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How to Boost Your Immune System In Time For Flu Season
It’s that time of year once again – when the “ahhh” of a crisp autumn morning is followed by the ominous “choo” of sneeze season. Cooler weather may be a harbinger of germs to come, but you’re not completely helpless in the face of the flu. Show your immune system a little extra love this fall with the below tips to boost your body’s natural defenses.
Since we spend one-third of our lives snoozing, is it really any wonder that a lack of proper sleep seems to be the common denominator for the vast majority of our daily grievances? Deprive us of a solid night’s worth of z’s and we’re suddenly reminded that, at the end of the day, we’re all just overgrown toddlers at heart. Studies show that sleep deprivation is linked to a host of problems – including irritability (#relatable), acne, weight gain, cognitive/memory impairment, and a reduction in our body's ability to defend against infections. Committing to a full 7-9 hours a night is especially important when flu season rolls around since science would suggest that sleeping can vastly improve immunity.
Feeling a little under the weather? Turns out you can, in fact, blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol. Drinking reduces the number of T cells and B cells in your body, both of which are essential to warding off infections. Alcohol also inhibits the body’s natural inflammatory response, which helps eliminate unwanted intruders. Over-imbibing may also cause a dip in the quality of your sleep, less exercise, and dehydration – all of which can negatively impact your immune system.
Though many people associate being cold with catching cold, science would suggest that the real reason influenza thrives during the winter is precisely because people spend so much time indoors cooped up with plenty of germs. So pretend you’re a well-loved houseplant and make sure you spend enough time soaking up that sweet vitamin D. Researchers at Georgetown University found that a little sunshine energizes T cells that support the body’s immune functions and lowers your stress levels. Try pairing daily sunny excursions with light exercise, which can help you fight infection. Working up a light sweat can also help flush bacteria out of the lungs and boost your body temperature to slow bacteria growth.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have discovered that a majority of your immune system actually resides in our gastrointestinal tract in the form of gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). Cells in our gut product antibodies that fight off bacteria and viruses. We can lend them a helping hand by eating foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics to keep our microbiome flourishing – think yogurt, fermented foods, and (our personal favorite) bone broth. In addition to providing our bodies with amino acids that help reduce inflammation and boost our immunity, bone broth has the added benefit of keeping us well-hydrated – another essential component to maintaining our health.
Washing your hands is a bit of a bacteria-banishing no-brainer, and is one of the most important ways we can protect ourselves from disease. Our skin is rife with colonies of bacteria directly connected to the immune system, making it the first line of defense against potential invaders. Washing our hands regularly with soap and warm water vastly reduces the likelihood of transmitting and contracting infections, though it’s important to note that method does matter. Commercial hand sanitizers often contain chemicals that dry out our skin, causing small cuts or scrapes that can allow bacteria to infiltrate the system, so opt for the old fashioned scrubbing method whenever possible.
Let’s face it – refined sugars are delicious...but it’s probably no surprise that they’re not doing your immune system (or the rest of your body) any favors. That sweet sweet goodness tends to sap important nutrients like zinc, vitamin B, and manganese from your system, putting you at greater risk of coming down with what’s going around.
It’s Saturday night, and you’re indulging in a little self-care when *ping* – a work email comes through from your boss. But just because you can pull out your laptop and respond doesn’t mean you should. In fact, science gives us an iron-clad reason to respect our OOOs – overworking can cause a spike in cortisol levels, which is responsible for your fight-or-flight response. When this stress becomes a frequent feature in our days and cortisol levels remain elevated, your immune system is on the chopping block.
Do you have a flu season routine to help you stay healthy? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!