Keeping Up Your Immunity

By Maeshowe Pierce, ND

Its that time of year again. The big transition into fall has begun. School starts, the weather gets cooler, the days get shorter and the warmth and carefree days of summer start to fade in our memory. With this comes colds and flus and the sluggishness of fall and winter. And while it is natural to go more inward, slow down, put on a few pounds and take a step back, it doesn’t mean we feel we have time for this. Herein lies the breaking point. Its time for more recitals and sports events and festivities and now you are sick! Well, let’s take a few precautions to make sure this doesn’t occur this year. And if it does, it is shorter and much easier to recover.

Simple tips to keep your immune system strong:

*Get lots of sleep. New parents are probably laughing, and I know from experience as well, but maintaining regular sleep hours is vital to your health. Every hour you go to bed before midnight counts as two hours of sleep! This is because growth hormone is made before midnight, which helps to replenish and restore your body. Cortisol is made after midnight, which is a stress hormone. So getting to bed even by 11pm will give your immune system a boost! And if crying babies are a factor, try trading off nights with your partner before you get too run down.

*Exercise. Now I’m not saying you have to run a marathon or lift 100 pounds. Just get your body moving every day. And try to sweat while you are at it. Exercising has been shown to increase your white blood cells, which help fight infection. Sweating is a great way to get rid of toxins that naturally store up and the movement will get your blood pumping and help to increase circulation and move your lymph.

*Drink lots of water. A good rule of thumb is half your body weight in ounces. Unless you have kidney issues (always check with your doctor), drinking lots of water helps to flush out toxins and keep you hydrated.

*End showers in cold. Now my patients shudder when I say this, especially in the winter. But actually, ending your shower with a rinse of cold helps to bring your blood back to your core where all your vital organs are. This will boost your immune system and actually help to keep you warmer throughout the day. Make sure you are warm enough before you turn on the cold and start by making your shower luke warm and work your way to cold over time.

*Dry skin brush. This is another way to move your lymph system and promote circulation, which helps to boost immunity. Take a skin brush or dry, coarse washcloth, and before your shower, rub your skin with medium light pressure working in the direction towards your heart.

*Keep your nasal passages moist. Some of you may be familiar with a neti pot already. This is a great way to flush your sinuses and to keep the tissues hydrated. Winter air is often dry, even in Oregon. When your sinuses get dry, they tend to crack and possibly bleed. This is a great way for bacteria to get in and cause sinus infections and colds. If you are intimidated by neti pots try using a simple nasal spray that is just saline. This works just as well for hydrating. If you do get sick, the neti pot will help in flushing the mucus and quicken healing.

*Manage your stress levels. This is always challenging, especially with children, but stress increases cortisol, which suppresses your immune system. This is why when you finally take a moment to relax, you often get sick. So make sure to take a little time each day for yourself. Go for a walk, watch a comedy, chat with a friend, drink some tea, take deep breaths, whatever sounds relaxing to you.

*Eat a diet rich in vitamin C and zinc and avoid sugar and caffeine. Vitamin C and zinc are great for your immune system and for fighting illnesses once you have one. Vitamin C is found in rose hips (great for a tea), orange and red fruits and vegetables, dark leafy greens. Zinc is found in calf livers, beans and pumpkin seeds along with other foods. Limit your sugar intake, including processed grains, because sugar feeds bacteria. And limit caffeine because it stimulates your adrenals increasing cortisol, which will wear you out.

*Take your probiotics. Keeping a good amount of healthy bacteria in your gut will help ward off dangerous bacteria. Make sure you use a trusted brand to ensure its efficacy. Ask an ND if you are unsure.

*Take your vitamin D. Vitamin D is key in the function of your immune system. Ask your doctor how much you should take.

Always make sure to consult with your doctor when someone is sick for more than a day or two, has a temperature of over 101 degrees F, has a cough, has a rash or is just not them self. Trust your gut when it comes to your kids and yourself. If you feel something is wrong, do not worry about over reacting. You know best and it is always better to be safe than sorry. It’s also great to establish a relationship with a doctor before you get sick. Make sure you are on the same page and that you feel heard. Check with your doctor about their favorite remedies and medicines to have on hand at home for when you do get sick.

Colds and flus are a drag but they are often your body telling you to take it easy. And for children it is often an opportunity to build a stronger immune system. Listen to your body, trust your body and take the time to care for yourself. The sooner you can boost your immune system, the better the chance your body has to fight off sickness.  Start today!  

Link to Doctor Pierce’s Bio: