Your Immune System
It starts with a sneeze nearby; then another; then a deep rumbling cough. Watch out – here comes COLD & FLU SEASON! Well, that’s what the media at large and mass society would like you to think. Spoiler alert – I do not “believe” in flu season.
But it IS a terrific time of the year to look at immunity, our immune systems, and the largest shift in weather temperatures between seasons in North America. So when hot summer days turn into cold Fall winds, nights, and rain, tons of people miss the dip in their immune system’s capacity to keep them fighting off infections, bacteria and viruses. If you know me I’m a “think different” and “speaks different” kind of guy – so I refer to this whole transition and potential lack of “feel good” energy as immune compromise. I don’t get colds, I don’t get sick, I get immune compromise.
Why the disbelief? I don’t question that people get sick more often as summer drops to Fall, I don’t question that as students return to school of all ages, there are more germs exchanged, nose-wiping hands playing with toys and being shared across the playground. And there are plenty of new high school and university students so anxious and anxiety-ridden about their first year/last year/grades/social status that they are in a perfect state to “get sick”. What I DO question though, is when people simply accept that they have no choice but to accept the risks, rather than take active measures to boost their immune system (naturally or otherwise), and be part of the population who doesn’t succumb to feeling lousy for days to weeks.
According to the Government of Canada website, WedMD, and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), who all cite similar ratios, details and descriptions, quite a large number of people get the flu or flu-like symptoms every year. 12,500 Canadian are hospitalized, and there are 3,500 deaths annually. That’s 0.04% of the population in the hospital. I was unable to find stats on people who actually get symptoms, but I’m certain it’s much higher.
And each year, “get your flu shot” here campaigns pop up all over the city at health clinics, pharmacies, and other outlets. And let me be clear as I start this paragraph, I have no formal opinion nor professional rights to comment on the efficacy of the influenza vaccine, nor am I about to make any recommendations whether or not to receive it. I just know there are massive campaigns that entice people to get their shot so they can be protected.
What I DO have an opinion on, are the many ways we can naturally boost, protect, and enhance our natural immune systems. As well as an awareness that certain symptoms and states is “feeling sick” are a healthy and normal expression of healing, and should be left alone rather than medicated. While researching for this blog I started typing the following search term and wanted to share the amazing list of options available to inform yourself with regarding immunity and the impact of stress.
And when it comes to the deeper causes of immune deficiency and a “ripeness” for getting hit by colds or the flu, stress is this chiropractor’s favourite singular term, with many, many branches.
A society with weak immune systems
Take the average North American today and tell me they’re not stressed, in some or many ways – constantly busy, trying to manage and multi-task things beyond their physical, mental and emotional capacity. I’ve been there – as someone who thrives on serving the masses, helping people in need, I have certainly stretched myself thin many a time. Most times I’m aware, but there are some naive moments that slip under my radar.
Take for example, a moderately new father, running his own healthcare business, contemplating buying a home or setting up in a rental for a longer timeframe, feeling overwhelmed by indecision, life elements left “up in the air”, with a zest and flare for trying to take on multiple tasks over short times. (FYI, I’m raising both of my hands here indicating “this is ME”). Twice in the past 12 months I’ve either felt on the verge of burnout or complete and utter exhaustion – self-inflicted – and in the latter, I was succumbing to the complete mental stress overload of a new home, packing and moving, managing my son and changing habits around daycare drop-off, adding in tons of decision making, choices about furniture, paint colours (and the list goes on), getting less sleep, forgetting to drink enough water, all the while making sure as best I could to sustain regular activity in my passionate daily adventures as a principled chiropractor. MAN, I just felt tired writing about that!!
Constant stressors like these raise cortisol hormone levels, deplete white blood cell (immune cells) counts, hinder proper rest, trigger the eating of more satisfying carbohydrates (the ones with high sugar levels that only further suppress immune function), and can turn a mild-mannered man into a short-fused anxious fellow.
