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Top 15 Ways to Boost Your Immunity For Cold and Flu Season
A healthy immune system is your best defense against colds and flu. Cold and influenza viruses are easily stopped by special immune cells such as lymphocytes and macrophages. In fact, the primary role of flu shots is to prime these cells to prepare for cold and flu viruses. But flu vaccines are far from ideal because their efficacies and safeties are in doubt. However, there are simple changes and natural remedies that can boost your immune system. This article identified the top 15 ways to help you weather the flu season.
The best defense against colds and flu is still an active and optimally functional immunity. Unfortunately, flu vaccines are promoted as a way to boost your immune system to fight influenza viruses even when they really do little to help.
Flu shots are not only ineffective, they can also be downright dangerous.
Even the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) stated that flu vaccines contain such harmful additives like mercury, aluminum, formaldehyde, MSG (monosodium glutamate) and antibiotics (needless, in this case).
So, if flu shots are potentially harmful and offer little to no protection against cold and flu viruses, how else can you boost your immunity before the flu season hits? It turns out that helping your body fight infections on its own is not only better than vaccinating against influenza but also simple too.
Discussed below are the best ways to boost your immune system and stay healthy this cold and flu season.
Vitamin D is the only vitamin that humans produce in sufficient amounts. It is synthesized in the skin from a metabolite of cholesterol.
However, ultraviolet light of certain wavelengths is required for this synthesis to proceed. This is the same ultraviolet light provided by sunlight during certain hours of the day. Unfortunately, the flu season occurs during the winter when there are very few sunny days.
Because most flu cases are reported during the cold season, scientists believe that it may be caused in part by the reduced production of vitamin D during this part of the year.
And indeed, both vitamin D levels and influenza infection are seasonal and seem to occur most frequently during the same period of the year. This is no mere coincidence too because researchers discovered that vitamin D is a potent antimicrobial agent and an immune booster.
Therefore, you need to get as much sunlight as you can during the cold season. This will help keep up your vitamin D levels and protect you against cold and flu.
Where it is impossible for get the daily amount of sunlight required, you can try tanning beds.
The special lamps used with tanning beds provide light of similar wavelengths to sunlight and studies have confirmed that these can also increase the amount of vitamin D produced in the skin.
Good hygiene is half the battle against cold and flu viruses. Because these viruses are passed from one person to another chiefly by contact, make sure to wash your hands regularly especially after touching contaminated surfaces or after coming in contact with people who are down with cold or the flu.
By simply washing your hands, you break the chain of transmission. Because viruses are fragile outside living cells, you do not even need to use strongly medicated soaps to decontaminate your hands. A mild disinfectant will do.
In addition, try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. You can easily transfer cold and flu viruses to the soft tissues close to the respiratory tract by touching your face frequently.
In addition, ask people around you to practice good hygiene too. Because living close to someone who has the flu can significantly increase your chances of coming down with it, demand good hygiene from your family, friends and coworkers.
Stress can impair your immune response to common infections. Multiple studies have confirmed that stressed people get sick more easily and more often than healthy, stress-free people.
Stress changes the hormonal and immune profiles of the body. It inhibits the hormones, neurochemicals and immune cells needed to help repair the body while keeping harmful compounds (helpful only when released in short bursts to cope with a present situation) at high levels.
With time, this imbalance overwhelms the body’s defenses and leads to sickness.
For example, adrenal hormones are released under stress to help meet a pressing demand for strength. However, when their levels are kept up due to prolonged stress, these hormones impair the activities of white blood cells needed by the immune system as clean-up crews to remove toxins and pathogens.
Researchers have also proved that stressed individuals are more likely to come down with cold and the flu. In fact, the stress of the holiday season is believed to be partly responsible for the high incidence of the flu during this period.
Therefore, you need to relax especially during the flu season. Spend time away from work, read a book, meditate, take up any activity that is less demanding than and not competitive at all.
Sleep is just as important to our health as food. Yet we sleep for few hours than is ideal.
The average adult needs 7 – 8 hours of sleep at night. During sleep, the body repairs itself and is renewed to cope with the activities of your waking hours. For example, sleep is the period when we finally establish our memories and also the period when certain cells of the immune system are most active.
When go without sleep, we lose all of its benefits. When lack of sleep affects our immune system, it leaves us open to infections that could have been countered easily.
Studies show that those who sleep fewer hours at night are most at risk of coming down with the flu. Those who are most at risk include shift workers, frequent flyers, hyperactive children, postmenopausal women and the elderly.
In addition, researchers demonstrated that lack of sleep reduced the effectiveness of flu shots. On average, they estimated that those who were sleep deprived take 3 – 4 weeks longer to fully benefit from flu vaccines.
This is because sleep deprivation depresses the immune system and reduces its ability to fully and effectively respond to viral challenge of flu shots.
Therefore, get the required amounts of sleep at night. If you suffer from insomnia, try natural sleep aids to help you get quality sleep while avoiding the morning-after “hangover” effect of prescription sleep medications.
Regular exercise can also help your immune system reach and stay alert. Mild and moderate exercises rather than strenuous, high-intensity exercises are advised. In fact, high-intensity exercises can negatively affect your immune system over time if you do not find others to boost your immunity and stay healthy.
In addition, prolonged exercise does nothing to enhance the functions of the cells of the immune system.
Learn to exercise for 30 minutes or less, 3 – 4 times weekly. This will help boost your immune system as well as stay healthy without overexerting your body.
Make sure to stay hydrated during the flu season especially if you get sick. Water is a healthy substitute to sugary drinks, caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
In addition, hydrate your environment by using a humidifier. This will help moisten the mucosal surfaces of your airways and can help reduce symptoms such as catarrh and cough.
