By Dr. Elaine Ferguson. Now that winter is here, flu season is upon us once again. Here are six ways to strengthen your immune system and help to prevent the flu.
- Increase Your Vitamin D Levels. We know that a significant contributor to flu outbreaks is the decline of Vitamin D levels, which occurs as a result of diminished exposure to the sun. Vitamin D level is critical to your good health. Its deficiency is linked to sub-optimal functioning of your immune system. Several studies have found a direct relationship between lower respiratory tract infections and low Vitamin D levels. In other words, the higher your vitamin D level, the lower your risk of contracting colds, flu, and other respiratory tract infections – so boost your Vitamin D levels and find the sun whenever you can!
- Decrease Your Sugar Consumption. Sugar causes inflammation, a process that is a core component of most disease processes including the flu. Sugar also affects the immune system. One study showed that, 100-gram (3 tablespoons) portions of sugar from glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, or orange juice all significantly decreased your body’s white blood cells’ ability to absorb bacteria, i.e. fight infections. So cut back on those sugars and opt for a few veggies instead.
- Learn How to More Effectively Cope With Stress. Chronic stress affects your immune system’s ability to respond and ward off infections. Stress is a leading contributor to chronic diseases and has a significant impact on your immune system’s functioning. In fact, it’s much easier get the flu or catch a cold while experiencing significant stress. If you do get the flu, emotional distress can actually worsen cold and flu symptoms. It is important to pay attention to your emotions and learn how to respond in a healthy manner, because your perceptions govern the way your body responds to stress. Healthy activities including exercise, meditation, massage, laughter, artistic expression and supportive relationships all help to prevent and manage stress.
- Exercise. If you are exercising regularly, the likelihood of your contracting the flu or other viral infections decreases quite dramatically and several studies have confirmed the importance of exercise in maintaining not only a healthy body, but a strong immune system. In one study, exercise provided a 50% decline in the risk of catching a cold and decreased the symptom severity almost 1/3 among those who did get sick. The researchers noted that every period of exercise increases the level of circulating immune system cells that protect the body against infection. So any exercise is better than no exercise.
- Avoid Sleep Deprivation. Sleep loss affects the immune system and triggers an inflammatory response. Sleep loss causes changes to the system that regulates our immune system’s ability to defend the body. These changes may be long-term and contribute to the development of diseases that have been linked to sleep deprivation.
- Eliminate Processed Foods. Truth be told, processed foods in general are not healthy, because they contain harmful additives. In particular, fast foods are detrimental to our health and our immune systems in particular. A recent study found that the large number of calories in processed and fast food causes increased inflammation, impaired control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease. It is believed that processed foods can permanently change the balance of bacteria in our bodies and weaken the immune system. So try to eat as clean as you can to decrease these changes of getting sick!