“In studies of cold transmission, people who are chilled are no more likely to get sick than those who were not,” The New York Times says. “It may be that cold weather keeps people indoors, where germs are more likely to catch up with you.”
2020 has proven to be a year of extremes in terms of our health and daily habits. The world went on lock-down to protect us from the new deadly virus, and now as restrictions are being relaxed, we are faced with a new normal of prevention. Fall will arrive in the next month followed by winter. The colder seasons are usually related to an increase in colds and flu. As the quote above shows, it is not the temperature that causes illness, but being inside with others that leads to infections. Today I am starting a small series on ways to improve your immune system.
Harvard Medical School did a great article “Preventing the Spread of Coronavirus” which has a wonderful list of things to do to keep your immune system strong:
- Don’t smoke or vape.
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Take a multivitamin if you suspect that you may not be getting all the nutrients you need through your diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Control your stress level.
- Control your blood pressure.
- If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation (no more than one to two drinks a day for men, no more than one a day for women).
- Get enough sleep.
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and trying not to touch your hands to your face, since harmful germs can enter through your eyes, nose, and mouth.
That pretty much covers smart living anytime, but especially now. Let’s look at vitamins and diet in a little more depth. Discuss any supplements you take with your physician to prevent contra-indications. A good one a day vitamin should include your daily requirement of Vitamin C, zinc, B complex, Vitamin D, and Vitamin E. During the winter months, it is important to be sure your muli-vitamin includes Vitamin D3.
Many people swear by Vitamin C in this quest to stay well. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin not produced by our bodies that supports general health. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for men is 90 mg and for women is 75 mg. Taking massive doses does not guarantee that you will be healthier. Your body can only use so much at a time and the rest is passed in urine. It’s better to take small doses throughout the day. When you take Vitamin C tablets, drink a glass of water as they can be hard on the stomach. Look for the buffered Vitamin C which is listed as “Vitamin C ascorbate” to prevent stomach upset.
Personally, I think getting plenty of Vitamin C in your diet is the best move. Sources of Vitamin C of course include the citrus family, oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes. Many other colorful veggies and fruits also are a good source like strawberries, papaya, kiwi, goji berries, cantaloupe, leafy greens, potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin which decreases in most people in the darker months of winter, especially in northern climates. Vitamin D supports the proper function of the immune system and nervous system. There are 2 types of Vitamin D: Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is largely human-made and added to foods, whereas Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is synthesized in the skin of humans from 7-dehydrocholesterol and is also consumed in the diet via the intake of animal-based foods. Experts feel that Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the preferred type to take and is more beneficial to the body.
Food sources for Vitamin D3 are the fatty fish like tuna, mackeral, and salmon and cheese and egg yolks. Be sure to include them in your diet during the winter months for added protection.
Zinc is a trace mineral found in cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. The body also needs zinc to make proteins and DNA, the genetic material in all cells. During pregnancy, infancy, and childhood, the body needs zinc to grow and develop properly. Since we do not produce zinc, we must obtain it from our diet or our muli-vitamin. Sources of zinc include meats, poultry, and seafood. Some plant foods like legumes and whole grains are also good sources of zinc, but they also contain phytates that can bind to the mineral, lowering its absorption.
Vitamin B6 is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system. Vitamin B6-rich foods include chicken and cold-water fish such as salmon and tuna. Vitamin B6 also is found in green vegetables and in chickpeas, which is the main ingredient in hummus. Since I eat chicken and hummus frequently, I know I’m getting plenty of Vitamin B6.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off infection. In addition to providing cell protection, vitamin E is vital to a functioning immune system. This vitamin also helps protect eyesight. Foods rich in vitamin E include nuts, seeds and spinach.
