The arrival of autumn and the onset of cooler temperatures marks the start of cold and flu season. This year, many people are also concerned about the Ebola virus, which was recently diagnosed for the first time in the United States. Regardless of what viral infections are making their rounds in your community this season, there are actions that you can take to strengthen your natural immunity and increase your chances of preventing illness.
1.) Eat a Nutrient-Dense, Real Food Diet: All cells in the body, including those that are part of the immune system, are both derived from the food that you eat and rely on fuel from the food that you consume to perform their specific functions. When a diet that is high in processed carbohydrates, hydrogenated fats, and artificial preservatives and additives is consumed, the cells in your body are weakened and unable to function optimally. The Standard American Diet (SAD) that is filled with excess sugar, industrial seed oils, toxins, and foods that many people have hidden sensitivities to (such as wheat [and gluten], corn, soy, and dairy) promotes inflammation, which interferes with immune system health. A poor diet also affects the gut flora and the lining of the intestine. Modern science is just beginning to discover how critical a healthy gut is to a strong immune system. Additionally, eating a diet that is high in processed foods leaves less room for nutrient-dense foods that are known to support the immune system. A nutrient-dense diet that includes fresh, whole foods, such as vegetables, meats, seafood, and fruits and eliminates inflammatory foods and toxins that can damage the body will provide the immune system with the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Make sure to include foods that are naturally high in probiotics, such as sauerkraut, other fermented vegetables, or kombucha, as research indicates that probiotics are beneficial in preventing cold and flu infections. Also, focus on consuming a variety of vegetables, high-quality sources of proteins and fats, and a moderate amount of fruits, especially berries. Organ meats in particular are a dense source of nutrients. There are many different nutrients that are known to contribute to a strong immune system, including the B vitamins, vitamin C, the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, and K, zinc, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids. While it is possible to supplement with these nutrients, the most bioavailable sources of these nutrients come from real food.
2.) Get an Adequate Amount of Sleep: Sufficient sleep and rest is critical to a healthy immune system. There is a complex relationship between sleep and the immune system, with certain disease-fighting substances being created or released only during sleep. An inadequate amount of sleep can also contribute to inflammation and reduce normal functioning of the immune system. Every individual’s need for sleep will vary, but evidence suggests that most people need at least 7-10 hours in order to function optimally and support the body’s natural defenses against viral infections.
3.) Reduce Stress: The human body was not designed to be subjected to the amount of chronic stressors present in our modern society. The master stress hormone, cortisol, affects every single system in the body and chronic activation of the stress response weakens immunity. Chronic stress often involves an emotional component, but it also includes physical stressors, such as a poor diet, over or under-exercising, hidden infections, toxin exposure, too little sunlight exposure, or inadequate sleep and rest. Tackling all of the individual components of stress is important to ensuring a strong immune system.
4.) Obtain Sufficient Sunlight Exposure: Vitamin D is a hormone precursor that plays an important role in modulating the immune system. The evidence suggests that vitamin D deficiency due to seasonal variations in sunlight exposure could account for the cyclic nature of influenza. In general, it is always best to get your vitamin D from sun exposure, so spending time outdoors every day is important, even during the chilly winter months. Oily fish, liver, egg yolks, butter, and FCLO are good food sources of vitamin D.
5.) Wash Your Hands Frequently: Proper hand washing is critical to preventing viral infections. Many viruses and other germs are spread through body fluids and droplets. It is important to wash your hands before preparing or eating food, after using the restroom, after changing diapers or helping a child to use the restroom, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, after cleaning up animal waste, after handling garbage, after taking care of or being around an ill person, and after contact with high-touch objects in public places (handrails, door handles, ATM machines, etc.). It is not necessary to use anti-microbial soap in order to prevent the spread of most germs, as it is the friction and length of time that hands are washed that assists the most with infection control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend washing hands for at least 20 seconds.
What natural remedies do you use to prevent cold, flu, and other viral infections? Share your tips and tricks below!