With the beautiful colors of the fall season and the wonderful fresh smells, there are some strings attached that come along with the fall season. Colder temperatures and pressure from upcoming storms bring in a new factor to our habits and to our body's immune system. As we try to shift along with the changing season and anticipate winter, stress levels can raise and our own immune systems can also be compromised. Dietary habits might change from cold summer salads to warm comforting soups. All the change can be that cold/flu season. I have been beginning to hear around of friends and family getting sick with the fall flue or even contracting the latest version of COVID.
When we hear of close ones and others around getting sick, we definitely get a bit wiry about how we can stay away from the days we dread. Worry no more. There are many ways we can build our immunity in the midst of the flu season, but also take care of ourselves to stay healthy.
First, let's get to know a little about our immune system:
The human body has a series of nonspecific defenses that make up the innate immune system. These defenses are not directed against any one pathogen but instead, provide a guard against all infections.
The first line of defense
The body's most important nonspecific defense is the skin, which acts as a physical barrier to keep pathogens out. Even openings in the skin (such as the mouth and eyes) are protected by saliva, mucus, and tears, which contain an enzyme that breaks down bacterial cell walls.
The second line of defense
If a pathogen does make it into the body, there are secondary nonspecific defenses that take place.
An inflammatory response begins when a pathogen stimulates an increase in blood flow to the infected area. Blood vessels in that area expand, and white blood cells leak from the vessels to invade the infected tissue. These white blood cells, called phagocytes engulf and destroy bacteria. The area often becomes red, swollen, and painful during an inflammatory response.
When a pathogen has invaded, the immune system may also release chemicals that increase body temperature, producing a fever. Increased body temperature may slow or stop pathogens from growing and helps speed up the immune response.
Specific defense: the adaptive immune system
When pathogens are able to bypass innate immune defenses, the adaptive immune system is activated.
Cells that belong in the body carry specific markers that identify them as "self" and tell the immune system not to attack them.
Once the immune system recognizes a pathogen as "non-self," it uses cellular and chemical defenses to attack it. After an encounter with a new pathogen, the adaptive immune system often "remembers" the pathogen, allowing for a faster response if the pathogen ever attacks again.
Specific immune responses are triggered by antigens. Antigens are usually found on the surface of pathogens and are unique to that particular pathogen. The immune system responds to antigens by producing cells that directly attack the pathogen, or by producing special proteins called antibodies. Antibodies attach to an antigen and attract cells that will engulf and destroy the pathogen.
The main cells of the immune system are lymphocytes known as B cells and T cells. B cells are produced and mature in the bone marrow. T cells are also produced in bone marrow, but they mature in the thymus.
Steps of viral infection
Viruses reproduce by infecting their host cells, providing instructions in the form of viral DNA or RNA, and then using the host cell's resources to make more viruses.
The virus recognizes and binds to a host cell via a receptor molecule on the cell surface.
The virus or its genetic material enters the cell.
The viral genome is copied and its genes are expressed to make viral proteins.
New viral particles are assembled from the genome copies and viral proteins.
Completed viral particles exit the cell and can infect other cells.
Common mistakes and misconceptions
Not all bacteria are pathogens. Most bacteria are actually harmless and, in fact, we would not survive without them! Bacteria help us digest food, produce vitamins, and act as fermenting agents in certain food preparations. Some bacteria also fill niches that would otherwise be open for pathogenic bacteria. For example, the use of antibiotics can wipe out gastrointestinal (GI) flora. This allows competing pathogenic bacteria to fill the empty niche, which can result in diarrhea and GI upset.
Some diseases have been nearly eliminated through the use of vaccines. However, this does not mean that we should stop vaccinating against these diseases. Most of these diseases still do exist in the human population, and without the continued use of vaccines, people are at risk of getting and spreading the disease.
Some people may think that vaccines provide permanent immunity to a disease. For some diseases, a single vaccine is sufficient, but for many diseases you must get vaccinated more than once to be protected. For example, the flu vaccine becomes less effective over time because of how rapidly the flu virus mutates. Therefore, the flu shot’s formulation changes each year to protect against specific viruses that are predicted to be prominent each year.
So how can we defend our immune systems and help them build to be strong?
Colds can occur at any time but are more common during the winter months. In the United States, adults experience an average of 2–3 coldsTrusted Source every year, while children tend to get more.
1. Drink plenty of fluids The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source recommends drinking plenty of fluids when a person has a cold. or if you know someone near who has one and you want to stay healthy,
The body needs water to carry out all its essential functions, including fighting off infection. Without sufficient water, people will begin to experience symptoms of dehydration, which can make a cold feel even worse. aim to drink plenty of water and other liquids, such as broths and herbal teas.
