Your immune system is your best friend when you want to help protect your body against colds, influenza and other common illnesses that often strike young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Keep in mind, if you don’t eat well and exercise, you might as well consider yourself compromised.
Don’t worry about labelling yourself; that isn’t important. It is more important you understand the steps you have to take to lead a healthier and cleaner life. Here is how you do that.
Step 1: Wash Your Hands
It’s no joke. The first step is the easiest step to follow, and you may feel like rolling your eyes.
However, the #1 way people get sick is by hand-to-hand contact. You may shake the hand of someone that is ill and forget to wash your hands before you eat your midday snack.
You may hold your child’s hand while going to the park, play on the equipment (which may contain several hundred different kinds of viruses or bacteria) and then sit down for a picnic without washing your hands.
These are bad habits, very bad habits. These are the kind of habits that will cause you to become ill. You and every member of your family should always wash your hands, especially if someone in the house is sick. Here are some times where it is critical for you to wash your hands.
Any time you go out of doors and return home. This is especially true if you go to crowded places.
Any time you and/or your children go to the park. If you want to have a picnic and there is nowhere handy to wash hands, then pass around some moist towlettes. You can find these almost anywhere. These are great for use when on-the-go. Another new invention is miniature bottles of sanitizer. You can buy pocket sized sanitizer and give one to each member of the family. You just squirt a tiny bit in your palms and rub them clean, no water or rinsing required. Some even come with built in lotion or aloe to promote softness for your hands during cold winter months.
When you go out to eat. Any time you decide to go out to eat you should wash your hands before you eat your food. Again, this is an environment where you can easily use a moist towel or take a trip to the restroom to clean up before you eat.
When caring for a loved one that is ill. Sometimes while caring for the people we love most, we forget how important it is to care for ourselves. However, you can spread illness by caring for someone and then touching another person if you do not wash your hands.
When handling pets or pet material. Pets are lovely to have, but they often harbor many diseases. Make sure you wash your hands after touching the family dog.
Before planning and preparing meals. You should always wash your hands before and after handling food products you plan to eat or to serve others. If you are ill you may contaminate everyone else in the household. Be especially careful when preparing foods that have a meat and a vegetable part. Raw meat may harbor many diseases including salmonella or E. coli to name a few. Make sure you do not use the same cutting board when preparing vegetables compared with meats. Each should have its own special cutting board.
Step 2 – Eat Immune Boosting Foods
There are many immune boosting foods anyone can eat. These foods will not cure a cold immediately, but they may prepare your body to fight harder against diseases.
Most people know that fruits, whole grains and vegetables top the list of must eat items. Some people believe that chicken soup makes you well when you are sick.
Other people still live by the old adage “starve a cold and feed a fever.” So what should you eat? Here is a list of the foods that are most likely to result in better health. These foods have proven beneficial for bolstering one’s overall wellness, which in turn may help boost the odds you will be able to fight infection or viruses if they attack.
Fish or Flax – these foods provide essential fatty acids, which are tiny substances that are wonderful for reducing inflammation in the body, a common cause for illness. While you can take a supplement containing Omega-3 fatty acids (a key essential fatty acid) you can also get essential fatty acids from your diet. Some good sources of fatty acids in food include fatty fishes like tuna, salmon and mackerel.
Yogurt – yogurt contains ingredients called probiotics that help balance the flora in the digestive tract. When the flora in the body becomes uncontrolled, diseases like yeast infections or UTI become common.
Mushrooms – Eastern medical practitioners often use Shitake mushrooms to bolster the immune system. Most mushrooms contain vitamin B and many other essential nutrients. You will benefit whether you eat the Shitake variety or any other variety, as long as you incorporate them into an overall healthy diet.
Fresh fruits – especially blueberries, strawberries and bananas, all of which contain powerful ingredients to bolster the immune system and help the body fight back against disease. Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries contain many antioxidants; theses are substances that reduce free radical damage. Free radical damage is damage that occurs on the surface of an object. Free radical damage can occur from too much unprotected exposure to the sun or other environmental pollutants. Bananas contain plenty of potassium, which helps balance the electrolytes in your body.
Seaweed – some believe seaweed (often used in Eastern dishes like sushi) contains ingredients that bolster the action of T cells in the body; these are disease fighting cells. Seaweed may also cause the body to produce more antibodies, which are a type of white blood cell that helps fight disease and infection.
