Balance Your Immune System and Stay Healthy this Winter

balanced stones

The flu season started early this year. Many got sick already in September and often for numerous days. But just because bacteria and viruses are in our environment doesn’t mean we have to get sick. Keeping our immune system strong and balanced is our best tool for avoiding common colds and the flu this year. And the best way to do that is with a well-fed, well-exercised and well-rested body.

A well-fed body means getting adequate protein at every meal, as well as ample fruits and vegetables – at least 3-4 cups a day. Most important is limiting sugar and other high glycemic foods, such as refined grains and alcohol. A serving of sugar can suppress your immune system for up to 8 hours after eating it! And having sugar every day can significantly suppress your immune system. Much better is to add immune-boosting foods to your diet like plain yogurt with live, active cultures, garlic, onion, ginger, curry, shitake mushrooms and super-green foods as well. Review the Anti-inflammatory Diet for more specific dietary guidelines.

A well-exercised body, according to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, boosts the lymphocytes, which are the disease-fighting white blood cells that are a first line of defense against invading bacteria and viruses. It can be as simple as walking 30-45 minutes a day. If, however, you’re a hard-core athlete who gets regular, long, strenuous workouts, you may actually be suppressing your immune system. In fact, you will need extra supplements to help boost your system if your exercise habits tend toward the more hard-core end of the spectrum.

What is a well-rested body? Yes, it means a good night’s sleep every night. Our bodies heal and repair while we sleep. Other stress-management tools are also important.

Generally, when we get sick, it’s not because we are exposed to microorganisms. It’s because we are not eating well, not getting exercise, and stressed – either emotionally or physically, in addition to being exposed to the bacteria and viruses that cause illness.

Other good strategies include taking a good multivitamin/mineral daily, vitamin C, zinc and a good balance of anti-oxidants. Vitamin C is cheap and well tolerated at high doses by most people. We don’t store it in the body and we are one of just a few species of animals that cannot make their own vitamin C. When we are run-down or exposed to infection our needs for vitamin C go way up. The only way to fill those needs is to supplement with it. If you or family members tend to get sick a lot, a medicinal mushroom supplement may also be helpful. And, of course, keep echinacea, elderberry and goldenseal on hand just in case.

While on the subject, I do have a caveat. Taking supplements without eating well and taking good care of yourself creates a false sense of security. These measures work well in conjunction with eating well, getting exercise, getting rest and managing stress. For example, Vitamin C and sugar share a transport system and compete for use of it. Even if you have adequate vitamin C in your body, if the transport system is busy transporting sugar, vitamin C can’t get to the cells to help eradicate viruses, bacteria and cancerous cells. Let’s make this winter cold and flu-free.