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Empowering Your Immune System During Cold and Flu season

Autumn is upon us. In this changing weather, with the prevalence of colds, flus and other infections, we look to immune supportive botanicals, supplements, as well as lifestyle and dietary tweaks to help. Even a few basic strategies can go a long way toward boosting your immune system.

Sleep: Studies show that people who don’t get adequate quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold. Sleep also affects how fast you recover if you do get sick. Certain cytokines increase when you have an infection, inflammation or high stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease the production of these protective cytokines. Antibody and immune cell production also decrease when sleep is inadequate; thus, leaving us vulnerable to infection and impeding healing. Seven to eight hours per night is the best possible foundation for proper immune function. Set a routine sleep and wake schedule and use the abundance of natural means available to us to help. A nighttime screen curfew, sleeping in a cooler room, eating no later than three hours before bedtime, and dimming all lights close to sundown can improve sleep hygiene.

Diet: As we approach the holidays, there are more sugar-laden goodies to tempt our sweet tooth. But, in a few words: Don’t do it! (or Moderation! Moderation!) Sugar is a major insult to our immune system and effectively suppresses immune function for hours after its consumption. Whole fruits and vegetables, while often containing sugar, also contain fiber and pectin, which slow the absorption of sugars, thereby curbing their negative impact on immune function. Rely on whole fruits (not juices) for your sweet treats and keep all processed sugar consumption to a minimum. Vitamin C-containing fruits and vegetables during this time of year are a bonus for hearty immune function: citrus fruits, leafy greens like spinach and kale, kiwis, peppers, strawberries and broccoli are all good sources. Fresh fruits and vegetables that contain carotenoids also provide an immune boost. Winter squashes, sweet potatoes, carrots, dark green leafy vegetables are great sources. As we head into the holiday party season, when you are contributing or hosting, be the life of the party with healthy, sugar-free indulgences. Everyone will be grateful. Kabobs of colorful roasted winter squash, pâtés of roasted mushrooms and walnuts, and lettuce wraps full of protein are optional substitutes for the average, unhealthy fare.

Supplements: On the immune supportive botanical front, keep your medicine chest ready with immune supportive teas, elderberry syrup, arabinogalactans powder, homeopathic oscillococcinum and combination herbal formulas in pill or tincture form. Elderberry can be safely consumed on a daily basis. One teaspoon per day (especially when taken with Vitamin C) is enough to help increase your resistance to run-of-the-mill viral infections. You can take up to four teaspoons a day at the first sign of a cold or flu until symptoms abate. In combination with arabinogalactans and some other ingredients, a delicious and effective beverage can be concocted. (See recipe below.) Hot herbal teas with echinacea, licorice, linden or other immune boosting botanicals are a great substitute for any other beverage during this season and serve the dual purpose of hydration and immune assistance.

Another beverage that has the potential to work wonders is a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, with a teaspoon of raw Manuka honey in a glass of warm water. This combination, taken at any time of day, alkalinizes the body, which affords the immune system ideal conditions under which it can do its job. Taken daily, this is great form of preventative medicine.

Vitamin C, along with Vitamin D, zinc, and Vitamin A have the potential to stop a viral infection in its tracks when caught in the very early stages. Emergen-C or a similar portable Vitamin C packet can make it easy to take your immune support with you. They conveniently slip into a child’s lunch box as well.  Don’t forget to keep a stash of goodies at work, too. Desk drawers or break rooms can be stocked with Emergen-C and herbal teas. There are so many simple ways to supercharge your immune system. Eating well, avoiding sugar and making a few changes to your daily supplementation routine can help your immune system go the distance through cold and flu season. FBN

By Dr. Karen van der Veer

Dr. Karen van der Veer has more than 20 years of experience as a physician, acupuncturist and educator. Her career has been defined by her passion for and devotion to serving others. She currently teaches at NAU and sees patients at Aspen Integrative Medical Center, which is located at 323 N Leroux, Suite B, Flagstaff. For more information, call 928-213-5828.

 

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