Cold and flu season is upon us. To stay healthy while others around us get sick is even more vital this time of year. Each year during flu season, American workers miss 111 million workdays, resulting in $7 billion of lost productivity. Workers and parents are not the only ones affected, as the flu also causes students to miss upwards of 32 million school days per year. It is virtually impossible to avoid the cold and flu viruses entirely, but taking action steps to boost your immune system to fight illnesses before they strike is essential.
Proper nutrition is the easiest and most effective way to maintain a strong immune system. By avoiding bad foods, as well as loading up on as many nutrient-packed foods as possible, we give our bodies a fighting chance. The most important food to avoid is processed sugar. Almost immediately after consuming sugar, systemic inflammation in the body rises. This curbs your immune system away from fighting foreign invaders, such as the viruses causing the cold and flu, toward responding to this inflammation. Sugar is also detrimental to our gut. The vast majority of our internal immune system lies within our gut, and if the gut isn’t functioning properly, neither is our immune system.
Avoiding sugar is a good start, but boosting the immune system can be expanded by including some super-foods. As I mentioned, the gut is often the first line of defense against harmful pathogens, so a diet packed with gut-healthy foods is essential this time of year. Fermented foods are loaded with friendly bacteria, which play an essential role in maintaining gut health. My favorite fermented food is kimchi, and other good options include kefir, pickles, yogurt (be careful of sugar!) and olives. Garlic is another food with tremendous immune benefits. It is one of the only known foods with anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic should be consumed raw for the best immune support.
Adding supplements to fill in the gaps where our nutrition may lag behind is another way to maintain a healthy immune system throughout the winter. The most important supplement to add during the winter is Vitamin D, as our bodies need sunshine to synthesise Vitamin D naturally. Vitamin D has known immune benefits, and lower levels of Vitamin D have been correlated with higher infection rates. Probiotic supplements are extremely beneficial for maintaining gut health. Just like fermented foods, probiotics help maintain a proper balance of healthy bacteria in the gut. A third supplement I would encourage everyone to take during cold and flu season is Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help reduce systemic inflammation in the body. When inflammation is low, the immune system can focus its’ effort on fighting pathogens like viruses, instead of being caught up battling the inflammation. Omega-3s are best found in the form of fish oil but are also found in seeds and nuts such as walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds. Along with boosting immune function, Omega-3s have known benefits for cardiovascular health, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and improving joint aches and pains.
As a whole, the body is quite capable of defending against viruses and bacteria. However, there are things we can do to give us more of a fighting chance, and keeping our nutrition optimal is among the most important.
Yours in Health, Dr. Alex
Project Wellness Company - Madison, WI