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Immune Function

Tips for Staying Healthy During the Winter and All Year

While it is not possible to avoid ever getting sick, there are many things that can be done to avoid getting sick some of the time. In one study, researchers incubated a cold virus and then put the virus directly into the nose of the subjects and monitored who got sick. It turns out that only 12% got a cold. This means there are factors other than exposure to cold viruses that determine whether or not you get sick. The most important of those other factors in my experience are the following:

  1. Get plenty of exercise. Exercise boosts immune function. While particularly vigorous exercise, such as running a marathon, actually suppresses immune function, other forms of exercise are very effective at keeping you healthy.
  2. Avoid sugar and white flour. In one study researchers found that 100 grams of sugar suppressed the activity of white blood cells by 50% for about 6 hours. So if you just had a soda and your child or coworker sneezes next to you, it could make the difference between getting sick and staying healthy. Since white flour is rapidly converted to sugar by your body, it has a similar effect.
  3. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. In addition to having little to no effect on your blood sugar, these foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, antioxidants, bioflavonoids, and other substances that help to fight infection.
  4. Get your vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is very common (90-95% of the people in Vermont that I have tested are borderline or deficient), and is a big contributor to lowered immune function. Since we get less vitamin D from the sun in the winter, it is thought by some that lower vitamin D levels at this time of year may play a role in why we get sick more frequently in the winter. An appropriate dose of vitamin D for most people is 4000-6000 IU daily.
  5. Consume omega 3 oils. These are mostly found in fish and flax, and deficiency of these is very common since most people don’t eat these foods. A daily dose of 1/2 tablespoon of cod liver oil or 1500 mg of EPA/DHA from fish oil in capsule form is appropriate for most people and will also help to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
  6. Watch your stress. Stress significantly reduces immune function. You can either reduce your stress at the source by removing the cause, or you can engage in activities such as physical activity, meditation, yoga, tai-chi, or deep abdominal breathing to change your reaction to stress.
  7. Avoid your food allergens. Recurring childhood ear infections, sinus infections, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and strep throat are all frequently caused by food allergies. While most people think of a food allergy when someone eats a peanut or strawberry and then can’t breathe, a much more common type is called a delayed hypersensitivity reaction and can cause all of the recurring infections mentioned above and many other problems as well. If you get these infections or you have asthma, arthritis, headaches, irritable bowel, eczema, or seasonal/airborne allergies, there is a good chance you may have food allergies.
  8. Get plenty of sleep. Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Sleep deprivation increased the production of cortisol by your body and cortisol suppresses immune function.

Addressing the factors described above will generally prevent frequent colds, flu’s, or other illnesses. For the occasions when you still get sick despite taking the above precautions, I recommend a combination of the herbs propolis, goldenseal, licorice, and lomatium. If taken at the first sign of cold or flu, it frequently will prevent a full-blown illness.

Naturopathic doctors are physician experts in treating the underlying cause of disease and using natural medicines to help people get and stay well. To see a naturopathic doctor for help with addressing immune function, please make a selection below.

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