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By: Lisa M. Murray-Doran N.D.
Strengthening the immune system is on the top of health wish lists this year. With cold and flu season quickly approaching and memories of last yeasr viral strain "A Sydney" working itís way through the Durham region I have received much in the way of inquiry as to prevention, keeping defenses strong and bodies, both young and old, healthy. According to the American Medical Association, adults catch on average from two to four colds or flus a year, and children catch as many as six to eight. Colds and flus are caused by viruses, not bacteria and therefore antibiotics will not work against them. So how can you help yourself?
Our immune system is our defense system of the body and protects us from the many common bacteria and viruses we encounter every day. Proper immune system functioning is integral to preventing many illnesses; our health depends on the reactive ability of our immune systems.
Grandma Was Right! Taking Care of the Basics
Natural medicine and remedies work best if they are looked at in a different light from conventional medicine; the philosophy is health promotion and disease prevention through lifestyle changes. In our modern North American culture where most of the population overconsumes fried foods, sugar, junk foods, caffeine and processed foods; where most adults and children do not get enough sleep, fluids, exercise or time in the outdoors, we are not taking care of our basic needs to keep our bodies healthy. It is time to simplify our health regime, to go back to basics. There is no simple way to make these lifestyle changes except through dedication and commitment to a healthier lifestyle.
How we feel affects how are immune system functions. When we are happy our immune system functions at a greater capacity, when we are stressed or depressed our immune system functioning is decreased? Why? Hormones and brain chemicals. Every thought we have or stressful situation we find ourselves in produces a series of neuromessengers to be released in our body and these chemicals can affect how our immune system functions. The underlying cause of many weakened immune systems, stress can cause a hormonal trigger in our bodies that suppresses the immune system. Stress is almost unavoidable in day to day life, so itís important to learn how to control itís effect and to control how you react to stressful situations. Learning simple stress management techniques such as a "time out" where you close your eyes and take ten deep breaths when you find yourself feeling tense or stress, or doing a simple meditation or guided imagery tape each morning or evening are useful things to reduce the negative effects of stress. Think positive!
Simply washing hands can go a long way to preventing the spread of viruses and bacteria. During cold and flu season special care should be taken to wash hands after contact with any surface that is common to the public. This includes public washrooms, elevator buttons, money and the coffee machine at work. During flu season pay special attention to washing your hands and your childrenís hands when they return home from school or daycare.
In our culture of fast-paced buysiness sleep seems to be an irritating interruption in our to-do lists. We exhaust ourselves to the point where our immunity is lowered. In fact, sleep is increadibly healing - the repair, renewal and growth of cells - actually speed up when we sleep. While relaxed and sleeping the body produces tools it needs to fight infection and to repair damage to the body. Immune system activity actually increases during sleep. So get your 6-8 hrs of sleep each night and if you feel a cold or flu coming on go to bed and get some rest!
Meals cooked from whole, fresh ingredients are becoming less common. A live food is one which is fresh and which still contains all the nutrients which were in it while it was growing. Eg. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Whole foods are foods which are unprocessed, unaltered and still in natureís own packaging. Eg: nuts, seeds, grains, legumes. Incorporating more of these whole foods into the diet means increasing your immunity. Nutritional status must be at optimum when trying to enhance immune system functioning.
Essential Fatty Acids are important to keep white blood cells healthy Ė your body cannot make these nutrients, they must come from the foods they eat. They are found in nuts, seeds, beans and fish (remember getting cod liver oil in the winter to keep you from getting sick?). A supplement of flax seed oil or hemp oil is a good idea during flu season.
Keep non nutrients out of your diet. Instead of pizza or fried foods or high sugar foods for lunch go for homemade soup in a thermos or leftovers from supper last night. Sugar can actually supress the immune system for as long as five hours and allows bacteria and viruses to have their opportunity to flourish. Avoid sweets or high sugar foods when you are sick.
Regular exercise is important because it enourages movement
of the lymphatic system of the body and allows the movement of lymph to
increase immune factors. Exercise also regulates cortisol levels, a bi-product
of stress and allows for normal functioning of the immune system. Going
for a walk at lunch time is not only a way to keep you productive and alert
all afternoon, but it also increases the activity of your immune system.
What To Do If You Do Get Sick