Hot (or should that be cold?) on the heels of the Polar Vortex came another big freeze last week, so it’s no wonder that many folk are coming down with all kinds of nasties.
At this time of year the immune system takes a beating.
But you don’t have to lie down and take it. There are lots of things you can do to ensure yours is performing at its best from eating fermented foods, to getting enough sleep and exercise (not at the same time, that’d just be crazy…and exhausting).
We all know these common sense steps, but there are some alternative ways of giving your immune system a hug that you might not be aware of.
And that’s what I’m here for. You can thank me when everyone around you is dropping like flies and moaning bitterly: “How come you’re not sick. It’s so unfair!”
1. Get giggling
Feel free to laugh at those unfortunate cold-stricken friends. Okay, maybe not because once summer rolls around you might find yourself very lonely. But chuckle at something because your Granny was right – laughter is the best medicine.
In an Indiana State University Sycamore Nursing Center study, researchers divided healthy adult women into two groups. One watched funny videos (it doesn’t say, but I like to think they were bombarded with Monty Python) while the other watched boring, educational videos.
Blood tests on both groups showed that the ones exposed to comedy had higher levels of ‘natural killer cells’ – a specific type of white blood cell that attacks cancers.
2. Get busy
And yes, I do mean that in the naughty sense. Regular love-making is not only a fun thing to do with those dark winter nights, it also boosts the immune system by causing a spike in your IgA levels (IgAs are antigens the body produces to fight off intruders).
Scientists suggest that to get the full benefits you should be hopping under the sheets at least once or twice a week.
Only one snag – “Darling, let’s go to bed because I feel a cold coming on” isn’t exactly going to put you in the mood.
3. Use healing herbs
Yes, eating real food (especially probiotics) will get you there, but for a little extra protection consider some less well-known herbal remedies.
Do make sure you’re getting your herbs from a good source so they are as potent as possible. I recommend Mountain Rose (they don’t pay me, I just love their sustainable agriculture, organically grown ethos)
4. Turn to TCM
Herbs are an important part of strengthening the immune system in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Know what else is used for that purpose in TCM? Acupuncture and Acupressure.
The National Cancer Institute has used acupuncture in preclinical trials to stimulate the immune system and protect patients as they undergo chemotherapy.
Some practitioners attribute this to acupuncture’s role in reducing inflammation and stress (both of which are bad news for your immune system).
5. Spice it up
Last week I went a little crazy with a bottle of spicy seasoning and some shrimp – nearly burning a hole through my and my poor hubs’ respective guts. On reflection, that’s not entirely a bad thing because the things that made that seasoning so hot, are also the things that fire up your immune system.
Turmeric and curcumin contain powerful antioxidants which, you guessed it, protect us against bacteria and viruses.
Which is a brilliant excuse for making pots and pots of this delicious creamy turmeric tea.
6. Ditch the meds
Although it’s now almost standard operating procedure for people with colds/flu to get a serving of antibiotics from their doctor, that’s not always the best remedy.
Antibiotics will lay waste to your natural gut flora, which is vital for maintaining a healthy immune system. If you do need to take them, at least make sure you replenish those vital bugs with plenty of fermented foods (think sauerkraut, yoghurt, kvass, kimchi etc).
7. Lighten your chemical load
In the same way that medications can do a number on your system, so too can toxins. Unfortunately most of the things we’re exposed to on a daily basis (perfume, laundry detergent, shampoo, cleaning sprays to name a few) have these in abundance.
Try incorporating natural alternatives to your daily chemical bath - go no ‘poo, replace perfumes with essential oils, use vinegar for fabric softener, wash surfaces with lemon juice and baking soda for burnt pans. If you are looking for a new deodourant, I highly recommend Lush’s Aromaco.
The less disrupting toxins your body has to fight, the better it can get on with the job of protecting you from co-worker #4 who has a bad case of the sniffles.
8. Invest in an air filter
Every so often I’ll hear a low humming noise coming from hubs’ office and wonder if he’s summoning spirits in there. Thankfully it’s just his air ionizer at work.
We use the ionizer to purify the air in our house (mainly because it’s an old house, with old furniture that has seen better days) by removing mold and allergens.
These bacteria and spores can weaken your immune system so if you want to be sparkling clean on the inside, try to make the air you breathe sparkling clean too.
It’s one of the great tragedies of adulthood that we lose the ability to play like kids.
Not only is rolling around in the mud, diving into the ocean and sprinting madly through grass fun, it’s also a great way to expose yourself to germs…and train your immune system how to fight them.
And play’s benefits don’t end there. It’s also indirectly beneficial in that it has all the advantages of exercise and getting outdoors (reduces inflammation, lowers stress, fights depression).
10. Get a furry friend
Okay, so it might seem a little extreme to go out and get a pet just because you’re afraid of getting the flu, but if you’re on the fence about owning an animal perhaps this will seal the deal.
Studies have shown that babies who grow up with pets are less likely to get allergies, asthma, colds and ear infections. Why? Because early exposure to animals gives their developing immune systems the chance to adapt and modify to deal with unfamiliar pathogens – in the same way that exposure to dirt protects us.
Pets are also furry stress-reducers, and a relaxed immune system is a robust immune system.
Weigh in: Do you suffer from colds/flu? Caught any this winter? What do you do to stay healthy? Did any of the above surprise you?