So, yeah, I got my immune compromise as soon as the move stopped and we were in a new home. And with no intention of gloating, I know many people who would succumb to the same runny nose and sneezing symptoms from far less stressors. What’s my secret? Well, it’s not mine, but it belongs to a number of people who do NOT succumb to their environment… More on that shortly.
Immune boosting options are vast!
One of the problems I sense in the “building a better immune system” realm is the vast options available, mixed with misleading information, and a constant variety of “cold and flu” OTC medicines easily available. Most often I see people with constant immune struggle leading stressful lives, eating poorly, not getting enough sleep, and resorting to less than natural elements and concoctions to try and keep themselves going. I get it – having healthy habits in all facets of life is hard work! I’ve struggled myself as you may recognize above.
So within the large ocean of options, here are 6 categories to manage in your life so you can support your immune system naturally. While fulfilling all of these suggestions may not make you impenetrable to the odd immune compromise episode, what they will do is help you heal faster and stronger, building more immunity rather than constantly depleting short supplies:
Drink more water
Honestly, this one’s not rocket-science, but it is a constant challenge. Most people enjoy clean, cool or even hot water, and can drink it easily. However the majority of the population is dehydrated. Competition for water exists easily and cheaply in caffeinated beverages (coffee, black teas, some soft drinks), juices, alcohol and energy drinks galore. The best rule of thumb is to aim for 2 litres every day – we perspire, we eat sodium-rich foods without knowing it, and we are 70+ percent water inside – nothing new to most readers, but we don’t take in enough water
consistently: your body relies on hydration and fluid to heal – all of your resting functions (things happening during sleep) need light nutrients and fluid to do their best work.
Eat more vegetables, many colours, every day & eat less sugar and refined carbohydrates
In another WedMD article, #3 addresses this topic – Sugar suppresses immune function, while fresh vegetables and fruits have the key minerals you need to fight bacteria and more. Think you’ve eaten enough vegetables? Eat more, you’d be surprised!
Exercise daily – 30 min minimum
Motion; be in motion, as it creates endorphins, lowers cortisol, and promotes a chemically happier environment for your body to fight infection and immune compromise as well. Whether brisk walking, weight lifting in the gym, a run, or yoga – simply get your body moving to reap the molecular and immune benefits!
Get plenty of rest (sleep!)
Another key one – overworked and under rested – it’s epidemic. And as mentioned above with hydration, the sleep you get enables healing and regeneration. Without it, you’re going to heavily suppress immune defense capabilities. Aim for 7+ hrs each night; don’t be afraid to power nap, it’s a good thing; no 2 people are the same, but sleep is sleep – find a window for some catchup.
Consider vitamins and supplements
Poor diet? No time to cook whole and more wholesome food options? Supplementation isn’t a bad thing – and sometimes it’s critical. Indoor professionals are usually starved for sufficient Vitamin D levels, those with less activity in their lifestyle may need more calcium supplements for bone density protection, and the list goes on. If you find yourself unable to get to the right foods often, look into quality multivitamins – if you do your research, you’ll find that the less expensive versions have a good list of elements inside, but their absorption rate into your bloodstream where they are needed is below-par. Personally I use Usana products – because their multi-vitamin combination of anti-oxidants and minerals used to keep me awake after a post-dinner dosage (meaning potent and well absorbed). There are many health-product stores who may guide you to great products with higher value and impact. Consider Vitamin D, Fish Oils and a multi-vitamin as a core 3 to begin with.
Check your nervous system
Your nervous system runs your immune system – in an article I wrote a few years ago I directly addressed this amazing topic, and ultimately know that people under chiropractic care have stronger immune responses in most cases. A healthier nervous system combined with a healthy lifestyle is a winning combination, but even a healthy nervous system isn’t sufficient if you fail at the other 5 areas mentioned above. Here’s an interesting summary for you nerdier readers title “At the intersection of neuroscience and immunology”.
Ultimately, your body wants to fight infection when it’s healthy, and does a great job at it – make sure to stay humble and accept that if you’re going to have immune compromise, the stronger and more short-lived the symptoms are, the stronger your immune system is!