Part 3: Lifestyle and Immunity

exerciseIn the last two parts of this series, we addressed how nutrition and specific supplements can help boost your immune system and keep you healthy throughout cold and flu season. In the third and final part of this series, we wanted to look at lifestyle and immunity. A healthy diet will only go so far if you don’t have these other lifestyle factors in place also.

Manage Stress

Being under too much stress is probably the first thing that lowers our ability to fight off disease. Many of us are under chronic-low grade stress the majority of the time. We have a lot of demands between work, family, and other day to day challenges. Although it is difficult to study the complex relationship between stress and immunity in humans, animal studies can give us many clues to how our immune system reacts to stressful situations. When mice infected with the flu virus were placed in a stressful situation, the rate of the production of antibodies and other immune cells was reduced.

In human studies, although more research is needed, it has been found that short-term stress (like taking an exam) doesn’t have as significant an effect on the immune system as chronic daily stress does.  Stress increases the presence of the hormones, cortisol and adrenalin, both of which suppress the immune system.

If you are under chronic stress, try to come up with a plan to help manage stress better. Laugh with some friends, take time off work, or unwind with a hot bath. Stress management should be a part of your daily life, especially to help keep your immune system healthy and strong.

Exercise

The connection between exercise and immune function is complex. After very strenuous exertion, like running a marathon, immune function actually decreases for a short period of time (72 hours).  But, it has also been found that daily brisk walking (30-60 minutes) actually decreases the number of sick days overall.  It is believed that exercise helps remove bacteria from the lungs, reducing infections. Exercise also decreases stress, therefore it helps maintain a healthy immune system overall. The relationship between exercise and immunity is complex and more research is needed to determine exactly how exercise helps the immune system.

Sleep

 Adequate sleep is critical for optimal immune function. During sleep is the time when our immune system regenerates, creating new antibodies and immune cells to fight off illnesses during the day. It also helps decrease inflammation, reducing our risk of chronic diseases. Most adults need between 8-10 hours of restful sleep in a dark, cool room, but many of us have a hard time getting that much with so many other demands on our time. If you have difficulty sleeping, make sure you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Start to unwind and relax about an hour before bed to tell your body it is time sleep. Turn off all cell phones, the television, and any other bright lights for restful sleep. You can also try some sleep boosting foods, like cherries, almonds, and decaf herbal tea.

Other Habits

There are several other lifestyle habits that are important to staying healthy. The first is to try to not put toxic substances into your body by drinking alcohol excessively or smoking. Both alcohol and smoking cause inflammation which weakens the immune system.

Be sure to wash your hands frequently during cold and flu season to prevent infection. Using an alcohol-based gel is just as effective if your hands are not visibly soiled.

If you maintain these lifestyle habits, along with the healthy diet and supplements discussed in parts 1 and 2, you will stay healthy all winter long!

Part 2: Supplements to Boost the Immune System

supplements and your immune systemIn the last part of this series nutrition and your immune system, we discussed changes you could make to your diet to help boost and strengthen your immune system.  This included eating sufficient protein and healthy fats, as well as limiting sugar, and including some foods high in immune boosting vitamins and minerals.

Now we wanted to talk a little about supplements to boost the immune system, in addition to following a healthy diet. Remember, no supplement will override a terrible diet, lack of exercise, excessive stress, or poor sleep habits so you still have to have an overall healthy lifestyle. We will discuss lifestyle issues in the third part of this series.  

Probiotics and Your Immune System

Shockingly, over 90% of the cells in our bodies are not our own, they are actually bacteria cells. This may seem frightening to those who believe that all “germs” are dangerous, but most of the bacteria is quite helpful to our immune system.

The balance between health and illness is a very delicate interplay between bacteria and our immune cells. In the right balance, “good” bacteria help prevent disease-causing bacteria from taking over our bodies. Certain bacteria may also help improve the function of immune cells, called T cells. The research in the area of how exactly bacteria interact with our immune system is still relatively new and scientists are still trying to figure out the details of this complex system.

Since the science of probiotics is still new, it is difficult to make an exact recommendation of how much and what type of probiotic to take for optimal health.  Common bacterial strands that are generally considered healthy are called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, so look for those on the label. Look for probiotics that need to be refrigerated and that contain a large number of bacterial strains, a billion or more. I love the broad spectrum probiotic Bioceuticals Ultrabiotic 45 – which has 45 billion bacteria per capsule.   Metagenics Ultraflora Immune is also terrific.  Both of these contain specific strains that have been shown to promote the growth and increase the number of beneficial bacteria within the digestive system which may assist in the maintenance of a healthy immune system.  Alternatively, you may also want to consider getting probiotics from fermented foods such as Kefir, yoghurt, kimchee, tempeh, miso or sauerkraut.