Simple sugars can affect your immune system and impair the activities of immune cells. One study found that sugar consumption can depress the immune system for up to 5 hours.
More importantly, the study found that sugar reduces the phagocytic activities (the mechanism by which immune cells engulf and destroy microbes such as cold and flu viruses) of white blood cells.
Sources of simple sugar to avoid include soft drinks, refined foods and even citrus fruit juices.
Rather than simple sugars, switch to complex carbohydrates. These are not quickly broken down and do not cause spiking levels of blood sugar.
In addition, the same study confirmed that complex carbohydrates do not affect the immune system negatively.
If you have to sweeten your food and drinks, choose honey rather than refined sugars.
Although honey contains simple sugars too, it has other health benefits including its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and particularly its antimicrobial activities.
Natural honey provides the best benefits. Processed honey is not as healthful and may contain harmful additives.
Vitamin C is not only important for health, it is a major contributor to the immune system. While there is an ongoing debate over the benefit of vitamin C in the treatment of cold and the flu, the current consensus is that it provides some benefits if taken in moderate doses.
However, rather than obtain your vitamin C need from supplements, choose fruits and vegetables.
Studies show that colorful (red and yellow-orange) fruits are not only rich in vitamin C but are also rich sources of other minerals and plant pigments known for their antioxidant and immune-boosting properties.
Vegetables are also important for the same reasons. They contain vitamin C and other healthful supplements.
Green tea is the most healthful of natural teas. Because it is only slightly processed, it retains most of its beneficial phytochemicals.
Although known for its antioxidant benefits, green tea can also boost the immune system and help protect you against cold and flu viruses.
Although the best source of vitamin D is still sunlight, you can make do with vitamin D supplements too.
Vitamin D is an important vitamin to the immune system. It directly boosts the immune system by promoting the release and activities of immune cells such as monocytes and lymphocytes.
These cells are can help engulf and destroy cold and flu viruses. They represent the immune system’s main line of defense.
In addition, vitamin D promotes the production of a family of natural antimicrobial agents known as cathelicidins. These can help prevent and treat both viral infections as well as bacterial infections that can contribute to cold and flu symptoms.
There are 5 vitamers of vitamin D but the most important forms are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3.
Between these two vitamers, vitamin D3 is the more effective form of vitamin D. Therefore, choose vitamin D3 supplements to get the best immune boost from the “sunshine vitamin”.
Zinc is commonly used to treat cold in the form of cold lozenges and zinc nasal gel. Is zinc any good for cold symptoms?
The evidence to support the benefit of zinc for treating cold is strong. Studies show that the best benefits are derived from taking zinc supplements throughout the cold season. Zinc not only lowers the risk of cold by 40% but also reduces the duration and severity of the sickness.
But how can zinc provide such wonderful benefits? Researchers believe that zinc not only prevents the entry of cold and flu viruses into the respiratory tract but also inside cells.
In addition, zinc inhibits the replication of cold viruses and boosts the immune system.
The overall result of these mechanisms is broad and lasting protection against cold viruses. Zinc is even more effective when combined with vitamin C and/or vitamin D.
When choosing a zinc supplement, pick the lozenges or oral supplements over nasal gel. This is because nasal zinc products can lead to a loss of the sense of smell. Because of this, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) issued a warning against intranasal zinc products in 2009.
Probiotics are live microbes that confer some health benefits on the host. Probiotics are just like the “good” microbes living in your gut.
A healthy gut flora is made up of beneficial microbes that help rather than harm humans. These microbes fulfil different functions but most importantly, probiotics keep pathogens from destroying the gut and getting into systemic circulation where they can overwhelm the immune system and cause infections.
Therefore, a healthy gut flora is important to a functional immune system.
Probiotics are just like the “good” microbes that make up a healthy gut flora. Most probiotics are strains of the same bacteria found in human gastrointestinal tract.
By taking probiotics, you can boost your immune system. In fact, researchers found that probiotics also improved the efficacy of flu shots because it significantly enhanced the functions of multiple aspects of the immune system.
However, not all probiotics can protect you from cold and the flu. The ones found effective in clinical trials are listed in the table below.
Spirulina is a health supplement derived from blue-green algae. It is rich in polysaccharides, proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and plant pigments.
Spirulina is repeatedly promoted as a food replacement because of its rich store of the essential micronutrients and macronutrients needed to support human sustenance. However, it also has health benefits.
There are a number of studies that have confirmed different health benefits of spirulina. Therefore, this medicinal food is increasingly recommended for the management of a number of chronic conditions.
Studies investigating the antiviral benefits of spirulina specifically mentioned its ability to block the replication of influenza A virus. By inhibiting the growth of the most infectious strain of influenza virus, spirulina can help you avoid the flu.
However, the immune-boosting property of spirulina is even better studied.
Researchers demonstrated that spirulina activates immune cells such as B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes, macrophages and NK (natural killer) cells. In addition, spirulina influences the release of cytokines and immunoglobulins.
Overall, spirulina can serve as a healthful food source and an immune booster to help you survive the coming flu season.
Lastly, there are herbs that are known for their abilities to boost the immune system.
The major herbs used in the treatment of common cold and flu are echinacea, elderberry and astragalus.
In one study, echinacea lowered the risk of cold by 60% and reduced the duration of the disease by 2 days.
The benefits of elderberry in the treatment of the flu are well established. Multiple studies confirm that this herb is effective against both influenza A virus and influenza B virus. Part of the herb’s efficacy is due to its immune-boosting effect while the other part is due to its direct antiviral activities.
Astragalus is common ingredient of Chinese flu herbal mixtures. Researchers believe that it promotes the growth of immune cells and also the release of macrophages.
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