“It’s cold season."
How many times have we heard that saying? Yes, we are approaching the time of year when most of us are more susceptible to coming down with a cold or the flu. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret – there is no “cold season”.
Rather than figuring out a strategy to keep our immune system working at it's peak potential, it's as if some of us just throw in the towel and accept that we will be sick, as if there is nothing we can do to prevent it.
Reality is we are constantly under attack by pathogens, viruses or bacteria that want to infect us. We are constantly exposed to pathogens and we are either winning or losing the battle. What is likely to blame for the “cold season” has more to do with what our body’s internal environment lacks than what is attacking us.
There's the saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." I'm not saying cold season is completely preventable, but what I am trying to communicate is that we all can take steps to reduce our likelihood of getting sick and possibly prevent it.
Aside from proper exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle choices, what are some simple prevention steps you can take (any time of the year) to keep your immune system firing on all cylinders and help it win the battle against the "cold season"?
The most powerful tool that you have to keep your immune system running high is sleep. Research demonstrates that lack of sleep compromises the immune system, thus predisposing you to sickness. There’s a reason why you sleep a lot when you are sick. Don't underestimate what proper sleep habits can do for your health. Are you getting enough sleep? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do my eyelids feel heavy in the afternoon?
- Do I use caffeine as a “pick me up”?
- Do I sleep extra hours on the weekend?
- Do I fall asleep the minute my head hits the pillow?
To promote deep, restful sleep try to keep your room as dark and cool as possible. Ideal room temperature appears to be 65-68 degrees. Calming agents like magnesium, valerian root, chamomile tea, or a warm bath used before bed can also promote more restful sleep. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and exercise before bed as these can interfere with our normal sleep rhythms or make it more difficult to settle.
Shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Athletes may need as much as 9-10 hours per night.
2) Vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency is a global issue, which is disturbing as poor vitamin D status is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, certain cancers, and many other chronic conditions. Not only does Vitamin D have a critical role in immune system support, it also has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-viral effects.
According to James Cannell, MD, of the vitamin D council, most of us will need to take in 5000 IU per day to obtain healthy vitamin D blood levels and avid exercisers should shoot for as high as 10,000 IU per day. In comparison, the current RDA is set at 600 IU for individuals 1-70 years of age and 800 IU for those 71 years of age and older. Clearly there is a large gap between what is considered adequate and what is considered necessary for optimal health.
In determining appropriate vitamin D intake, it's important to know your vitamin D levels first. A simple test can be run by your doctor with blood work. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider.
3) Vitamin C.
Vitamin C's role in immune system support is well established and less of a discussion is needed here. To maximize vitamin C's immune system boosting effects, It's best to consume a vitamin C supplement or vitamin C rich foods every 2-3 hours when sick as blood levels take 2-3 hours to peak, thus you will ensure blood levels remain high.
For as much evidence as there is to back vitamin C’s ability to support the immune system, there is stronger evidence for zinc. However, zinc's role in immune system support is not as widely known. Zinc plays a central role in the immune response and zinc-deficient individuals are more susceptible to a variety of pathogens. While consuming whole foods rich in zinc should be standard dietary practice, directed use of products like Zicam, zinc lozenges, or highly bio-available zinc supplements at the early signs or symptoms of a cold has proven to be beneficial.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in skeletal muscle, making it critical to the health and function of our muscular system. However, glutamine is also integral to the function of our digestive and immune systems. The health of our digestive system is critical to the health of our immune system as the GI tract uses a tremendous amount of glutamine to feed the mucosal cells. When needed, glutamine supplementation is a great way to support the immune system. Aim for 5-15g grams, three times a day. Make sure a dose is taken upon rising, mid day, and before bed. The dose before bed is important as the immune system is highly active during sleep.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria for our gut and they also have the ability to support the immune system. Simply stated, a healthy digestive system feeds a healthy immune system. Research has supported the ability of probiotics to reduce the occurrence of colds and gastrointestinal infections. Be sure to consume more probiotic foods or take a quality probiotic supplement. Foods such as yogurt, raw cheese, raw apple cider vinegar, and kombucha tea are just a few examples of foods rich in probiotics.
Prevention is the key when it comes to staying healthy. We either make time for prevention or we make time for illness. Take the steps to support your immune system and win the fight during cold season.
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