Herbs: Andrographis, Echinacea, and Olive Leaf

There are several herbs that can help boost your immune system and keep you healthy during cold and flu season. Andrographis, Echinacea, and Olive Leaf, all immune boosting herbs, can be found in the Bioceuticals ArmaForce supplement, along with some vitamin C and zinc. This supplement, or something similar, would be a great addition to your cold and flu prevention regimen.

Andrographis is a plant commonly found in India and Sri Lanka that is ground up and used to prevent colds and and the flu.  It has also been used to treat several other medical conditions such as diarrhea, liver problems, and even infectious diseases such as leprosy or tuberculosis. There is some evidence that Andrographis may help improve sore throats and reduce the duration of the common cold.

Echinacea is an herb native to North America that has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy. It is most commonly used to help fight the common cold and other types of respiratory illnesses. It has been shown to help reduce the severity of cold symptoms, although it is not known to actually prevent illness. People with ragweed allergies should avoid taking Echinacea because it could trigger an allergic reaction.

Olive Leaf Extract has been found to help suppress several viruses, including those of colds and flus. The specific extract from the olive leaf is called, Oleuropein and is removed during processing of the olive plant. This extract is thought to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antiprotozoal effects. It may also help enhance the function of immune cells called natural killer cells. There is no specific recommended dose for olive leaf extract, but it may help the next time you have a cold or flu.

In addition to a healthy diet, you now know what supplements can also help boost your immune system during cold and flu season. In the next installment of this series, we will discuss how your lifestyle has an effect on your immune function.

 

Please note, this post is NOT sponsored by any companies – I recommend these supplements and brands purely because I think they are great and see fantastic results with my clients. If you’d like to order any of these Bioceuticals supplements, you can use the Patient code C10248-04 via their online ordering system.

Part 1: Nutrition to Boost Your Immune System

Are you tired of catching every cold and flu that you come in contact with? Do you dread the colder weather because you are afraid of getting sick? Are you obsessed with disinfecting everything to prevent illness? Although viruses and bacteria are the primary cause of illness, your diet and lifestyle may also contribute to how often you get sick and how long it takes to get better. We thought we would bring you a series on how to boost your immune system with nutrition.

The influence of diet on the immune system has been a hot topic for many years in the field of nutrition. Poor nutrition has been associated for a long time with a poorly functioning immune system. At first, the focus was more on making sure people were receiving adequate nutrition, meaning getting enough calories, protein, and other nutrients in order to support immune function. But, the research has gotten more detailed over the last few years including vitamins, minerals, and other bioactive compounds. Taking a look at your overall diet may help boost your immune system and fight off the next cold or flu you are exposed to.

Protein, carbohydrates, and fat

Getting the right balance of the macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates and fats may be the first step to helping boost your immune system. Immune cells, like all the cells in the body, are made from protein. Therefore, we need adequate protein intakes to make sure we have enough raw materials to make new cells as needed. People with malnutrition, especially when they are lacking protein, tend to have a poor immune function.

Adequate fat, specifically the healthy omega-3 fats in the diet can have an anti-inflammatory effect improving overall immune function. The benefits from omega-3s are generally not seen with supplements, but only with omega-3 rich foods such as fish, walnuts, and chia.

A diet high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, can reduce overall immune function and actually decrease the number of immune cells available to fight infections. If you want an immune-boosting diet, make sure you are getting adequate protein daily, are including healthy fats in your diet, and limiting the amount of refined carbohydrates you are consuming.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Immunity

There are several vitamins that play a role in proper immune function. Vitamin C is the most popular and widely used to help prevent colds. But, the research doesn’t actually support that commonly held belief. A high vitamin C intake will not prevent colds, but has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold. If you are suffering with a cold, consider increasing your intake of foods high in vitamin C such as citrus, bell peppers, and strawberries.

Another important immune-boosting vitamin is Vitamin A a fat-soluble vitamin that can help reduce the rate of viral infections. It is used to improve white blood cell function and maintain healthy mucus membranes, which help prevent infection. Since Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can be toxic if taken in high doses as a supplement, therefore it is best to eat vitamin A rich foods. Some foods to include are fish, especially salmon, and orange or yellow colored fruits and vegetables such as carrots or mangoes.

Certain minerals such as iron and zinc also help our bodies stay healthy. Iron deficiency may result in impaired immune function, whereas adequate intakes of iron help boost the immune cells to fight off infections. Most people do not need an iron supplement unless indicated by a doctor, instead try to increase your intake of high iron foods such as lean red meat, beans, or fortified cereals. Zinc deficiency may also suppress the immune system and increase susceptibility to infections. The best way to get adequate zinc in your diet is to eat lots of green leafy vegetables, such as spinach.

Overall an adequate diet with plenty of protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals will help you stay healthy over the flu and cold season. Make sure to include lots of green leafy vegetables, fish, and a few foods high in Vitamin C for an extra boost. In our next article in this series, we are going to address what supplements you can use to help keep your immune system healthy.