Herbs – herbs are powerful substances anyone can use to flavor dishes and combat disease. There are certain herbs like cumin, cayenne and cilantro that may help bolster circulation and improve one’s immunity. This is especially true of cayenne, which heats the body. Some believe cayenne may help increase the metabolism also, which is why it is an ingredient in many natural health supplements promoting weight loss benefits.
Green Tea – this tea, like many other teas, is a powerhouse of antioxidants. Black tea also contains many beneficial antioxidants, but studies suggest green tea is best. You can buy it decaf or caffeinated. Green tea is often used in weight loss products because many believe it stimulates the metabolic system. The antioxidants in the tea may help ward off infection or illness. Sipping tea with a bit of honey and lemon while sick can soothe an itchy, red or sore throat.
Water – it may sound crazy, but many people mistake thirst for hunger and overeat. Water, pure, filtered and clean water is one of the best substances you can drink if you want to stay well or get better faster. Water hydrates the body. Most people, especially those living in dry climates, do not drink enough water. Water is essential for every biological process that occurs in the body. Water helps the digestive system work properly.
It helps your skin feel healthy and it helps your body recover from illness. If you don’t like the taste of water there are many products now promoting water with added flavors you can try. Just be sure you don’t indulge in one that has a lot of calories, or you will pack on pounds. If you are dehydrated however, some people find an electrolyte enhanced drink like Gatorade or similar products help replenish the system. You can even drink some water with a pinch of sea salt and lemon to help balance the electrolytes in your body.
Garlic and Onion – fresh garlic has many immune boosting properties, whether you take it as a supplement or as a whole food. If you get fresh garlic and fry it or add it to favorite foods including sauces, you will give your immune system a power boost. Garlic has antifungal, antibacterial and energy boosting qualities. When combined with onion in light broth, many people find it helps relieve sinus congestion or lessens the amount of time they suffer from a cold. When in doubt, always go for the garlic, and take a breath freshener with you while out and about.
Oats and Barley – These are whole grains containing loads of a healthy fiber that contains antioxidants and antimicrobial ingredients. Many feel oats and barley are more beneficial then Echinacea. Some studies suggest oats and barley may be helpful with people with compromised immune systems, or those that are susceptible to the flue and similar illnesses.
This list is far from comprehensive, but it does give you an idea of the types of foods you can eat that are most likely to result in better health. You should think about eating whole foods rather than processed or packaged foods, as many processed foods (even if fortified with vitamins) contain too much fat and too many preservatives.
Whole foods include foods that are in their whole state; they are natural, minimally processed and good for you. You can find grains, vegetables and lean proteins that are whole foods. Look for meat that does not contain much in the way of antibiotics. Many meats processed by traditional stores are laden with hormones to help the cows providing the meat and milk to grow.
These hormones do not disappear; so, if you feed your child whole milk that has been pasteurized and comes from a cow that feeds on antibiotics or growth hormones, your child may ingest the same hormones. Some researchers believe this is one reason why so many young adolescents are hitting puberty much earlier in life.
Step 3 – Take Your Vitamins & Supplements
Eating well is critical to your health; so is taking the right vitamins and supplements. During various stages of our life we all need a little extra pizzazz. You should always talk with your healthcare provider before you use any over-the-counter supplement.
This is especially true if you take prescription medications regularly, because some supplements or vitamins may negatively interact with each other. Some supplements may reduce or increase the side effects of prescription medications, as can some foods. So be sure you talk to your doctor before you try any of these.
A qualified healthcare provider can also guide you by telling you how much of a vitamin or supplement you need to take to realize better help or to bolster your immune system.
Below is a list of some of the more common supplements recommended to people for boosting the immune system.
Probiotics – Sometimes referred to as “acidophilus” or other related substances, probiotics help balance the natural flora or good bacteria that resides in the body. Often when someone takes antibiotics, the antibiotic kills off all bacteria in the body, both good and bad. Unfortunately, good bacteria are needed for proper digestion and elimination. Some studies suggest the use of probiotics in children and in adults may reduce digestive disease risk, improve immunity to common ailments and may even reduce the number of infectious diseases that cause fever in people that take them regularly[i].
Omega-3 fatty acid – a supplement containing omega-3 like fish oil or flax seed oil can improve your overall health and wellness. Essential fatty acids like this also help reduce inflammation in the body. Often doctors recommend patients with arthritis or related illnesses take an anti-inflammatory agent like essential fatty acids.
