soap or hand sanitizer; there is no need to use antibacterial products because frequent use leads to the development of super bugs or antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Eliminate sugar and food allergens from your diet. Studies show that just a small amount of sugar can impair white blood cells up to 50% for very short periods of time. Therefore, watch out for how much fruit juice you drink as they have just as much sugar as regular sodas. Also, by identifying and eliminating your food allergens, the immune system will be spared to combat other invaders rather than the allergens.
Get enough sleep. Studies show that sleep dramatically enhances the activity and effectiveness of the immune system. Healthy, deep sleep allows the body to release a significant amount of growth hormone that boosts the immune system and aids in the growth and repair of the body. Make sure you get at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night.
Reduce stress. Stress is a part of life, but if it becomes overwhelming, your body will be less able to fight off the flu and other illnesses. When you are constantly stressed, you are like an elastic band stretched to the limit. Therefore, you need to create downtime for yourself and allow your body to reset to a state of ease. Your body responds to your emotions; when you are calm and relaxed rather than anxious and stressed, your body will have more reserves to fight infections.
Exercise. Moderate exercise has been shown to increase your immunity to disease. When you exercise, you increase your circulation and blood flow throughout the body. The components of your immune system are also better circulated; as a result, it increases the chance of you eliminating the foreign invader before it spreads. However, do not overtrain as it will run down your immune system and make you more susceptible to illness.
Omega-3 fats. Take a high quality omega-3 fish oil to help boost the immune system and reduce inflammation in your body. You want to ensure that the fish oil is derived from wild-caught small fish and free from mercury, PCBs, dioxins, lead, and other contaminants.
Fish oil is preferable to flax oil because fish oil contains both crucial EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) omega-3 fats. Flax oil, on the other hand, contains ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which has to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body. For some people, this conversion does not always take place, especially for those who are in less than optimal health.
Foods that help strengthen immunity. The following foods, if eaten on a regular basis, can help to strengthen your immune system.
- Probiotics. About 80% of your immune system lives in your gastrointestinal tract; these are the good bacteria called probiotics. They help to improve the intestinal microbial balance and inhibit disease causing and toxin producing bacteria. These beneficial microorganisms are found in yogurts, kefir (fermented milk), and fermented vegetables (such as sauerkraut, kim chee). A healthy dose of probiotics can protect the body against infections.
- Turmeric. This rich, flavorful spice has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) and traditional Chinese medicines, as well as in cooking. Turmeric is found in yellow curry and its golden color comes from curcumin, a polyphenol (an antioxidant) with anti-inflammatory effects and strong cold and flu-fighting properties.
- Garlic. Much of the immune-boosting properties of garlic come from its sulfur-containing compounds, in particular, one called allicin. These compounds act like a broad spectrum antibiotic against bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections. They also enhance the immune system and have anti-tumor and antioxidant features, which help guard cells from everyday wear and tear.
- Oregano. This herb contains high concentrations of phenolic acids and flavonoids, as a result, it has the highest antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial compounds among all the herbs. Use it often with other herbs and foods.
- Fruits and vegetables. Last but not least, the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables, in particular, the raw version, is unparalleled. You get vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants that will help you fight off diseases.
Supplements. Vitamins A, C, and E and minerals like zinc and selenium have shown benefits in boosting your immunity. Consult your healthcare professional before taking high dosages of any supplements.
Medicinal herbs. Astragalus, echinacea, elderberry, goldenseal, and olive leaf extract have also shown benefits in strengthening the immune system. Consult your healthcare professional before taking any herbs. Some may have side effects, contraindications, and drug interactions.