Whether or not you choose to get a flu vaccine, it is important to remember that the flu and other viruses are opportunistic. This means that people with weakened defenses are more likely to contract the flu and/ or present with more severe symptoms for a longer duration.
There is much debate over how necessary or effective the flu vaccine is from year to year, depending on the strain, who is at highest risk etc. The bottom line is most of us will be exposed to the virus over the course of the season and people who have chosen to be vaccinated are still at risk of getting sick, so these tips are useful for everyone young and old.
Here are some proven recommendations to keep your immune system in tip top shape:
- Wash your hands well and regularly.
This is the number one way to cut down exposure to flu and other viral and respiratory infections. You don’t have to be a full on germophobe, however washing hands in hot water and soap for a full 20 seconds several times throughout the day, especially after touching surfaces in public places or your place of work goes a long way on cutting down. Make a habit of washing your hands before touching your eyes, face or mouth.
- Good nutrition
This means a diet high in nutrients such as Vitamins C and A, zinc, and other antioxidants. Eating a rainbow of colors including dark leafy greens, red and yellow bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, blueberries, and citrus fruits (not juices) will give a big nutritional boost Adding herbs and spices like garlic, ginger, and turmeric give an extra antioxidant immune punch.
Cut out added sugar– Yes ALL Sugar! It has been proven over and over that high sugar diets not only increase the risk for diabetes and other chronic illness but also significantly lowers immune function. This does not only mean obvious sugar sources like candy and soda but also baked goods, fruit juices, and sugar added to processed foods. 2 tsp of sugar has been shown to reduce white blood cell count by up to 50% for 4 hours. This reduction becomes exponential the more sugar you consume.
- Get adequate sleep:
This means 7 to 9 hours nightly. Your body relies on this to heal and repair itself. The immune system will be weakened in those who are chronically sleep deprived. Getting off screens and turning down the lights early allows your body to stay true to a natural circadian rhythm allowing more restorative sleep.
- Optimize your Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D is a very important immune system modulator, so having ideal levels is critical to staving off infections. Most people in Northern latitudes (like us here in Seattle) tend to be deficient (under 30 ng/ml) but optimal levels should really be closer to 70 or 80 ng/ml. We recommend finding out what your levels are to make an educated decision about the dosage of D3 to take. If you do not know your levels a minimum of 5000 IU daily during the winter months is a good start. (Remember to always take it with a bit of K2 to support proper absorption)
- Keep your gut healthy
80% of our immune system resides in our GI tract. It is truly the interface between us and the outside world. In addition to good nutrition, plenty of fiber, limiting sugar and other poor quality foods which disturb the fragile ecosystem a multi-strain probiotic can work wonders. Pick a combination formula that is diverse and contains strains that include Lactobacillus Plantarum and Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG, Bifidobacterium spp. and Saccharomyces Boulardi.
- Find ways to lower stress levels
Stress suppresses the immune system. There is no way to avoid stress but tools such as meditation, gentle exercise, deep breathing, and yoga are great ways to help modulate it. Having a regular stress reducing practice in place improves your immune system as well as most other areas of your life.
- Add in additional seasonal some immune-boosting nutrients and herbal tonics:
Some safe and simple preventative immune support options to add on a daily basis include:
- Vitamin C: 2000- 5000 mg daily
- Zinc 30 to 50 mg daily
- Vitamin A: 10,000 IU daily
- Mushroom blend formulas that include reishi, maitake, cordyceps and turkey tail
- Herbs such as Holy Basil, Rhodiola, Astragalus, Andrographis, Elderberry and Echinacea (these can be taken in tincture, tea, or capsule forms)
- Fire cider- a warming concoction that includes garlic, ginger, apple cider vinegar and cayenne- a shot a day keeps the flu away (see recipe below)
Focusing on reducing stress, optimizing nutrition and sleep and boosting gut health will not only cut your chances of getting the flu this winter, it will support you in a healthy happier you all year round.