Updated: Dec 17, 2018
If you are like me, you've grown up learning that germs are "bad." That they cause disease and in order to survive, we either need to kill them all off or vaccinate against them. Well, as someone who did both of those "preventative" strategies her whole life, and still ended up sick and immunocompromised... I can tell you that my mindset and knowledge on the immune system has completely changed.
I now realize that we are all exposed to germs all day every day, some good, some potentially harmful, but I've come to believe that whatever we are exposed to... if we are taking care of our bodies and supporting our immune system in a holistic way - our body is meant to keep us alive. It is a magical bio-computer that knows what it's doing! We just have to listen to it's cues, and know these are signs that we need to make changes.
But for many of us, this is not the case. My case is a perfect example of where things can go wrong...
I was in nursing school, super stressed over clinicals and classes, staying up too late studying, and drinking far too much on the weekends... college. I was in a tough relationship, went through a rough break up and ended up needing to take medication for a small stress ulcer that developed. Proton pump inhibitors stop stomach acid from being produced - acid that is CRUCIAL to the protection of the body from bad bugs. Later, I was on some intense antibiotics for what turned out to be mono... (which is not cured by antibiotics) and pretty much wiped out all the bacteria in my gut, including the good guys!
Additionally, I had been on some major steroids for an awful case of poison ivy in high school and had been on the pill for about four years - more medications that have a similar impact on the human microbiome. Not to mention, I was a nurse - using hand sanitizer every 5 seconds... something I've now learned can be harmful to one's health and kill off more good guys our bodies depend on. Of course, all the while I was eating one too many bagels from the Bagelry and slices of pepperoni from DHOP... still going out late, because college... and not sleeping enough.
Unsurprising to me now, I ended up with an imbalance and overgrowth of bad bacteria in my gut - causing all kinds of inflammation and immune dysfunction in my body - you see, a large portion of your immune system lies in your gut!
I couldn't understand why I was getting so sick all the time! Every other week I was getting awful colds and flu-like illnesses that would last for weeks sometimes. Finally, I got checked out and found that my white blood cell count was very low... No wonder I was catching everything I was exposed too! The same bugs that people around me were exposed to... but I was the one with the compromised immune system, so I was the one getting sick.
I tell you this not to complain, and not to speak poorly of nursing (because AMEN FOR NURSES YOU BRAVE BAD-ASS PEOPLE) but to show you how lifestyle and health choices can all add up and things can start to gradually take a downhill turn for the worse... It takes a lot of factors, and if we create more awareness around our life and our choices - we can take a holistic approach to keeping our immune systems in tip-top shape for any season!
10 IMMUNE BOOSTING TIPS:
1. GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Many of us wear our 4-5 hours of sleep like a badge of honor. But sleep is where the magic happens! Your body does a lot of healing overnight, so make sure you are getting enough shut eye, remembering to give yourself some more in times of stress and illness.
2. MANAGE STRESS. Whatever does the trick for you! Breathing, meditating, yoga, walks outside, listen to music, do something artsy - find ways to decrease and cope with stress, because chronic stress on the mind is taxing on the body.
3. EAT COLORFUL FOODS. Colorful fruits and veggies have many antioxidant vitamins and minerals in them that fuel the immune system and protect the body from damage from excess free radicals. Foods high in Vitamin C are amazing for the immune system (kiwi, strawberries, oranges and other citrus fruits, cauliflower, broccoli, etc). Vitamin C plays a big role in the creation of collagen in your body, the magical protein that heals your cells inside and out!
4. EAT FERMENTED FOODS. Arm the good guys fighting for you in your gut! Sauerkraut, fermented veggies, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, tempeh, miso, kombucha, and jun are all amazing sources of probiotics. Perhaps consider taking a probiotic if you suffer from gut issues, are immunocompromised, or do not consume these foods frequently - be sure to talk to your doctor about finding the right supplement for you.
5. DRINK MORE WATER AND LESS ALCOHOL. Alcohol is taxing on the immune system. If I ever drank while I was immunocompromised, you can bet I was going to get very sick and feel awful for the next two weeks... Take it easy, and drink lots of healing water, teas, soups, and bone broths!
6. MOVE YOUR BODY. Exercise has been shown to enhance immune function and healing of the body. Get to sweatin'! I love a good hot yoga class in the winter time - and even better, getting outside and cross-country skiing!
7. SOAK UP SOME RAYS. Most of us in New England are vitamin D deficient, the few who are not are most likely life guards who soak up the sun all summer! Vitamin D helps the immune system combat inflammation and takes part in the activation and mobilization of T cells. This super vitamin is crucial to defending against illnesses such as the flu, and the best way to get it is by heading outside! Even in the winter time, see if you can get 20 minutes of direct sunlight a day. If you are deficient in Vitamin D, you may want to consider talking to your doctor about supplementation.
8. GET OUTSIDE. I know it sounds crazy in the winter time, but the amount of time that we spend inside is against our nature! Getting some fresh air can work wonders, and there is even evidence supporting the idea that cold thermogenesis, or short exposure to extreme cold temps, can help the body combat illness. Being in nature is also a great form of stress management and even a spiritual practice for many.
9. TAKE ELDERBERRY SYRUP. This is something my chiropractor introduced to me years ago that has truly helped me to bring back my immune strength. Now that I am studying herbalism, I have learned about the super powers these little berries hold. Elderberry contains quercetin, a plant flavanol found naturally in various dark red fruits and berries, as well as in green tea. This antioxidant has powerful antiviral properties, and has been shown to inhibit several strains of influenza, hepatitis B and C, as well as other viruses. It also combats inflammation and is a powerful antihistamine. Not to mention elderberry syrup tastes SO good, I try to take a teaspoon every day... and much more when I am feeling under the weather. Elderberry syrup can be found in health food stores, local herbs shops, or you can make your own at home! Check out my post on making elderberry syrup at home here: Make Your Own Elderberry Syrup
10. TRY ECHINACEA. Whether it be through a tea, tincture, tonic, or supplement, echinacea is a very piowerful flower. This herb is what my naturopath had me take periodically while I was immunocompromised, as echinacea has been proven to increase the number and strength of white blood cells in the body. The ploysaccharides of this herb inhibit the ability of viruses to take over cells, while the alkylamides are antibacterial and antifungal. I have learned that this is a wonderful herb to take right when you start to feel like you are getting sick, when you feel tired and foggy as if something is coming on, take this herb. I take a wonderful immune tonic with echinacea and other powerful herbs in it by Urban Moonshine, but many local herbalists sell their own.
Don't forget to spend time with loved ones, enjoy quality time, and laugh!
*This blog does not replace personal medical advice and I always recommend you consult your doctor for medical advice.
To learn more about all things holistic health, check out www.katieoconnorwellness.com