Guest post by Felicia Briones-Colman, MD
On average, adults catch between 2- 4 colds a year, kids up to 6 – 10 colds a year.
Infection is two-fold: viral exposure and failure of the immune system to destroy invading microorganisms. Viral exposure is limited by hand washing and by avoiding ill contacts. But what can you do to strengthen your immunity?
A pill, a powder, a supplement can be effective, but a combination of healthy lifestyles may be even more powerful in preventing the cold and flu. More impressive is the fact that healthy habits such as a balanced diet, exercise and stress management decrease the risk of chronic disease.
This article will present a few immune boosting tips that are simple, cheap and will not only prevent colds and flu, but will contribute to overall health.
Turkey tail, Shiitake, Reishi and Cordyceps are a few mushrooms with significant immune stimulating qualities. They contain beta-glucans–long-chain polysaccharides–that are one of the most potent immune enhancing substances studied. Reishi mushrooms can increase interferon production, a potent chemical that activates immune cells to kill invading pathogens.
It also functions to enhance communication between the cells of our immune system. I frequently use medicinal mushrooms to improve immunity and as part of a cancer prevention plan.
Another frequently overlooked immune booster is good, quality sleep. Deep sleep is your body’s prime time for building infection-fighting proteins such as antibodies and cytokines. Cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-1 (IL-1) and 6 (IL-6) are important multifactorial substances that play a key role in immunity. These cytokines are also important in sleep regulation. Studies show poor sleepers are more likely to get sick after being exposed to the flu virus.
Lack of sleep can also slow down your recovery time. TNF, IL-1 and IL-6 all enhance your non-REM sleep. This is restorative sleep, when dreams are infrequent; it is also the type of sleep that is needed to survive. Restorative sleep promotes a strong immunity and strong immunity promotes good sleep—a virtuous cycle.
The food we eat, and how much, has significant implications for immune function. Lack of protein can result in inadequate production of cytokines and/or poorly functioning antibodies. Lack of healthy fats such as omega-3 oils, which make up the membranes of most cells, can cause miscommunication between cells and a weakened immune system.
Too much food can lead to obesity, which is associated with an aberrant immune system that may lead to an undesirable pro-inflammatory state. Increased inflammation results in an increased risk of infections and risk of chronic illnesses such as high cholesterol, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and coronary artery disease.
High levels of sugar intake further suppress the immune system. Fried foods produce trans fat, which can also dull the immune response. Appropriate nutrition is one of the basic ways to prevent the cold and flu long term.
The benefits of a functioning and balanced immune system go far beyond fighting off those pesky cold and flu viruses. Healthy immunity is important in effectively preventing more undesirable diseases. Seriously consider building your immunity, avoiding an inflammatory state and generating health, by incorporating the few strategies I have outlined here. The positive effects will extend beyond this winter.
Felicia Briones-Colman, MD is board certified in Internal Medicine and the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine.
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