Winter SOS Survival Guide
The immune system is unlike any other bodily system in that it involves the complex interaction between physical structures such as the thymus gland as well as complex interactions between hormones and chemical substances in the bloodstream, which ultimately result in conferring of individual immunity.
Many of us will experience bouts of cold, flu-type symptoms, infections and so on during the winter months. Most of us will end up blaming bugs as the cause of our illness rather than our compromised immune systems. However we can all take charge of our bodies to protect ourselves and our families from these infections.
Both colds and influenza are caused by a wide variety of viruses and yet there are differences between these infections. The symptoms of a ‘common cold’ include runny nose, congestion, cough and a sore throat. The symptoms of flu tend to be far more severe as the virus is capable of infecting the lungs, affect your joints, causing pain, and at worse causing respiratory failure.
The way that we catch a cold or get influenza is when our immune system is compromised. The viruses spread by hand to hand contact, and through the air when we are confined to small spaces such as on a train journey, but just because we are exposed to the virus does not mean that we will inevitably catch the infection. It is not inevitable that exposure should lead to infection.
Often, infections arise as a result of an already weakened immune system and factors that weaken our immune system include:
Lack of vitamin D – according to the World Health Organisation, large numbers of the adult population are deficient in vitamin D3.
Managing Stress – many of us are exposed to stress on an ongoing basis and although we think we are managing it, this may not be the case. Stress increases the production of cortisol which weakens the immune system making us more susceptible to infections.
Sleep disturbances – sleep is absolutely vital for the optimum function of the body; if your body is fatigued due to lack of sleep then it will be difficult to fight off disease.
Poor diet – a balanced, varied and healthy diet is absolutely crucial for supplying vital nutrients that are required by the immune system. Try to consume omega 3 rich fish, seeds and nuts, and also include garlic and onions which are known for their infection fighting benefits.
Lack of exercise – most of us simply do not undertake exercise regularly. Exercising helps increase circulation within the body supplying vital nutrients to all the tissues and hence helps strengthen the immune system.
Dehydration – nearly every process within the body works within fluids within the body. If the body is dehydrated, then these processes will not work and could lead to a weakened immune system.
With all these factors playing a role in weakening our immune system, it is not a surprise that many of us succumb to infections.
Our consumption of sugar, artificial sweeteners and grains has been on the increase over the last decade. By far the biggest threat to the immune system comes from excess refined sugar and excessive carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates are converted into sugar by the stomach enzyme amylase. Sugar damages all the soft structures and tissues within our bodies and is now considered to have a similar effect to free radical damage that cause our body and skin to age. A certain amount of sugar is necessary for energy production but excess consumption leads to by-products that damage tissues within our bodies and are thought to weaken immunity. This also applies to fructose from fruit juices.
Drink plenty of water because as mentioned above dehydration leads to a weakened immune system which is more susceptible to infection. Also consider the use of green tea. Green tea contains anti-viral compounds that may help to protect the body against infections and should you suffer from an infection, it will help to enhance recovery.
Foods that strengthen the immune system include fermented foods such as kefir (fermented milk drink), pickles, sauerkraut, organic vegetables, mushrooms, coconuts and coconut oil as well as spices such as turmeric, garlic, cinnamon and cloves.
I strongly believe that to strengthen our immune system, good dietary habits as outlined above are important however there are many factors which are outside of our control such as stress, and it is for this reason that I believe that some form of supplementation is vital to prevent colds and flu.
A cutting edge supplement that I particularly favour is Daily Immunity. This supplement contains herbs, vitamins, minerals and probiotics all known for their varying role in supporting the immune system and can be taken to prevent colds and infections. Daily Immunity may also help shorten the duration of an infection.