Tips for Boosting Immune Health Year-Round
By DR. CHRISTOPHER HOBBS
It's a good idea to take extra measures to stay healthy as cold and flu season gets into gear. Of course, washing your hands frequently and covering sneezes and coughs with your arm, not your hand, is essential, especially at work, school and other public places.
Beyond those basics, try these simple strategies to keep your immune system strong this winter and all year:
1. Prioritize regular exercise. It helps condition resistance to infections by circulating blood and immune cells.
2. Practice hydrotherapy. After exercise (or a hot bath or shower), get into a cool swimming pool or shower to help circulate surface immunity. Moving between heat and cold relaxes muscles, stimulates blood flow and moves lymph fluid, which is part of our body's immune system. Hydrotherapy has been practiced in many cultures for 2,000 years to help maintain and restore health.
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3. Get a good night's sleep. In one study, the cold virus was swabbed into two groups of volunteers. One group was allowed eight hours of sleep, while the other was restricted to less than seven hours. The latter group was three times more likely to contract a respiratory infection.
4. If you start feeling under the weather, address symptoms early and continue for at least three days after symptoms disappear.
5. Limit sugar and processed foods. These can have a negative effect on health, especially when immunity is compromised. Refined sugar itself can cause immune suppression.
6. Incorporate garlic into your diet. Studies show that garlic promotes overall immune health, that it is active against specific bacterial infections of the respiratory tract and that it may bolster the ability of the respiratory tract to defend against viral infection.
7. Drink hot green tea. It contains compounds that help strengthen resistance.
It's also important to get the right balance of essential vitamins and minerals into your daily diet to ward off infection and support robust immune function. Vitamin A helps keep infection out of the body and regulates the immune system through its role in the production of white blood cells. Foods high in vitamin A include liver, whole milk and whole eggs.
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Vitamin B6 promotes protein metabolism and cell growth. Some studies show a link between B6 deficiency and decreased antibody production. Vitamin B6 is found in beans, meat, fortified cereals and some fruits and vegetables.
Cellular levels of vitamin C become significantly depleted with daily stress and especially during infections. Vitamin C is vital in the production of white blood cells that defend the body against both infection and toxins. Food sources include broccoli, bell peppers, strawberries, mustard greens, citrus and other fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin E can help destroy bacteria in the body. Nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and whole grains are rich in vitamin E.
Zinc is essential for building immunity and, like vitamin C, possesses direct antiviral properties. Zinc supplementation produces dramatic reversal of low immune function. It promotes destruction of foreign particles and microorganisms, protects against free-radical damage and works with vitamin A.
Beyond essential nutrients, promising research underway supports the benefits of medicinal mushrooms, which may stimulate immunity at the cellular level. The National Institutes of Health provides ongoing funding to study these natural immune boosters.
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While using fresh or dried mushrooms in cooking is a great idea, some medicinal mushrooms, such as trametes and cordyceps, are not as easily incorporated into meals, and it would be difficult to consume the researched potencies of these fungi from food alone.
The immune system is closely connected to all systems of the body. Weakened immune health affects vitality, energy, sleep, digestion and mental function. Conversely, our mood, emotions and sleep have a significant effect on immune readiness to fight infections. So although many of us focus on immunity primarily during cold and flu season, it's a good idea to care for immune health year-round!
Readers -- Do you get an annual flu shot? Do you stay home from work or school when you're ill? Do you use OTC medications or natural alternatives to alleviate symptoms? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Dr. Christopher Hobbs, Ph.D., LAc, AHG, is the director at Rainbow Light, with over 30 years of experience in the health space and as a licensed herbalist. Dr. Hobbs has immense experience in the specialties of vitamins, holistic health medicine, natural products, organics, wellness and diet and weight loss and has worked closely with clients to help them achieve optimal health.
Following a "whole, simple and nutritious" diet approach, Dr. Hobbs actively motivates clients to participate in personally designed health plans while educating them on the immense benefits of a clean diet outlook. Hobbs has authored 25 books, including Herbal Remedies for Dummies and Women's Herbs, Women's Health.
He shares his knowledge of herbal medicine with consumers and educators all over the world through lectures and has utilized his expertise in this field to found the Institute for Natural Products Research. He also serves as a consultant to the herb industry.