Colds and Flu, How to Support Your Immune System

 In Being Healthy
Person Ill from Colds and Flu

Colds and Flu, How to Support Your Immune System

Cold and flu season is upon us. There are many ways that you can support your immune system during this time. This includes the flu shot, probiotics, effective herbal supplements, healthy food, and even a good night’s sleep.

The flu shot is very popular, especially with those that are more at risk of complications after an infection. The ideal candidates for a flu shot are individuals that have compromised immune systems, heart disease, or diabetes. Getting a flu vaccine is best done before the flu begins spreading in the community.

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The flu shot is very popular, especially with those that are more at risk of complications after an infection. The ideal candidates for a flu shot are individuals that have compromised immune systems, heart disease, or diabetes. Getting a flu vaccine is best done before the flu begins spreading in the community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does recommend the flu shot for healthcare workers with direct patient contact, pregnant women, caregivers of children younger than 6 months, children, and adults under 24. The CDC also recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season.

A flu shot contains an agent called an antigen that elicits an immune response in your body. This antigen is incubated in fertilized hen’s eggs after they get inoculated with this year’s predicted version of the flu virus.

Upon vaccination, your body will create it’s own antibodies against these strains of the virus. This is what protects you later. It takes about two weeks after your are vaccinated to create these antibodies. Since the exact flu strains that will be going around aren’t known before hand, it is an educated guess as to which strains to be used. The success of the vaccine depends upon matching the ones that we end up getting with the ones injected into the eggs.

You will need a flu vaccine every year. Not only do the viruses change each season, your body’s ability to fight the flu off after a vaccine can weaken over time.

Some physicians will advise pregnant women and infants to opt for a single dose mercury-free vaccine which comes in a pre-filled syringe. Other individuals simply choose not to get the flu shot at all out of a concern for the use of a preservative called thimerosal. Thimerosal contains mercury.

If you are generally healthy and want to avoid the flu vaccine, you could focus on boosting your immune system. Improving the quality of your lifestyle will help, including more pleasure, relaxation, eating fresh and nutrient-dense foods, and staying well hydrated. Make sure you limit processed foods.

Getting sick in the first place can often be avoided by taking care of the way we eat, keeping in good shape, sleeping well every night, and taking a few nutritional supplements. Probiotics can be very helpful at supporting the immune system. This is important during seasonal colds and flu, as well for those with allergies. Probiotics directly support a healthy gut.

It’s been said that 70 to 80 percent of our immune cells are located in the gut. This protective environment identifies and attacks a variety of threats, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites, while distinguishing them from our own tissue.

Supporting your immune response can not only reduce duration and severity of colds and flus, it can lower the incidence of developing these in the first place. Getting enough sleep is one of the most effective ways to support our immune system. Some disease fighting substances are released or created only when you sleep. Repairing and growing new tissue happens at this time. Even short sleep deprivation causes undue stress on the body.

During times of prolonged stress, our bodies produce too much cortisol which creates chronic inflammation. This can lower signals that are critical to immune cell response. Short term inflammation is one of our first immune responses in order to create a barrier against the spread of infection and promote the clearing of pathogens. This is helpful. But long term inflammation is destructive.

Be careful what you eat. Avoid sugars and flour, especially when you are starting to feel sick. A clean diet that is rich in nutrients, minerals and antioxidants, like Vitamin C, is essential. You can also support yourself by taking a multivitamin. I suggest you pick one that has a recommended dosage of at least three capsules a day, ideally six.

Increasing dosages of other nutrients can also be supportive. Vitamin D3 has antimicrobial properties that help fight against pathogens. Vitamin C is a well know antioxidant and must be taken as the body does not produce it. This vitamin produces beneficial effects on virtually all of your immune system’s cells. Fish oil is another source of D and is shown to enhance the function of immune cells.

Vitamin A has a profound effect on your immune system, particular the surface of your digestive track and leads to immune tolerance across the gut lining. This is a key to being able to consume a wide range of foods and not react adversely. Zinc Citrate is an important component of the enzymes involved in tissue repair and may reduce the duration of a cold by 50%.

Probiotics support a healthy gut flora. This is a major defense against invaders and integral to the immune system. I consider probiotics foundational to optimal health. It is important to get an effective one though. Probiotics with more than 15 strains will reduce the potency per strain. Typically, I like to find one that has between 6 and 12 strains. But when I’m not feeling well I’ll even take one with just 3 strains in order to increase the benefit. Make sure you ask if potency of your chosen probiotic is at expiration or manufacture date as this make a big difference in quality.

Beta glucans, like those extracted from mushrooms, are considered immune modulators. These activate without overstimulating your system. Mushrooms, such as maitake, shitake, and reishi have been highly effective for me when battling an infection.

Natural herbs can have broad spectrum effects against viruses and bacteria. Some of these immune boosters include astragalus, echinacea, green tea extract, elderberry, andrographis, and goldenseal. Olive leaf is another great one and I use a spray of this to reach directly to my throat.

You can support your body and be prepared to fend off an attack, whether you choose a flu shot, probiotics, mushrooms, or a good night’s sleep. Stop by Sandpoint Super Drug and talk anytime.

by Scott Porter, Pharm. D

Scott Porter, Pharm. D., is a functional medicine pharmacist and is the director of the Center for Functional Nutrition at Sandpoint Super Drug. He emphasizes integrating diet, exercise, and nutrition with science-based medicine for optimal health and well-being.

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