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Boost Your Immune System in Time for Flu Season

09/29/2015 12:05 EDT | Updated 09/29/2016 05:12 EDT
Sebastian Kaulitzki via Getty Images
immune defense

With winter cold and flu season upon us, it is a good time to nail down immune-boosting habits to ward off the ills of winter time germs. Emerging research now suggests that diet, exercise, age, psychological stress and herbal supplements may have an impact on the immune systems ability to fight off assaults from invading microorganisms. The following 10 immune tips can help keep you free of illness throughout the coming season.

1) Handy hygiene

Washing hands regularly is a great first step to beating the flu season. Beyond keeping hands clean, good hand hygiene habits include reducing hand contact with others (i.e. hand shakes) and avoiding unnecessarily touching your mouth, eyes and nose. Coughing or sneezing into your elbow, not your hands, is a good way to reduce transmission of illness by hand contamination.

2) Stay Hydrated

Ensure you are taking in enough water and fluids to maintain hydrated status. Dehydration can increase susceptibility to illness and infection and increasing fluid intake with early symptoms of infection can help shorten the course of illness.

3) Layer up

Keep core body temperatures warm by dressing appropriately for the weather as overexposure to cold can reduce immunity.

4) Sleep tight

Ensure you are getting adequate sleep. Most of us require six to eight hours nightly. Sleep deprivation and insomnia have been associated with increased risk of infection.

5) Stress less

Put in place a well-honed stress management system to keep daily life stressors at bay. While there is no magic bullet to eliminate stress, integrating stress-reducing techniques like mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing can help you better cope. High perceived stress levels are associated with reduced immunity and increased risk of infection and disease.

6) Clear the passage

Small hair-like projections on the inner lining of the nose called cilia provide a first line defence against air-borne pathogens. These cilia can be irreversibly damaged by cigarette smoking as well as dust and pollution. For some, chronic congestion of the facial sinuses and nose may require additional drainage efforts throughout wintertime flu season to prevent acute on chronic problems. Sinus rinses and nasal sprays are available without a prescription and work by flushing out and hydrating the sinuses and nasal cavities to reduce infection.

7) Eat colourfully well

New research has shown that micro-nutrient malnutrition, as in a lack of vital minerals and vitamins, is associated with reduced immune function and increased risk of infection. The food colour wheel is used to represent fruits and vegetables across the colour spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, purple, blue, white) that offer a full range of phytonutrients. Many of these colour rich fruits and vegetables such as kale, kiwis, bell peppers, papayas, and tomatoes provide more vitamin C than oranges and offer up phytonutrients that work in a complementary fashion to support immune function and reduce inflammation.

8) Smart Supplements

While a colourful diet may be the foundation of good health, the fork may not always be enough. Several immune-boosting nutrients are not readily available in the diet and higher dosages may be needed of certain micro-nutrients to bolster immunity sufficiently to prevent illness when exposed to pathogens. These nutrients include zinc, selenium, omega 3 and vitamins A, B, C and D. Adding herbal immune extracts such as astragalus, rhodiola, quercetin, turmeric, ginseng and green tea can further help ward off infection and shorten the course of illness if flu symptoms are setting in.

9) Get moving

Regular aerobic exercise can help to improve circulation and lymphatic drainage lowering risk of infection. Facials and lymphatic drainage massage can further help get both blood flow and lymphatics moving.

10) Vaccinate

Vaccination is one of the most potent ways to reduce the likelihood of having severe flu-like symptoms. The flu vaccine needs to be repeated annually as the formulation is updated to ensure adequate protection from the most prevalent strains of flu virus each year. Flu vaccines are usually available by mid-October. For those with heart or lung disease or who are otherwise considered to be high risk or are over 65 years of age, a pneumonia vaccine is recommended.

These 10 immune-bolstering tips are intended to help you combat the flu this season and stay healthy and vibrant. Beyond a healthy lifestyle, it is important to get vaccinated and seek medical care if flu-like symptoms are persisting or bogging you down.

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