11 Immune-Boosting Tips To Protect Yourself During Flu Season
By Diane Angela Fong, ND
Right around this time every year, patients always ask me about flu vaccine alternatives and immune-boosting supplements. Good overall health is the best “vaccine alternative” for preventing the flu - so if you are one of my patients, you are already working on this! But for those of you who aren't a patient of mine or those who need a little reminder, here are my 11 immune-boosting tips:
1. Address Underlying Health Issues
Bodily stress from underlying health issues can decrease immune system function and leave you susceptible to disease. Underlying issues include: Food Sensitivities/Allergies, Chronic Infections, Nutrient Deficiencies, Neurotransmitter Abnormalities, Genetic Mutations, Environmental Toxins, Stress and Adrenal Fatigue, Hormonal Dysfunction, Autoimmune Disease, Blood Sugar Regulation Issues or Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and more.
2. Eat the Rainbow!
Food is the best medicine. Maintaining a healthy diet all winter long is your best preventative measure against the flu. Natural antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables prevent cell damage against free radicals and are critical for maintaining optimum health. The antioxidants contained in fruits and vegetables are what bring the colors out of the foods, so make sure that you are getting a wide array of colorful fruits and vegetables throughout the week!
3. Avoid Inflammatory, Non-Organic, GMO Food & Food Sensitivities/Allergies
Just as food can act like medicine, it can also be poisonous to our bodies. Avoid inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, sugar, eggs, artificial colors, vegetable oils, and preservatives. Inflammation decreases your ability to fight off bugs that come in contact with your system. Find out if you have food allergies and sensitivities by doing a blood test, then make sure to avoid these foods, as they will put a strain on your immune system. Eat organic and non-GMO foods when you can. Toxins and genetically modified food can put stress on your liver and immune system.
4. Eat Foods with Probiotics (or Supplement)
A robust microbiome that is rich in beneficial bacteria ensures that the human body is able to resist the continual onslaught of harmful pathogens that it is exposed to. Take a daily probiotic or increase foods rich in probiotics to ensure a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria. Probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir, miso soup, sauerkraut, kombucha, microalgae, pickles, and tempeh.
5. Take a Good, Whole Food Multivitamin
Ideally, you eat a well-balanced, colorful diet. However, even with the best diet, modern agricultural methods have stripped the amounts of nutrients from the soil in which our food grows. A good, whole food multivitamin can ensure that you are supplementing the nutrients you receive from your diet. Key nutrients for boosting immunity include zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E. NaturalStart has some great highly absorbable liquid multis to choose from!
6. Make Sleep a Priority
Our bodies heal, recuperate, and prepare for the next day when we sleep. Studies show that adults need about 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night, and children need even more. Practice good sleep hygiene, including turning off all the lights, avoiding stimulating activities before bed, creating a quiet and relaxing sleep environment, and making sure you have a comfortable bed.
7. Stay Hydrated: Drink ½ Your Weight in Ounces of Water Every Day
Our bodies are composed of about 60% water. Water is important for digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature. We lose water continuously through skin evaporation, breathing, urine, and stool. These losses must be replenished on a daily basis in order to ensure optimal immune system function. Make sure to drink clean water. Choose distilled, filtered, or mineral water instead of tap water.
8. Get at least 15 minutes of direct sunlight daily
Vitamin D, a vitamin produced when skin is exposed to uv sun rays, is an important nutrient that stimulates the production of anti-microbial peptides and increases immune function by a factor of 3 to 5. A Japanese study showed that vitamin D3 supplementation during the winter may reduce the incidence of influenza A by 58%, very comparable to the CDC numbers for flu vaccine effectiveness of about 66%. The difference between Vitamin D and the flu vaccine, however, is that Vitamin D does not come with some of the toxic side effects of vaccines.
9. Move at Least Once a Day
Regular exercise protects against a variety of diseases, and boosts overall health and organ system function, including the immune system. Increased circulation allows the cells and components of the immune system to move throughout the body readily. Get your heart pumping at least once a day for at least 15 minutes, and up to 30 minutes or more at least 2-3 times per week. You don’t need to sign up for the nearest gym to get your blood pumping! Some easy ways to get exercise at home are trampoline, jump rope, walking or jogging around the block, yoga, and walking up and down the stairs.
10. Stress – The Immune System Killer
When you are stressed out (either chronically or acutely, i.e. an exam or a family trauma), your body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode as if it is “running from a bear”. During this stress response, your body shuts down the processes that are not important in an emergency situation. These processes include immune function, digestion, reproduction, detoxification, and growth. Learn how to manage stress and restore these important functions with relaxing techniques such as yoga, breathwork, meditation, running, swimming, counseling, etc and/or ask Dr. Fong about taking herbs to support your Adrenals (the organ that manages stress).
11. Take Immune Boosting Herbs During the Flu Season
Scientific research supports the use of the following herbs to help stave off colds and flus during the winter months. Garlic, Ginseng, Eleuthero, Elderberry, Astragalus, Maitake mushrooms, Reishi mushrooms, and Shiitake mushrooms boost the immune system. One of Dr. Fong’s favorite immune-boosting supplements is called Immunoberry by Designs For Health, which contains mushrooms, astragalus, & elderberry and comes in a great-tasting berry flavor.