I used to get completely taken out by a cold or flu one or two times each fall or winter. I’d be in bed with a headache, feeling miserable and get dizzy every time I got up. This would last for several days.
Does this sound familiar? I had no idea that this doesn’t have to be my usual cold and flu season experience. It may not have to be yours either.
For me, things completely changed once I learned how and started taking better care of myself. Now, it’s rare that I’m completely taken out by a cold or flu. If I do come down with something, it’s usually mild and often lasts only a day. I may just feel a little off and really tired. Now, I actually don’t mind being sick because my symptoms are so much milder and I even enjoy a quiet day resting, reading or watching tv. Before, I would feel so miserable, even those activities weren’t enjoyable.
I’ve learned to listen to my body, take it easy and take extra good care of myself at the earliest twinge of not feeling 100%. I know if I don’t, my symptoms will probably get worse and I won’t recover as quickly.
There’s so many things in life you can’t control. One thing you can, is what you eat and for the most part, (if not all) how you live. Diet and lifestyle can go a long way to prevent sickness and disease, including colds and flus.
You can’t control being exposed to cold and flu causing viruses. You can control what you do to support your immune system so it can do it’s job of destroying viruses when they do come along.
Here’s 7 immune system supporting things you can do to stay healthy….
1. Avoid refined sugars and flours.
Eating refined sugars and flours raises your blood sugar levels. Consistently high blood sugar reduces white blood cell activity and suppresses immune system function. They also deplete your body of nutrients that are required for optimal immune function.
To keep blood sugar levels in the optimal range, eat a balance of unrefined carbohydrates, healthy fat and protein for each meal and snack. If you're reading this thinking, “Oh, I don’t eat too much refined sugar”, and many of the foods you eat come from a package, read this post.
Most packaged foods have added refined sugar. It’s easy to get too much and almost impossible to not get too much, if you’re not reading labels and making a conscious effort.
2. Eat more of the foods that contain nutrients that are particularly important for optimal immune system function. (1),(2)
Essential amino acids: animal foods are great sources. If you’re a vegetarian it's especially important to eat eggs (if tolerated).
Folic acid: lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, asparagus, spinach
Zinc: beef, lamb, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils
Calcium: sardines, sesame seeds, collard greens, spinach, dark leafy greens
Vitamin A: liver, egg yolks, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach
Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, swiss chard, avocado
Copper: sesame seeds, cashews, Shitake mushrooms, sunflower seeds, garbanzo beans
Iron: shellfish, spinach, organ meats, beef, lentils
Selenium: tuna, shrimp, sardines, salmon, turkey
B6: tuna, turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, sweet potato
B12: sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, scallops, beef
Vitamin C: papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries
Omega 3 fatty acids: flaxseeds, walnuts, sardines, salmon, grass fed beef
3. Include garlic, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon in your diet.
These all are anti-inflammatory. Each one has a variety of benefits, some include being antiviral, antibacterial, and antimicrobial.
4. Eat probiotic foods.
Probiotic foods boost production of beneficial microorganisms in the gut that destroy viruses and bacteria. If you’re not familiar with probiotic foods like cultured vegetables and kombucha, here’s a list and how to shop for them.
5. Consider a vitamin D 3 supplement. (3)
Unless you’re intentionally trying to get enough vitamin D through regular sunlight exposure on skin that’s not covered with sunscreen, or taking a supplement, you’re probably not getting enough vitamin D. Vitamin D is required for immune system regulation.
6. Sleep 7 to 8 hours a night.
Getting enough sleep is important for all aspects of health, including immune function. (4) 7-8 hours a night is optimal for most people.
7. Reduce Stress.
Whether stress is psychological, physiological or physical, it can have a negative impact on your immune system (5), especially when it’s over a prolonged period of time. What’s stress relieving for each of us varies. Doing more of the things you personally enjoy is one of the best stress relievers. Yoga, meditation and being in nature can be great options.
Chronically elevated blood sugar causes physiological stress, so following the advice of #1 above will help reduce this kind of stress, that you may be unknowingly creating every time you eat.
I hope this information is helpful. If you’d like personalized help, I’d love to work with you. You can choose the service that best fits your needs here:
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Calder, P., & Kew, S. (2002). The immune system: A target for functional foods? British Journal of Nutrition, 88(S2), S165-S176. doi:10.1079/BJN2002682
Aranow C. Vitamin D and the immune system. J Investig Med. 2011;59(6):881–886. doi:10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755
Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J. Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch. 2012;463(1):121–137. doi:10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0
Morey JN, Boggero IA, Scott AB, Segerstrom SC. Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Curr Opin Psychol. 2015;5:13–17. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.03.007