With Thanksgiving around the corner, now is a great time to start boosting your immune system so you can make it through the Fall and Winter illness-free.
Take Bugs in Order to Fight Off Bugs
It may be hard to believe but around 80% of your immune system resides in your gut. When you stop and think about it, your gut and what you expose it to is one of the few ways that your body integrates something from the outside world into part of you.
One way to support this inherent immune system is by promoting a population of healthy gut bacteria (otherwise known as health gut flora). While it may seem strange to want bacteria to prevent colds and illness, certain strains of bacteria in high enough amounts provide us with lots of benefits. Maintaining healthy gut flora prevents any unwanted bacteria from taking over. In addition to keeping your immune system functioning, a population of healthy gut bacteria help us make some much needed vitamins, breakdown components of food and extract calories, metabolize hormones, and even improve certain mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
So how do you keep this balance of healthy bacteria in your gut? Our gut flora is influenced by many factors including what we eat, where we live, our stress, and more. The key is finding a great quality probiotic. Probiotics should be refrigerated since they are living things so be suspicious of any probiotics that have just been sitting on the store shelf. They should have a variety of strains of bacteria, not just one or two. And they should have a lot of bacteria. Start with a minimum of 25 billion CFU (colony forming units or the way we measure bacteria in probiotics) but have heard more and more reports of people taking as much as 400 billion without any adverse effects. Compare this with the general store brands that seem to have 5 billion CFU on average.
Take your probiotic with food as it helps to dilute your stomach acid so the bacteria have a better chance of surviving the long, windy, and acidic road to your colon. And while probiotics are safe for the vast majority of people, anyone with a severely compromised immune system or suffering from a condition called SIBO, should consult a healthcare professional before supplementing.
Food is Medicine
In addition to the bacteria that occupy our gut, it is equally important what we put into the body. As with almost every health condition, what we eat directly impacts our health, positively and negatively, and the same is true for boosting your immune system.
Study after study has shown that sugar will actually lower your immune system’s ability to fight infection. So while sugar might seem like just the sort of comfort food you need during the cold and flu season, laying off the sugar may help your body fight off any infectious agents you could be exposed to.
If you need more support to avoid sugar, herbs can provide wonderful support. Placing a few drops of Gymnema sylvestre on your tongue and swishing the liquid around in your mouth for 30 seconds will selectively inactivate sweet taste buds for a few hours. This means eating anything sugary will taste terrible and allows you to let any sugar cravings pass.
Sleep is prime healing time so setting aside the time to ensure you get an extra few hours of shut-eye can make a huge difference when it comes to proper immune function.
In America, we are notorious for not sleeping enough and part of our culture has transformed to bragging about how little sleep we get. While that may win you points at the office, not getting the 7-9 hours a night that your body requires, won’t help your immune system function.
Think of sleep as adding to your health bank. We withdraw from it multiple times throughout the day but we have to deposit sleep back in so we’re not chronically over-drafted. If sleep is really a struggle for you, even scheduling a 15-minute nap during the day can provide your immune system with the extra support it needs.
Drinking more water is easily the most common thing I recommend to patients with any health concerns. Your body is approximately 70% water and is used throughout all the different systems of your body. Not getting half your body weight in ounce each day of just water can have a major impact on your energy, weight, digestion, and yep, you guessed it, even your immune system.
Take a moment throughout the day to check-in and, not only acknowledge your thirst, but do something about it. And we discussed earlier, perhaps quench your thirst with a liquid other than sugary drinks. If plain water doesn’t appeal to you, adding lemon, mint, cucumber, strawberries, or even rosemary, can greatly change the flavor without adding extra sugar.
If you struggle to drink enough water, the free app My Water can help. It not only keeps track of what you drink but sends you encouraging reminders to help you make it towards your water goal.
Manage the Stress with Chiropractic Family Wellness Center
While bouts of acute stress can actually help your immune system, long-term chronic stress can depress your immune system, leading to more infections.
Regular chiropractic care can help your body, mind and nervous system better manage stress. Come and see us at our Scarborough, Maine office today to get your spine checked and see where your health could use a boost!