Vitamin C – vitamin C is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get your daily serving of immune boosting ingredients. There is much controversy in the health community about how much vitamin C is enough vitamin C to protect the body. One way to gauge this is to take one tablet a day ,and increase your dose until you feel abdominal discomfort. However, this may not work for all people. It is best you speak with your healthcare professional about the proper dose of vitamin C for you based on your health and body weight.
Echinacea – this herb has been promoted as a virtual panacea for all ailments. If taken regularly during a cold it may help reduce the length or severity of a cold. You can buy it as an herb or in capsule and tincture formulations. Most healthcare providers recommend you do not take this year ‘round, because it may lose its ability to fight disease if taken daily. If you are ill, you might consider taking it for a week and then taking a week off to see how well you do. Studies about Echinacea are controversial; some people swear by its effectiveness and others doubt it helps at all. Keep in mind all bodies are different. If you take it and it seems to help, then use it. If you find it doesn’t then try something else.
Goldenseal – this is a powerful herb that you should use with caution. Manufacturers note it has antibacterial and antiseptic properties. It can cause digestive upset, and should not be taken during pregnancy as it can promote contractions or early labor. Goldenseal is a species that is dying out, so it is important to take it when needed, and to only take as much as you need to feel well. A trained herbalist can work with you to find out what the best dose is for your body type.
Zinc – many people have zinc deficiencies which may cause fatigue and lethargy. Many cold formulas at stores now offer zinc as a primary ingredient. This is true of many tablets used to soothe a sore throat. It is sometimes difficult to get enough zinc from the food you eat, so if you are sick you may find it helps to take a little extra zinc. Often you can find a zinc lozenge.
If you want to learn more about supplements and herbs that may help bolster your immune system you should consider finding a qualified natural healthcare provider or consult with an herbalist before you buy anything.
You will find there are many other supplements on the market that claim they boost health and wellness. Some of these contain a mixture of ingredients or herbs and natural vitamins and minerals. Before you buy a supplement after hours of searching the shelves of a health food store, talk to a qualified herbalist or other health care practitioner. He or she can help you decide what, if any, supplement will help you best as you try to overcome your illness. Only someone that is qualified and understands basic anatomy and physiology, and the drug interactions likely to occur when someone takes an herb with a medication, can really assist you as you try to find the best immunity formula to suit your needs.
You can also ask what herbs you can use or foods you can use to help prevent disease (like shitake mushrooms and seaweed). Some foods and supplements (including garlic) are sometimes better taken as a preventive medicine than as a cure for any illness.
Speaking of garlic, you may also consider adding more garlic to your diet, whether in the form of a capsule or raw garlic. Garlic acts in much the same way that goldenseal does; many consider it natures natural antibiotic. Just be careful not to eat too much at once because it may upset your stomach.
Many newer supplements containing garlic are now odorless and tasteless, so you don’t have to worry about scaring off the vampires with your garlic perfume, if you will.
Now that you have an idea of what types of supplements you can take to improve your immunity, let’s look at the next two steps you can take to help your immune system punch out disease. Are you ready?
Gentle motions performed through Tai Chi, Yoga or a practice called Qigong (another type of Eastern exercise involving low-impact movement of energy) are sometimes more helpful for boosting immunity that vigorous exercise, which may actually increase the stress hormones circulating in your system. Gentle motion exercises as these are helpful for providing your body with more energy, which means you have more ability to fight off infection and feel your best. You can enjoy these exercises as much or as little as you want.
You can visualize disease or a chronic illness any way you want; the goal is to focus on getting rid of the cells responsible for your sickness or the virus and bacteria responsible for your lethargy. You can also perform visualizations where you imagine what your body would look like in a healthy state. You can imagine your perfect body, and then imagine you accomplishing any task you want with your perfect body. Many people with strong immune systems imagine their body is healthy whether it is or not.
Your subconscious can “trick” your brain into thinking you are healthy even if you are not healthy. It sounds strange, but it can happen. Doctors are using visualization techniques in hospitals to help patients recover faster. There are even studies suggesting visualization helps improve medical health and outcomes among patients with chronic illnesses.
It is really a matter of mind over matter – in a literal way.
Those opposing such techniques suggest visualization offers nothing more than a placebo would. The placebo effect is the feeling of something positive changing without anything actually changing. This can happen for many reasons. If people are given a medication and told it will cure their disease, they are more likely to realize positive health outcomes whether or not they receive medication or a sugar pill (at least in some cases).
The placebo effect does not happen for everyone, but it might work for you, even if you do not believe in visualizations to boost your immunity. What is the worst thing that can happen? You may end up right where you started, or you may find you feel a thousand times better