It is the flu season and almost inevitable that you will encounter someone with the sniffles at some point. The cold weather and festivities are a recipe for immune system compromise. Both conditions force you to be inside for longer periods of time, which means you are more exposed to people with infectious diseases. How can you boost your disease-fighting mechanism to prevent getting sick and holed up in bed this season?
First, the immune system1 is a system, and not a singular unit. To function well all parts of the system need to be working in harmony. It is made up of organs, vessel systems, individual cells and proteins. The skin and mucus membranes are among the first barriers to pathogens that act as a mechanical protective wall. One example is the cough and sneeze reflexes that act as transports to remove certain pathogens from our internal environment.
These cells and organs work together to protect us from harmful antigens. When an antigen is detected several cells work in unison to recognize it and respond to it, such as the instance of sneezing. It acts like a very high-tech firewall.
Signs of a Compromised Immune System
However, today’s lifestyle is more geared toward creating a compromised immune system. Five signs of a compromised system are:
- Frequent infections
- Colds, flus, coughs, sore throat
- A sweet tooth*
- White tongue
*100g (1/2 cup) of sugar negatively affect the bodies’ ability for white blood cells to kill harmful bacteria for up to 5 hours after consumption.
Factors That Lead to a Weakened Immune System
Practices such as:
- Smoking (direct and secondhand exposure)
- Drinking alcohol
- Processed foods
- Drinking tap water
- Using fluoridated or otherwise chemically created toothpaste, deodorants, makeup, perfume
- Using chemical-laden laundry detergent, and soaps
- Using bleach
- Overuse of antibiotics and other drugs
- Lack of sleep
All these things and more play a crucial role in the compromise of your body’s natural ability to fight and ward off diseases.
What can we do about it?
1. First, check to see if you are using any of these harmful products in your home or are exposed to them otherwise. Then limit or eliminate all of them from your life if this is at all possible.
2. Second, if you have a sweet tooth and eat fast foods, processed foods and otherwise, change your diet. Sugar is the fuel that many diseases feed on and eating too much will cause an imbalance of good bacteria vs. bad bacteria in your gut. If you keep eating the ‘drug,’ the bad bacteria will inevitably win and you have left yourself open to many diseases, including cancer. Use alternative sweeteners such as honey or other natural options, and stop eating fast food, processed foods and sugary snacks, juices and desserts.
3. Third, start eating more probiotic foods to restore the good bacteria. Adding probiotics to your diet makes you better able to ward off diseases quickly and effectively. Some of these foods include:
- Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut
- Probiotic yogurt
- Fermented dairy products such as kefir, goat’s milk and cheeses such as Gouda, Cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan.
- Apple cider vinegar
- Kombucha tea
- Dark Chocolate- Choose the one with the highest percentage of cocoa (60% and higher)
- Microalgae -- spirulina, chlorella, and blue-green algae
- Lassi 2- an Indian drink make from yogurt, fruit and water. Use honey, stevia or xylitol instead of sugar
- Bananas and tomatoes
- Artichokes, green beans and leeks
- Sourdough bread
- Olives in brine
4. Fourth, eat more immune-boosting foods. These are widely available with a variety of flavors almost anyone can consume on a daily basis. Some of these foods include:
- Citrus fruits – for the Vitamin C
- Red bell peppers- higher vitamin c content than most citrus
- Coconuts and Coconut Oil
- Black Pepper
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Nuts and Grains
5. Fifth, make relaxation a regular part of your day. Try one of the moves to inner peace when you feel overwhelmed and need a staycation. Get adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation can impact many areas of your life.
How much sleep do I need?
As recommended by the National Sleep Foundation the new sleep guidelines are:
- Newborns (birth to 3 months old) 14- 17 hours sleep daily
- Infants (4- 11 months) 12- 15 hours daily
- Toddlers (1-2 years) 11- 14 hours daily
- Preschoolers (3- 5 years) 10- 13 hours daily
- School age children (6-13 years) 9- 11 hours daily
- Teenagers (14- 17 years) 8- 10 hours sleep daily
- Younger Adults (18- 25 years) 7- 9 hours sleep daily
- Adults (26- 64 years) 7- 9 hours sleep daily
- Older Adults (65 years up) 7-8 hours sleep daily
Finally, make exercise a regular part of your life. Try to fit in at least 90 minutes of moderate exercise per week. It improves blood pressure levels, controls your weight, acts as protection against a variety of diseases and helps with proper circulation.
Natural Immune System Builders
Dark Chocolate- High doses of cocoa influence the innate inflammatory response of the immune system and can be used to complement an anti-inflammatory therapy. It also reduces IgE synthesis that could be useful in treating allergic diseases.
Ginger - It is a potent anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agent. It stimulates digestion, fights cellular damage and boost immune function.
Turmeric - Low doses of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can enhance your antibody response. This response is where an infectious agent is engulfed and partially degraded by antigen-presenting cells (APC)3. Its ability to modulate the immune system makes it an effective treatment for arthritis, allergies, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Black Pepper - When used with other herbs it increases the bioavailability of the active ingredient in the other herbs. It is recommended to use black pepper with turmeric to increase the absorption of the curcumin available.
Black pepper has been used to treat a wide variety of diseases, including asthma, whooping cough, constipation, indigestion, anemia, impotency and heart problems.
When choosing, buy whole peppercorns, as they are able to retain freshness for much longer than powdered pepper. Grind when you are ready to use.
Cinnamon - It contains strong anti-microbial properties proven to kill E. Coli and fight other harmful pathogens. These pathogens include viruses, fungi and bacteria that attack our bodies. Grinding your own fresh cinnamon is always best to ensure optimal nutritional content.
Below is the recipe for Immune Boosting Chocolate Turmeric Ginger Tea.
Recipe: Immune-System Boosting Hot Chocolate with Turmeric and Ginger
Drink this before meals as dark chocolate has probiotics that work best before consuming food.
Nutrition information provided below recipe.
1 Tbsp. of raw cocoa powder (at least 60% cacao)
1 Cup almond milk, coconut milk or spring water
½ tsp. turmeric powder
1 tbsp. fresh minced ginger
1 tsp. coconut oil
A dash of fresh cinnamon
A pinch of Himalayan pink salt (for iodine)
A pinch of black pepper
*Honey to taste
- Bring milk to a boil, adding all ingredients except honey.
- Remove from heat.
- Pour into your favorite mug.
- Sweeten to taste with honey or non-processed sweetener of your choice.
* You can also use stevia, xylitol or agave. Stay away from regular sugar and aspartame as both of these compromise the immune system.
“I am convinced that unconditional love is the most powerful known stimulant of the immune system. If I told patients to raise their blood levels of immune globulins or killer T cells, no one would know how. But if I can teach them to love themselves and others fully, the same changes happen automatically. The truth is: love heals.”
-Bernie Siegel an American writer and retired pediatric surgeon