Mushrooms contain powerful compounds that enhance and balance your body’s ability to fight disease and stay healthy. These fungi are filled with healing antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components that destroy infections, slow down aging, and regenerate nerve cells. HealthLine has a great article, “6 Mushrooms That Act As Turbo-Shots for Your Immune System.” They rate the reishi mushroom as best for the immune system. Reishi may be able do it all: aid in weight loss (as seen in a mouse study), keep the immune system in check, and may even fiercely fight cancer cells. Many people consider reishi the king of mushrooms, but others also have great health benefits. The Academy of Culinary Nutrition‘s Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms: Types, Best Uses, and Recipes includes information on choosing and buying mushrooms, how to use them, and recipes. Expand your diet with a new fabulous mushroom dish while enhancing your body’s immune system.
Herbs and Teas
Teas have been popular for centuries, and traditional wisdom had teas for almost any physical condition. When we hear the word tea, most of us think of black and green teas made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. They certainly have healthy attributes, but let’s talk about herbal and spice teas. If you have a herbal garden, you may make tea with the fresh leaves. You can use leaves from a single plant, like peppermint, or make your own combinations of herbs to infuse. If you don’t grow herbs, dried teas are readily available in most areas.
First consider Tulsi, or Holy Basil, which is the Queen of teas in India. The Spruce has a great post on What is Tulsi? Its Uses, and Recipes with lots of information on this healing tea. Regular consumption of tulsi may lower blood pressure and cholesterol by regulating cortisol levels, reducing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and other related diseases. It can also help relieve headaches and may lessen anxiety and depression for some.
Peppermint Tea naturally supports healthy digestion, which in turns encourages enriched immunity. Take it from assistant professor of pathology at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dan Peterson: “A huge portion of your immune system is actually in your GI tract.” Protect your disgestive track and immune system with the fresh aroma and taste of mint.
If you’ve ever read the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of books, you’ve heard of Rooibos Tea. Rooibos is derived from a plant native to the western coast of South Africa, where it’s long been savored for its rich, distinct taste and health benefits. Part of this is due to its high content of vitamin C, which organically supports a number of immune mechanisms, including the production and function of white blood cells (which attack “invaders”). Rooibos also brims with quercetin and rutin—two bioflavonoids that block the release of histamines.
Echinacea or coneflower tea was a favorite of the American Great Plains Indian tribes. The North American coneflower contains polysaccharides that trigger health-supporting activities, including the stimulation of natural killer cells; overall, it supports healthy immune function and seasonal wellness. I personally drink Traditional Medicine’s Echinacea Plus which is a fabulous combination of echinacea plus elderberry. I wrote about elderberry syrup several years ago and how to make homemade elderberry syrup. With this easy to use tea, I am getting support from two great health fighters. I’ve been drinking a cup daily since mid-March.
Made from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, turmeric tea is thought to be one of the leading ways to consume curcumin, a compound that has been proven to support immune function and enhance overall well-being. Ginger tea aids digestion, helps soothe upset stomachs, and can reduce nausea. While turmeric and ginger teas are sold in most stores, DIY brews also offer an excellent, pure taste.
DIY Turmeric Ginger Tea
Simply boil two cups of water in a small saucepan, and add ½ teaspoon of dried turmeric or freshly-grated turmeric, ½ teaspoon of chopped, fresh ginger, and a dash of cinnamon. Let simmer for 10 minutes before adding the juice from a lemon wedge. You can drink it without sweetener if you are counting calories, but I love to add a teaspoon of local honey, another wonderful way to support your health.
Matcha tea is very popular right now. Matcha is made of young green tea leaves, which are ground into a powder and then whisked with water. Slightly sweet in taste with a fun green color, it holds many of the same health benefits as green tea, but, given that you’re consuming the actual leaves, these are amplified. A natural source of antioxidants, and rich in vitamins and minerals such as manganese and phosphorous, Matcha boosts metabolism, supports healthy cholesterol, supports natural detoxification and helps promote immunity.
In conclusion, a simple rule can help you when choosing fruits and vegetables at the grocery store or farmers market: The more colorful the fruits and vegetables are, the better. If you eat “the rainbow” of produce, you will be getting many anti-oxidants and flavonoids to help your body fight disease. Choose a variety of meats including tuna and salmon and add some herbal teas to your routine. To your health!
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