It’s hard to ignore the signs of fall with a leaves changing here and there, Halloween decorations in the stores, and aisles of back-to-school supplies at Wal-Mart. Along with the cooler temps, high school football games, and the crunch of leaves under your feet, the fall brings one more thing with it…illness. It’s not necessarily that there are more germs in the fall, but our habits change and so do our immune systems. We typically spend more time indoors, kids are back in school amongst their friends, and holiday gatherings commence. With these changes to our lifestyles, our immune systems take a little bit of a hit. Let’s talk about how and what to do about it.
1) FOOD – What happens in your body when you eat food? Most of us have learned, at some point or another, about basic digestive processes. You may have been taught about digestive enzymes and other ways in which food as broken down as it is prepared to deliver nutrients to our cells with the rest being excreted as waste. But are nutrients the only thing our cells receive? Nope. Food is information and how it interacts with our cells can have an impact on our immune system. We are going to talk about one thing in particular – sugar. Sugar has gotten a bad rap and I wish I could say it wasn’t earned. But when we consume sugar, our immune cells respond by engulfing fewer bacteria for a period of a couple hours. Not that we needed one more reason to not each as much sugar, but that one fact makes a pretty good case.
2) PROBIOTICS – Our immune system is comprised largely of our digestive system. Our bodies have a few ways in which they are open to the outside environment. Our skin being one of them. Our nasal passages are another. And our digestive tracts are another. If you think about it, our GI tract is one long tube that starts at our mouths and ends, well, on the other end. So if you want to beef up your defenses, you need to build your army. That’s what probiotics are. Bacterial protectors of our GI tracts. We should have somewhere near 85% beneficial bacteria and 15% “bad” or potential pathogens. We have a variety of different probiotics that we can help you pick based on your unique health needs
3) A ROBUST DIGESTIVE SYSTEM – Speaking of the GI tract, probiotics and bacteria aren’t the only factors that influence our gastrointestinal health. Dysfunctions of our digestive system can not only cause unwanted symptoms; they can contribute to a breakdown of our immune system too. If our body is identifying food as a foreign invader due to gut permeability, we are “fighting off” food instead of viruses and bacteria. And going back to probiotics…improperly digested food is a feeding ground for bad bacteria. So check in with us if you feel like your digestion is anything other than not noticeable.
4) VITAMIN D – If we are spending more time indoors, that means that we are spending less time outdoors. When we are outside in the summer, we are getting natural doses of vitamin D. With vitamin D deficiencies common here in the mid-west, it’s recommended that you test your levels to see if you could benefit from supplementation. Check with your local hospital or clinic to see if Direct Access testing is available, or contact us here to set up a test. So, why is vitamin D important? According to research conducted at the University of Copenhagen, “For T cells to detect and kill foreign pathogens such as clumps of bacteria or viruses, the cells must first be ‘triggered’ into action and ‘transform’ from inactive and harmless immune cells into killer cells that are primed to seek out and destroy all traces of a foreign pathogen. The researchers found that the T cells rely on vitamin D in order to activate and they would remain dormant, ‘naïve’ to the possibility of threat if vitamin D is lacking in the blood.”1
5) HAND WASHING – If you’ve ever watched one of those scary movies about illnesses that take over a country (or read a history book), you know how fast germs can spread. Many illnesses are caused by viruses and bacteria that only require a few teeny-tiny particles to spread. Hand-washing can be a great line of defense as long as it’s done properly. I’m not talking a quick rinse and then a swipe on your pant leg. The water should be warm, apply soap and then for 20 seconds, scrub your hands, fingers, under your finger nails and then thoroughly rinse. When you dry your hands, use a clean towel. If someone in your house is ill with a gastrointestinal illness, make sure that they are changing out the towel every time they use it.
6) SLEEP – We’ve all heard that we need to get a good night’s rest. Why? Good question. There are studies that point to different levels of immune activity that have a positive correlation – essentially the more sleep you get, the better your immune activity. Fevers are also more active in the evening which can be a good thing as that naturally generated heat helps to destroy viruses and bacteria. There is a lot of restoration and healing that happens and our bodies need that time to repair, rebuild and fight. Depriving your body of that precious time could result in a worsening of the severity or duration of your illness – or both.
Now what happens if you do find that you’re feeling under the weather? Good news! Dr. Paulson wrote about how to take care of yourself and your body if you do happen to come down the cold or the flu. You can read all about that here on this blog post.
1 University of Copenhagen. “Vitamin D crucial to activating immune defenses.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100307215534.htm>.