Tuesday 22 December 2015

4 Research-Backed Ways to Boost Your Immune System During Cold & Flu Season

by Alexa Erickson

We try our best to view the winter season as wonderful. There’s Christmas, brisk walks through snow-covered streets, mountains to ski and snowboard down, the transition into layered clothing that can be fun to play around with, the necessity of a crackling fireplace, the desire to cuddle up, and the yearning for warm and comforting meals. Yes, it’s cold outside and the days are shorter, but each season is beautiful for its own reasons.
During this time of year, however, we’ll likely be spending the majority of our days indoors. We might be exercising less, spending more time on buses, trains, and planes, and even dealing with an increased amount of stress due to the feeling of being shut in and run down. These are all factors which increase our chances of falling subject to a nasty cold or flu. The thought of obtaining one alone can send you into a frenzy that ultimately has you loading up on the beneficial vitamin C to ward of the possibility of falling ill.
But vitamin C shouldn’t be seen as the only safeguard available to you. Become aware of as many options as you can so you can have multiple resources at your disposal. Here are four to take note of.

Focus on Food, Not on Supplements

Vitamin C has long been touted as an immune booster, making your consumption of fruits high in it important, but recent research has discovered that vitamin D and A are just as pertinent in the process. You won’t need to bother with supplements if you ensure you are eating a whole-food, plant-based diet. This means consuming vegetables that are in season and are rich in the vitamins for a healthier you, like carrots, yams, and winter squash — all rich in vitamin A —and cabbage, celeriac, turnips, and rutabagas, which offer up vitamin C. Vitamin D can be hard to come by in terms of food in the winter, and research shows that not getting enough of it can result in infections, so try to get your daily dose by going outside as much as possible to get it from the sun.
Other immune-strengthening foods include: garlic, turmeric, berries, and quinoa. You’ll also want to be aware of foods that hinder the correct functioning of the immune and digestive system, like simple sugars, dairy, gluten, and hydrogenated fats.

Be Mindful of Allergens

While the colder weather brings an end to seasonal pollen allergies, it doesn’t mean you’re not susceptible to the airborne kind. In fact, with the colder months come the onset of indoor living, making you more likely to become subject to such things as dust, pollen, mold, and pet dander — all of which irritate the respiratory tract, making you more likely to catch a cold or the flu. Keep your animals out of your bedroom and make sure you bathe them once a week. For mold, the EPA suggests  staying on top of and fixing plumbing issues, scrubbing surfaces that often result in mold buildup, like the bathroom and kitchen, and increasing ventilation in moist areas. For dust, regularly clean your linens, vacuum your floors using a HEPA filter, and perhaps try using a dehumidifier to ensure the humidity is under 50 percent.

Treat Your Gut to Good Bacteria

Prevention isn’t just about what you should stay away from, but it’s also about taking advantage of what will strengthen your body, too. For instance, research has found that maintaining a healthy gut flora can work to improve our immune systems, as the gastrointestinal system is thought to be the core of fighting off the bad stuff. Feeding your gut good bacteria works to lessen inflammation within it. Probiotics are a good choice. Try consuming things like kombucha, kimchi, and kefir as well.
Things that kill probiotics include antibiotics, excessive amounts of sugar, and stress. When your body has more bad bacteria than good, the resulting imbalance can cause a variety of issues, such as skin problems, food allergies, and mood disorders.

 Stop Stressing

 Easier said than done, right? Seasonal stress is a real thing and can weaken your immune system. This is because hormones, like cortisol, are released and trigger the thymus gland to diminish, which results in a reduction of immune activity. In fact, it’s been found that people who are stressed out double their chances of getting a cold. But how can you manage this?  Try relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga, and make sure you get enough sleep each night, since a recent study suggests those who only catch five or six hours of shut-eye per night are four times more likely to catch a cold.

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