Between May and July 2017, more than 300 severe flu cases were reported by Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection, compared with 50 in the same period last year. Experts say mutations in the influenza virus were to blame, meaning that that those who were vaccinated were not getting the protection they hoped for. Besides getting the vaccine, what else can we do to protect our health?
Your immune system protects you from infectious bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that cause disease and even death. “The strength of your immune system is what determines who gets sick and who doesn’t,” explains Woodson Merrell, MD, director of integrative medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. We know that adequate sleep, regular exercise, limiting alcohol consumption and not smoking are essential to good health, but what more can we do to improve our immune system?
To get started, consider the following:
1) Are you deficient in micronutrients? Micronutrient deficiencies are associated with an impaired immune response and higher incidence of infection. Deficiencies can stem from reduced food intake (due to eating disorders, dieting, etc.), excessive consumption of junk/ processed food, an imbalanced diet or impaired/ weak digestion. Zinc, selenium, iron, vitamins A, C, D, E, B6 and folic acid in particular help the immune system work properly. To ensure you are getting adequate micronutrients, eat whole foods with adequate protein, good fats and a variety of vegetables and fruits. Include immune-boosting foods such as garlic, onions, ginger, dark green vegetables, shiitake/ maitake/ reishi mushrooms and berries in your diet. If you suspect you are deficient in certain nutrients, talk to your doctor and get tested.
2) How important is vitamin D? Researchers in Japan have found that besides getting the annual flu shot, vitamin D is also a potent flu-fighter. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial comparing vitamin D3 supplements (1200 IU/day) with placebo in school-aged children, researchers found that the children receiving the sunshine vitamin had a 42% reduction in getting influenza A compared to those not receiving it. The study also found that the group not getting the vitamin D had six times more asthma attacks. “Vitamin D helps your body produce a protein called cathelicidin that fights bacteria and viruses,” says Carlos Camargo, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Other studies show that people with adequate levels of vitamin D are less likely to get the flu, and when they do, they tend to recover faster compared to those who are deficient. In Dr. Yik’s practice, she finds that many adults and children in Hong Kong are deficient in vitamin D, regardless of how much sunshine they get. Before you start taking vitamin D supplements though, get your level checked so you can supplement at the correct dosage. Too much vitamin D puts you at a higher risk for kidney stones.
3) Choose the right type of probiotic. Most people know that probiotic supplementation can help maintain a strong immune system, but what you may not know is that different strains of probiotics treat different conditions, so it’s important to find the right type. A supplement with various probiotic strains including a high(er) amount of Lactobacillus rhamnosus is beneficial for boosting immunity.
4) Certain essential oils such as clove and eucalyptus have immune-enhancing properties. Some choose to diffuse it while others use direct or indirect inhalation. For topical use, always read the labels carefully and seek a certified aromatherapist if unsure.
5) Recurrent infections- colds/ flu, ear infections, herpes/ cold sores, warts, etc.- may be pointing to a stressed system. Mental stress, deep sadness or anger will raise a hormone in our body called cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels will slow down the rate at which immune cells multiply. This leaves us deficient in infection-fighting cells, making us more vulnerable to attack by foreign invaders. Loneliness can also make you more prone to illness. “Lonely people often have high stress levels, which can have a negative effect on the immune system,” says Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University. While deep breathing exercises, meditation, massage and other stress-management techniques help to lower cortisol levels temporarily, nutraceuticals and adaptogens may be necessary to restore healthy cortisol levels and rebuild your system. Click here to learn more about unmanaged stress.
Always remember to wash your hands regularly with soap and avoid touching your face/ nose/ mouth. If you are sick, seek medical attention. Dr. Ardyce Yik ND helps adults and children rebuild immunity, naturally. Click here to learn how she can help you achieve and maintain optimal health.
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2103878/how-worried-should-you-be-about-hong-kongs-unusual, https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/177984, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2646211/, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/immunity, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3755751/