Winter is officially here! Wouldn’t it be nice to skip out on the common colds, coughs and flu this year? Naturopathic Doctor Teerawong Kasiolarn shares a few easy tips to boost your immune system and help keep you healthy this winter:
- Optimize Your Nutrition. Consume real, whole, unprocessed fresh foods – as close to their natural state as possible! Eat plenty of fresh, LEAFY vegetables (at least 5 servings daily; each serving yielding about 1 cup of raw vegetables). If fresh vegetables are not available, frozen vegetables are an excellent substitute. Be sure to AVOID canned vegetables which contain minimal or no essential nutrients. The can lining may also contain BPA (Bisphenol A) compound that can disrupt your hormones and possibly cause cancers. If available in your area, buy fruits/vegetables from your local farmers’ markets or consider joining a local Community-Share Agriculture (CSA) project. Nova Medical Group (Ashburn) is a CSA pick up site for Great Country Farms (GCF).
Consume limited amounts of fruits (1-2 servings daily). The best fruits are high in fiber and low in sugar and include berries, apples, and pears. The consumption of too many sugars (even from natural fruits) can suppress your immune function. If possible, choose organic fruits and vegetables to reduce the toxic load of pesticides and varying chemicals that could negatively affect your immune system.
Eat lean animal protein sources such as chicken, turkey, eggs, and small fish (low mercury) – especially wild salmon. If possible, choose grass-fed, antibiotic-, hormone-, and pesticide-free meat products. Limit the amount of other starchy foods (no more than 2 cups cooked daily), including grains, beans/lentils/legumes, root vegetables, and starchy squashes. Healthy snacks that are packed with immune-supporting nutrients include healthy nuts (unsalted almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans) and seeds (mainly unsalted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds).
- Get Enough Sleep. Poor sleep habits or not getting enough sleep can reduce your immune function and can create other chronic health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, prediabetes/diabetes, dementia, and even cancers. Ideally, you should fall asleep by 10 p.m. and get up around 6 a.m. – about 8 hours of sleep. Try not to drink too many liquids 2-3 hours prior to bedtime – this may disrupt your sleep by making you go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Certainly, avoid drinking or eating caffeine-containing foods at least within 5 hours of bedtime. If possible, avoid drinking alcoholic beverages at dinner time as these have been shown to disrupt sleep patterns and make you urinate at nighttime.
- Exercise. Being physically active can really boost your immune system! However, if you are sick with a cold and/or the flu, try not to exercise during that time as it may make you sicker. Try to do both aerobic (30 minutes, 5 times weekly) and weight-training exercises (3 times weekly, 3 sets of 8-15 repetitions, alternating days on major muscles such as shoulders, biceps, triceps, chest, abdomen, quads, and hamstrings). Aerobic exercises may include using elliptical machine, treadmill (run or brisk walk), stationary bike or biking outdoors, hiking, swimming, or playing sports – soccer, basketball, tennis, racquet ball, etc. For weight-training/bearing exercises, you may consider using everything from dumbbells to exercise bands, medicine balls, exercise machines, even your own body weight through martial arts, yoga, or Pilates.
- Manage Your Stress. Poor stress management habits can negatively impact your overall health and immune function. Learn how to ACTIVELY relax your body and mind. To engage the powerful forces of the mind on the body, you must DO something; unfortunately, you can’t just sit on the couch watching TV or drink beers. Try learning relaxation skills such as meditation (especially, Transcendental Meditation – tm.org), Emotional Freedom Technique (www.thetappingsolution.com), deep breathing exercises, yoga, biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation techniques, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, etc. Or, you may simply take a hot bath with Epsom salt, get a massage, watch a sunset, or walk in the woods or on the beach, etc.
- Optimize Your Nutritional Status. Key essential nutrients that help boost or modulate your immune system and prevent chronic degenerative diseases include Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B9 (Folate), and Iron. These nutrients can be easily measured through the blood tests called 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D3, Serum B12, Red Blood Cell (RBC) Folate, and Ferritin level (Iron store in the body). If deficient, these nutrients need to be optimized through nutritional supplementations. Vitamin D deficiency is very common as a result of our modern lifestyle. This is because we spend the majority of our time indoors with minimal exposure to sunlight (which induces production of vitamin D through the skin). Vitamin D deficiency is worsened during the winter months. Because Vitamin D is involved in the immune-modulating function, people are more susceptible to illnesses as a result. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with chronic degenerative diseases such as chronic infections, atherosclerosis, hypertension, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, osteopenia/osteoporosis (bone loss), cancers (e.g., breast cancer, colon cancer, etc.), autoimmune diseases (e.g., multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, etc.), fatigue, muscle pain, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Identify and Treat Thyroid Conditions. The thyroid gland is small and located in the middle of the neck, but its hormone is very powerful as it affects every tissue cell in the body. According to statistics, thyroid disease is very common – it is estimated that more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop thyroid disease during their lifetime, especially hypothyroidism (where thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone). The troubling fact is that up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are not aware of their condition. This is why it is important for individuals to become aware of this common condition and get a comprehensive thyroid panel (TSH, free T4, free T3, total T3, and Thyroid Antibodies) and get treated appropriately. Thyroid disease can negatively affect immune function and cause other health issues, including chronic fatigue, hair loss, forgetfulness, unexplained weight gain/loss, sleep disturbances, muscle weakness/pain, joints pain, mood disorders (anxiety/depression), visual problems, and more.
- Identify and Treat Food/Environmental Allergies. If you have chronic upper/lower respiratory infections, you might want to check with your primary care physician to see if you suffer from environmental and/or food allergies. These allergies create chronic inflammation that produce symptoms such as chronic sinus/nasal congestion, headaches, chronic sore throat/scratchy throat, chronic ear infections, abdominal bloating/pain, and more. These allergies can easily and accurately be checked through skin prick or blood tests. If you happen to have allergies to food/environmental allergens, you can be treated with allergy shots, Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT), and/or acupuncture/Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments.
- Identify and Treat Pre-Diabetes/Diabetes. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), approximately 49-52% of Adults in the U.S. have diabetes or Pre-Diabetes, and most people are unaware of their condition. Increased blood sugar suppresses immune function and makes affected individuals prone to chronic infections as well as reduced healing time. Identifying affected individuals early can really improve their quality of life and prevent chronic complications from diabetes. You may ask your doctor to run fasting glucose, fasting insulin, and Hemoglobin A1C tests to screen for blood sugar dysregulation.
- Take Probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria/yeast that can modulate your immune function and optimize your digestive system. With exposure to varying toxins (e.g., pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, etc.) in today’s environment, your body increasingly needs more probiotics to keep your body healthy. There are many types of probiotics on the market, but the two most popular ones are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Take probiotics with at least 10 billion live organisms daily to have beneficial effects.
Following these guidelines – not only during the winter months, but year round – will help to protect you from the common cold, flu and other viruses and bugs that come throughout the year. Give your body the support it needs! We wish you a happy and healthy new year.