Immune Health 101
1. Stay hydrated. Adults require of minimum of 2-3 liters of water per day. Water keeps the body hydrated and cleansed, which aids proper immune system functioning. Semi-clear urination every hour is a sign of adequate hydration. A body becomes more susceptible to illness when dehydrated.
2. Rest up! Adults require an average of 8-12 hours of sleep per night. Sleep aids the body in cellular nutrient absorption for recovery and repair of all systems, including immune, musculoskeletal, and neural. When stress levels are elevated, more sleep is needed. Too much stress and lack of sleep breeds immune deficiency which can lead to illness.
3. Eat ENOUGH fresh fruits and vegetables. Nine to 13 servings per day is necessary to keep the body healthy and illness/disease free. The nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber housed within fruits and vegetables provide nourishment, protection against free radical damage, reduce inflammation, keep blood pH balanced (7.4, slightly alkaline), and aid the elimination of toxic substances from the body. All of these factors assist in keeping the immune system running strong. Prebiotic foods such as bananas, beets, blueberries, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, artichoke, spinach, and brown rice provide nourishment for intestinal bacteria responsible for our initial immune barrier within the GI tract. Enjoy your produce raw or lightly cooked (steamed, baked) for maximum nutrition.
4. Avoid/minimize processed/refined food, high fat foods, and animal product consumption. Processed/refined foods, high fat foods (oils), and animal products all have an acidic affect on the body, creating the breeding ground for inflammation and bacterial overgrowth. These foods decrease the functioning of the immune system by using up precious nutrient stores (to buffer blood acidity), creating a cellular overload of toxins and damage, and providing the perfect food source for bacteria/fungi/viruses.
5. Keep the diet low in fat. A high fat (saturated fat, trans fat, omega-6 fatty acids found in animal products and vegetable oils) diet can result in chronic fatigue, lethargy, weight gain, inflammation, poor fitness, and poor nutrient utilization. When the diet is high in fat (and low in carbohydrates), the metabolism slows down favoring fat storage of all macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) while it works to convert fat to fuel/glucose (a process known as gluconeogenesis). This process uses an excess of micronutrients and cellular energy to generate fuel from non-carbohydrate substrates, which in turn generates toxic byproducts known as ketones. Under normal conditions, the body burns carbohydrates for fuel, which is a much more efficient and less taxing process. Eat enough good carbohydrate foods, such as fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains to boost immunity, energy, metabolism and decrease inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, and prevent illness.
6. Exercise! Consistent, moderate exercise is one of the best ways to improve immune health and enhance the metabolism. Cardiovascular exercise (brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, etc.) pumps the lymphatic system, aiding the elimination of toxic cellular byproducts. Pumping the lymphatic system daily can ensure that your immune system will have less cellular waste to deal with so you can experience optimal health on a regular basis. Also, be sure to consume sufficient carbohydrate calories in order to have enough energy to exercise!
7. Keep vitamin D levels normal. Vitamin D is a micronutrient involved in sustaining immune health. Low vitamin D levels have been found to be associated with an increased risk of illness and disease. If living north of Atlanta, Georgia, it is important that you maintain normal vitamin D levels via supplementation from October to March. If concerned about vitamin D status, check with a doctor and ask to have your level tested.
8. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and recreational drugs. These substances all acting as "nutrient stealers", causing vital nutrients to be drained from the body in order to combat their toxic nature, such as water, vitamin C, B complex vitamins, and serotonin. Their toxic burden on the immune system creates a chronic cycle of nutrient deprivation, thus making chronic users more susceptible to illness, disease, and immune deficiency.
Even the healthiest of people can come down with illness for multiple reasons. Chronic dehydration, lack of sleep, too much stress, not so healthy dietary choices, and lack of exercise can jeopardize immune system functioning, setting the stage for illness and disease development. But before running to the doctor, there are a few things you can do naturally to boost your immune system and get healthy again without the use of prescription antiobiotics, over-the-counter medications, or vaccinations.
1. Drink MORE fluids. Now is the time to up your water intake to aid elimination of the illness from your body and support healing. Try adding lemon, ginger, or apple cider vinegar to some warm water for a nice soothing drink, or have your favorite caffeine free herbal tea. Coconut water is also an option as it is a great source of electrolytes to aid hydration, and it acts as a natural antibiotic.
2. Rest as much as possible. The body is going to be making serious healing/elimination efforts when you are ill, so taking some time off of your busy schedule can aid recovery efforts. Call off work, cancel appointments, and do whatever you can to keep yourself in bed. People who recover the fastest from illness are the ones who take the time to do so.
3. Simplify your diet. Fresh fruit smoothies, juices, and vegetable-based broth soups can keep you nourished, hydrated, and on the healing track when sick, without expending too much energy digesting heavier foods. Avoid all animal products (including dairy), processed/refined foods, high fat foods (oils), and excess sodium to speed recovery and boost immune function. Opt for whatever fruits or vegetables you are attracted to while sick, especially high vitamin C citrus fruits like oranges, water-rich melons, grapes, banana ice cream, and low sodium vegetable broth soups.
4. Opt for a natural antibiotic/antiviral. Garlic, ginger, onion, lemon, apple cider vinegar, and parsley can act as natural antibiotic/antiviral substances. Studies have shown garlic to be able to fight off antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. These potent herbs can be added to fresh juices or soups for immune health.
5. Dose up on vitamin C. Vitamin C is the most potent water soluble antioxidant humans have circulating through their blood that enhances and supports a proper functioning immune system. The body is made up of 70% water, so keeping enough vitamin C rich foods in the diet daily is a must for disease prevention and treatment. Opt for fresh sources of vitamin C rich foods, such as fresh citrus fruits and juices, juicy melons, berries, grapes, or water-based cabbage/broccoli soups.
6. Get some vitamin D. One of the major indicators of vitamin D deficiency is decreased immune function, which can lead to illness, weakness, and a lowered metabolism. Opt for 10-30 minutes of sunshine daily or supplement if living in a sun-deficient climate (ie. Northeastern United States, October-March). The recommended daily value for vitamin D is 400 IU/day.
Well there you have it! Everything you need to know about how to stay healthy during flu season and what to do when you get sick! If you have any questions/comments, let me know in the comment section below!