Your immune system’s got your back. And your front. All of you, inside and out
It’s a good thing, too, because you’re surrounded by bacteria all the time. A tiny square inch of your skin can contain 50 million of them. Most are harmless. But some, such as viruses, can be downright dangerous. As a catchall, we call them germs. Americans get more than one billion colds a year. So why is it that we have smartphones but still no cure for colds and flu? It’s because we’re dealing with smart viruses. Any one of hundreds of viruses could launch a cold or flu attack, and chances are that this year’s flu virus won’t be the same as last year’s. That’s because viruses have the ability to constantly morph into new variations, making it nearly impossible to develop a simple cure.
Each kind of germ has an outer layer that’s different than those on other germs. Antibodies your body produced to fight off last year’s flu virus can’t get a grip on this year’s model. So your immune system has to go back to the drawing board and make new antibodies. But the good news is germs can’t fool your immune system twice. Once your body has withstood an attack by a specific germ, the antibody making cells remain on alert. They’re ready to rumble if the same germs show up again.
Last but not least, your immune system makes the almighty fighter interferon. It interferes with invading viruses trying to replicate themselves inside your cells. Interferon also helps activate macrophages and other immune defenses, including natural killer cells (cells that detect and start killing tumor cells) even before antibodies attach to their outsides, providing a crucial and early assault.
Have you been struck by those germ-loving gremlins?
Walk into any place right from now until spring, and guaranteed there will be people coughing, sniffling, runny nosed, teary-eyed, and/or sneezing. Are you the person that catches every cold you come into contact with…even 500 feet away? Or are you the person that can sit next to the germ infested person and still be unscaved? Unless you are the kind of person that enjoys being sick, most of us would prefer to be the latter.
Having raised those questions, there’s still a lot you can do to stay strong and healthy throughout cold and flu season, even if you’ve had a less than favorable sickness track record. You can build up your immune system to ward off cold and flu, with just a few simple preventative tips:
- Wash Your Hands: Washing hands remains the most effective way to protect yourself and your family from colds and flu. Lather, rinse, repeat throughout the day. Do it long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
- Switch To Chemical-Free Cleaners: Think of it this way. You wouldn’t let your kids play with toxic chemicals, so why would you let that baby crawl over a floor that’s just been wiped with them? That’s much more dangerous than the orange juice that was just there. Those toxins being breathed in and absorbed into the skin potentially increase the risk of asthma and allergies.
- Get Enough Sleep: Sleep may be your immune system’s secret weapon, according to recent scientific research. Less than seven hours of sleep a night made people three times more likely to catch a cold than those who got eight or more hours of zzzs.
- Exercise: While very vigorous physical activity (like running a marathon) can put a damper on your immune system, most scientists agree that moderate physical activity actually helps boost the immune cells that fight off invaders.
- Get a massage: Massage lowers cortisol (stress level). A lowered stress level helps build your immune system.
- Fuel Yourself with Good Nutrition: An orange a day (along with strawberries, bell peppers, potatoes, and other vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables) can help keep the doctor away. Lean meat, fish, and other protein sources also provide the amino acids needed to help maintain your immune system. Don’t forget to fill in nutritional gaps with immune supporting nutrients like zinc and vitamins D, A, C and E. Harvard scientists even suggest vitamin D supplements may help reduce the occurrences of colds. The Harvard Vitamin D Study found low vitamin D levels in nearly 20,000 Americans increased their cold and flu risk.
- Power up with Plant Extracts: Scientific research has led to the discovery of a combination of plant extracts that naturally boost the body’s own production of interferon, a component of the immune system that helps fight off viruses. Other plant compounds found in elderberry and echinacea extracts can help, too. Take these when you feel the first sign of something coming on, and continue taking them for about a week as needed.
Your immune system may be complex, but some simple lifestyle habits can help keep it strong. A healthful diet, exercise, supplements, lowering stress, and more can make a difference in maintaining a healthy immune system. Take care of your immune system, so it can take care of you.
Your Resident Health Nut,