Boost Your Immunity – This Winter and Beyond

January 15, 2015 Providence Health Team

Tips for staying healthy this winterSniffling shoppers. Coughing coworkers. Sneezing sports fans. Winter – the cold and flu season – is here. Infectious viruses lurk everywhere, and it’s hard to avoid them. But, you don’t have to fall victim. A good offense is your best defense against catching a cold or getting really sick. Bolster your immune system with these simple tips and you’ll sidestep – or at least minimize – the suffering this winter and beyond. 

Get a flu shot. Vaccinate against this year’s strains of the flu virus. Injections (dead virus) and nasal sprays (live virus) are available now and will protect you well into springtime. It can take up to two weeks to start working, though, so get inoculated as soon as you can.

Take advantage of probiotics. Good bacteria (probiotics) live in your digestive tract and keep intestinal tissue healthy. Probiotics increase the number of T cells (specialized immune cells) to fight off invading viruses. 

For the most benefit, consume foods and drinks that contain live and active cultures: yogurt, kefir and buttermilk, freshly made fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and miso paste, kombucha tea (a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast) and probiotic-fortified energy bars and cereals. 

Check the labels on store-bought (especially jarred) versions of these items to be sure they haven’t been heat treated. That destroys active cultures. Or, if you’re lactose or gluten intolerant, check with your primary care provider and consider taking a daily probiotic supplement. 

Enjoy fresh air and exercise. Get outside and move. A brisk 20 to 30 minute walk increases blood circulation, allowing immune cells to move freely through your body where they can work efficiently. Moderate exercise produces antibodies in your blood that destroy bacteria and viruses. And, it raises your T cell count to help boost immunity. 

Air out your house (and office) for a few hours each day. Dry winter air is a perfect environment for germs, because it’s easy for them to stay airborne. If you live in an especially arid region, use a humidifier to help keep those pesky microorganisms at bay. 

Take dietary supplements. A daily multivitamin will help safeguard your immune system from any minor vitamin or mineral deficiencies. It’s especially important for seniors who may not eat enough food or who don’t get adequate nutritional variety in their diets. 

These supplements will boost immune response and lower your risk of catching a cold, virus or infectious disease. Be sure to consult your primary care provider before beginning any supplement regimen. 

Amino acids. Coenzyme Q10 and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) are amino acids that stimulate the immune system. And, they’re powerful antioxidants that help rid your body of free radicals (unstable organic molecules floating freely in your system that are responsible for aging, tissue damage and some diseases). 

Vitamin A. Vitamin A is the immune system’s “defender.” It empowers infection-fighting T and B cells to keep infections out. But, should germs get in, vitamin A also boosts the immune system by producing enzymes that find and kill them on the spot. 

Vitamins B6, B12 and E. Because of their antioxidant properties and ability to fight free radicals, B and E vitamins are excellent immune system boosters – and a surefire defense against viral illnesses. 

Vitamin C and zinc. Vitamin C and zinc play important roles in your immune function. Both reduce the severity and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections like the common cold. And, because they resist infectious agents, it’s less likely that you’ll catch something in the first place. 

Vitamin D. Vitamin D supports the immune system and provides protection against colds, flus, viral illnesses and bacterial infections. Most Americans are deficient in vitamin D, especially those living in northern states that may get less sunshine or at high altitude (above 3,000 feet). Have your levels checked. You may need a supplement. 

Don’t skimp on sleep. The only time your immune system has a chance to rebuild is while you’re asleep. The rest of the time, it’s busy working to keep you cold- and flu-free. 

Lack of sleep sends stressor signals to your immune system. In response, white blood cells are activated and start to fight off “invaders” – just as if you were actually sick. So, do your body good, and get a full six to eight hours of sleep a night. 

Stress less. People under a lot of stress tend to get sick more often. That’s because when you’re stressed, your body’s immune system kicks into action – as if it’s being attacked. 

Antibodies increase and your body produces cortisol (a hormone that fights inflammation). Under prolonged stress, cortisol eventually suppresses your immune cells, making you far more vulnerable to getting a nasty case of the flu. 

Take care of your body, eat right, sleep well and relax. You’ll find yourself virtually cold- and flu-free, not only this winter but for years to come. It’s easy, and you’re worth it!

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