Last year during Halloween week I received an email from one of my son's teachers warning me that 6 kids were gone from his class with the stomach flu. By noon that Friday, 8 kids were home sick from his class and the entire elementary seemed to be dropping like flies. Shea was out of state for the weekend and I hosted a birthday party for our youngest (as we did again yesterday). Because of the birthday party, I had put a temporary pause on my zero-sugar policy and was so distracted by the party preparations that I forgot to give my kids their vitamin regimen. Despite my forgetfulness, Saturday night everyone still seemed fine. The girls and I had a sleepover on the couch and we all slept through the night. Sunday came and went. Shea got home around 7p.m., and we all appeared to be well when we went to bed.
Then 11:30p.m. hit.
It had begun. Our school-age kids went down first and the puke buckets had to come out. Thankfully, our youngest only ended up with a fever, which was great considering the other two spent over 12 hours with the buckets. While that episode now feels like a distant memory, I have zero desire to repeat it. In fact, I'm determined to avoid it! Our immune boosting efforts are in full-swing and I thought it would be useful to share the "go to" list that I posted last year as it's all still very relevant. I've added a couple bonus tips for this year as well.
Wash your hands. Every time you enter your house, before touching anything inside, wash. Every time before you eat, wash. Every time you come in contact with saliva, wash. Every time you use a tissue or the bathroom [should be common sense, but sometimes it isn't], wash.
Drink water. Every day drink half your body's weight in ounces of water. For example, if you weigh 150lbs, drink 75oz of water daily. Water helps all of your body's systems function at optimum levels and flushes toxins.
Sleep. Studies consistently show that getting 7-9 hours of sleep [for adults] each night supports the immune system. During sleep your immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress. Sleep deprivation can decrease production of these protective cytokines. Infection-fighting antibodies and cells are also reduced during periods when you are not getting enough sleep. So, your body truly does need sleep to fight infectious diseases.
Cut the sugar. Sugar suppresses our immune system. It has been estimated that a blood sugar level of 120 reduces your immune system by up to 75%, and a blood sugar level of 120 is not uncommon. Even worse, it takes the body a long time to get rid of sugar in the immune system. Your body usually absorbs the glucose into your muscles within a few hours, but it takes longer to flush glucose from the phagocytes [Phagocytes are white blood cells that envelop what is causing an infection, stopping it from spreading and effectively killing it.]. For as long as 4 to 6 hours after eating sugar, your immune system will still be recovering.
Improve Vitamin C Levels. Several cells of the immune system accumulate vitamin C and need the vitamin to perform their task, especially phagocytes and t-cells. As a result, a vitamin C deficiency results in a reduced resistance against certain pathogens while adequate supply enhances several immune system parameters. Food sources high in vitamin c include peppers, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel's sprouts, strawberries, papaya, mangoes, pineapple and oranges. For the cold and flu season, however, an additional vitamin c supplement can be quite beneficial.
BONUS TIP: Christen Sherwood at Journey Health Shop (formerly the Healing House Herb Shop) has a vitamin c concoction made out of rose hips that is fantastic!
Get Your Daily Zinc. Zinc is 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. Most adult women need 8mg daily and men need 11mg. Pregnant and lactating women have a greater need and children need between 2mg and 11mg depending on age and size. Oysters and seafood, red meat and poultry, and beans and nuts are food sources. Additionally, nearly all multivitamin and mineral supplements contain zinc.
Supplement Vitamin D3. Vitamin D isn’t like most other vitamins. Your body can make its own vitamin D when you expose your skin to sunlight. Unfortunately, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, your body doesn't get exposed to sunlight nearly often enough to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D, and vitamin D deficiency is directly correlated with low immune function. Curious if you might be deficient? Check out this resource to determine if it is something you might want to look into. And for information on how to increase your vitamin D levels, here is an additional resource.
Add Elderberry to Your Medicine Cabinet. Elderberries are the fruit of the flowering plant known as Sambucus, more commonly referred to as elder or elderflower. As a potent antioxidant source, elderberries have been shown to boost the immune system and protect against bacteria and infection.
BONUS TIP: Aronia berries have an even higher antioxidant value than elderberry and we carry local aronia concentrate at Simply Nourished.
Sip Some Tea. There are many herbal teas that can help support the immune system, promote detoxification and soothe symptoms of the flu. One herb, in particular, that can be especially helpful in stimulating the immune system to fight off germs is echinacea. However, echinacea is not recommended for use by people with multiple sclerosis, white blood cell disorders, collagen disorders, HIV/AIDS, autoimmune disorders, or tuberculosis. Before taking echinacea, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or health care professional if you have allergies (especially to plants), have any medical condition, or if you take other medicines or other herbal/health supplements. Echinacea may not be recommended in some situations.
BONUS TIP: Again, Christen Sherwood at Journey Health Shop is a great local resource. She is an herbalist and is very familiar with how herbs interact with various medications and conditions.
Give Yourself Bad Breath. Eat as much garlic, turmeric and ginger as you can tolerate. Turmeric, ginger and garlic have anti-inflammatory properties as well as antibacterial and antiviral benefits. They can easily be incorporated into most meals. They can also be steeped into tea or taken in supplement form. Keep in mind, however, you may stain your fingers on the turmeric and your breath [and house] will be fragrant.
Make Sure Your Gut Is Healthy. There is a lot of interaction between the body's immune system and bacteria in the gut. In fact, "A huge proportion of your immune system is actually in your GI tract," explains Dan Peterson (Assistant Professor of Pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine). Other than taking a probiotic supplement, fermented foods and drinks are a great option for getting healthy bacteria into your gut. Kombucha and kefir are the two I incorporate into my regular diet.
With Halloween parties and trick-or-treating this week, it's especially important to be extra intentional about supporting the immune system. Get started today! If you need some help finding any of the options mentioned in this post, stop in to Simply Nourished. Our knowledgable Team would love to help! Simply Nourished is an organic, specialty and local food health market across from City Park in Clear Lake. It is open Monday through Friday 10-6 and Saturday 10-4. We love bringing wellness within reach here in North Iowa!