Consider this famous quote when thinking of boosting your immune system: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates
The summer is long gone and now autumn is here. But, how do you see autumn!?! Autumn has its charm as this is the season when grapes are ready to be tasted and when leaves become more and more colored. However, autumn also has a certain „dark side”. In addition to the fact that a lot of us fall into a strange depressive mood (mainly due to the bad weather conditions like rain, cold etc.), autumn bring the „flu season”.
Flu season is that part of the year in which there is a very high increase in flu cases. This season starts as soon as weather becomes colder. Flu is mainly caused by Influenzavirus A, Influenzavirus B or Influenzavirus C, which are also known as human flu virus strains. During the years, Influenza virus has suffered genetic changes in order to adapt to human hosts. This virus never goes away completely as it passes from person to person.
For those of you that think that this is not really a big problem, I would like to say that flu season, in the U.S. for example, results in more than 200,000 hospitalizations and approximately 35,000 – 40,000 deaths each year. In addition, this season is also responsible for a total expense of more than 10 billion dollars in the U.S. As you can see, this is indeed a serious problem and everyone should consider it as such. So, boosting your immune system should be a priority for everyone especially in this season.
But how can this be explained? What really triggers this flu season to occur? This might be explained by reasons like:
- 1. Cold temperatures make the air drier, which may lead to mucus dehydrate. This prevents the body from expelling virus particles;
- 2. Also due to cold temperatures, viruses resist more on exposed surfaces with which we enter in contact and infected hosts shed the virus for a longer period of time;
- 3. Viruses are more easily transmitted as persons are in close contact due to more time spent indoors. Also, the aerosol transmission of the virus is enhanced when the air is cold and dry (research studies have shown that moist air provokes a degradation of the virus particles).
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) conducted a study on influenza virus and found that the virus has a “butter-lie coating”. This coating melts when entering the respiratory tract. Cold temperatures make the shell harder and, therefore, allow the virus to survive more.
Probably a lot of you are now thinking of how we can defend against this virus. Well, here boosting your immune system plays a very important role. The immune system comprises multiple mechanisms within an organism that protects against diseases by identifying and destroying pathogens, tumor cells etc. The immune system is able to distinguish pathogen agents from healthy cells and tissues.
In order to reduce the risk of infection, we have to make sure that boosting your immune system is a priority.
BEST WAYS OF BOOSTING YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM:
1. Eat lots of vegetables and fruits
- – Foods rich in vitamin C – Besides flu, vitamin C can reduce the risk of dying of premature illnesses. Although the optimum level of vitamin C is 500 mg each day, even small quantities of vitamin C can help. For example, if you include just one vitamin C rich food in your daily diet you can live longer. Some of the best sources of vitamin C are: kiwi, oranges, strawberries, broccoli etc. Beside such fruits and vegetables, vitamin C supplements can also be considered.
- – Eat red foods – Lycopene is an antioxidant that is responsible for the red color of some vegetables (like tomatoes). A study conducted by University of Milan found that this antioxidant keeps white cells in the blood, which helps in the fight with infections.
- – Eat garlic – Before refusing garlic from your meal you should consider that garlic contains more than 25 antibacterial and anti fungal compounds and, therefore, is a great ally in the fight against infections.
- – Eat more fibers – they help especially against digestive infections as they promote friendly bacteria in our gut
- – Drink natural juices (made of fruits and even vegetables) – Usually such juices are full with vitamins and antioxidants and other great substances that help fight infections. For example, cranberry or blueberry juices are full with antioxidants called flavonoids with helps prevent urinary infections.
2. Eat yoghurt
Studies have shown that people who eat at least one yoghurt a day catch a cold more rarely than people who do not eat yoghurt often. This protection is provided by probiotics (friendly bacteria) in yoghurt (like bifidus or acidophilus). Probiotics means “for life” in Greek and refers to living organisms that provide health benefits when consumed in proper quantities.
3. Take nutritional supplements
Taking Echinacea reduces the risk of infection. This plant leads to an increase of immune cells in the blood. Echinacea increases the ability of cells to destroy harmful bacteria and viruses and also activates body reactions meant to increase immune level. It is recommended to take it over limited periods of time with breaks in between.
5. Drink a lot of water
Water prevents infections by keeping respiratory tract mucus membranes moist and healthy. In addition, water helps the flow of lymph in our bodies ( the lymphatic system is responsible for waste disposal by breaking down toxins before passing them into the blood stream – a low intake of water will disturb the flow of lymph in our system, making the body less resistant to infections).
6. Do not take antibiotics too often
Antibiotics are effective against numerous infections. However, they must be used wisely in order to prevent them for causing more harm then good. Although this might sound strange, antibiotics won’t do a thing for viral infections such as flu, in other words, they can’t help you if a virus is responsible for your illness (like flu).
Such products are used for treating many bacterial infections, fungal infections and some parasites. By using antibiotics in improper situations we risk to destroy friendly bacteria within our bodies. In addition, this might lead to developing antibiotic-resistant germs (some effects of antibiotic resistance are: illnesses last longer, the risk of developing complication increases, persons are contagious for longer periods and, therefore, are able to spread the resistant strains bacteria to others, treatments last longer and are more expensive).
7. Wash your hands more often
Especially in cold season, viruses are more resistant on exposed surfaces with which we enter in contact and, therefore, by washing hands more often we reduce the risk of infections. Some studies have been conducted concerning this matter and the results were that people who wash their hands at least 5 times per day reduce the risk of catching a cold or other infections by half.
8. Keep exercising but do not exaggerate
Exercising 30- 40 minutes a day, 3-5 times per week, can make our immune cells more active. Studies have shown that persons who do not exercise get sick more often than persons who do exercise. However, long exercise sessions can do just the opposite. In such long sessions, the level of stress hormones adrenalin (boosts the supply of oxygen and glucose to the brain and muscles) and cortisol (increases blood pressure and blood sugar) rises, leading to a suppress of the immune system activity.
9. Reduce stress level
Stress level has a direct connection with illnesses. Numerous studies have been conducted on this matter and proved that stressed people are more likely to become ill. We have to make sure that we keep stress to a minimum by taking time just to sit back and relax, watch a good movie, read a good book etc. It is good to know that laughter can counteract many of the effects of stress.
10. Get enough sleep
Sleeping less than 6-7 hours per night can increase the risk of catching a cold because during deep sleep your body increases the production of natural killer cells. Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system leaving us vulnerable to diseases (like flu). Also, sleep deprivation increases the level of stress which, again, weakens our immune system.