2. Get plenty of rest
THis is where I come in and say that SLEEP IS YOUR FRIEND!
if you feel something coming on or know of someone in your house with a cold, you should get plenty of sleep and rest. This will give the immune system the best chance of fighting off the infection. A 2015 study assessed the association between sleep and susceptibility to the common cold using 164 healthy participants. Each underwent a one-week sleep assessment before receiving a dose of rhinovirus via a nasal dropper. Those who had fewer than 5 hours of sleep per night had a 4.5 times greater risk of developing the common cold than those who slept for more than 7 hours per night. The researchers conclude there was a link between shorter sleep duration and increased susceptibility to the common cold.
3. Manage stress People with stress-related disorders may have a higher risk of developing infections, as stress can compromise the immune system. Managing stress might be one way to reduce the risk of a cold. Finding ways to manage stress can help boost the body’s defenses against cold viruses and other pathogens. Some tips for managing stress include:
deep breathing exercises
mindfulness and meditation
taking a warm bath before bed
4. Eat a balanced diet Food is our Medicine.
A balanced and varied diet will provide the nutrients the body needs to keep the immune system strong. A strong immune system is better able to fight off infections. The Department of Health and Human ServicesTrusted Source outlines the following dietary recommendations in their 2020-2025 dietary guidelines:
a variety of vegetables from all subgroups, including:
dark green, leafy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, starchy vegetables
legumes, fruits, grains, comprising at least 50% whole grains, whole local dairy, or fortified soy beverages,
a variety of protein-rich foods, such as seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts and. seeds, non-GMO organic soy products, healthy oils
5. Eat honey Honey has antioxidant and antimicrobial effects that may help combat infections. A 2021 study found that honey was more effective than other common treatments at improving the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. The substance also creates a thin film over the mucous membranes, which may help relieve throat pain and inflammation. To help ease a sore throat or cough, a person can try stirring a tablespoon of honey into a cup of hot water or tea. 6. Increase vitamin D levels There is some evidence that people with adequate vitamin D levels are less likely to get respiratory infections than those with lower levels. Natural sunlight helps the body synthesize vitamin D. However, sunlight can be scarce in some parts of the world, particularly during winter. If a person struggles to get enough sun exposure, they may find it helpful to take a vitamin D supplement. 7. Take zinc A 2012 review of 14 scientific studies investigated the effectiveness of zinc as a treatment for the common cold. The research found that people who took zinc supplements experienced a shorter duration of cold symptoms than those who took a placebo. Specifically, their cold symptoms lasted an average of 1–2 days shorter. 8. Take vitamin C A 2013 review investigated whether taking vitamin C reduces the incidence, severity, or duration of the common cold. The study found that taking at least 200 mg per day of vitamin C did not reduce the risk of getting a cold. However, it did appear to reduce the duration of cold symptoms by an average of 8% in adults and 14% in children. This translates to approximately one fewer day of symptoms.
Now knowing some ways we can fend off the cold, how can we ensure to keep building our immune systems to remain to be strong and withstand this flu season?
10 tips to help build and keep a healthy immune system:
1) Good gut health may be key.
80% of your immune system is in your gut. A Mediterranean-style diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods and antioxidants may have a protective effect. It can reduce inflammation and encourage good gut bacteria that help establish a strong immune system. Focus on fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats. Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt or kefir are also beneficial. Be kind to your liver too. It’s responsible for filtering the blood, breaking down fats, and removing excess cholesterol and toxins. Kale, broccoli, and cabbage can help increase your liver’s ability to naturally detox the body.
This gets me into a segway about the importance of incorporating healthy fermented foods that are guaranteed to help improve your gut which is a huge factor in your immunity...
I always like to say...
happy gut is a happy human
fermented foods provide many health benefits such as anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anti-atherosclerotic activity. Many fermented foods also contain living microorganisms of which some are genetically similar to strains used as probiotics.
These foods are such a good source of helpful bacteria because the fermentation process allows for a diverse collection of helpful bacteria to multiply and grow on the foods. When we eat these fermented foods, those helpful bacteria then begin living in our gut where they help maintain a healthy immune system.
here is a great article to read more on the amazing fermented foods:
2) Wash your hands frequently.
This is one practice we should keep up for the rest of our lives. It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. Scrub for a good 20 seconds. Count if you need to slow yourself down. You can also sing ‘Happy Birthday or ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ or two verses of your favorite song.
3) Work out on a regular basis.
There are several theories as to why this helps. Physical activity may help flush out bacteria and clear the airways. We know it slows down the release of stress hormones. It also decreases your chance of developing some diseases, such as heart disease and fatty liver disease, and it keeps your bones strong. You don’t need to overdo exercise either. Too many rigorous workouts can actually weaken the immune system and leave you vulnerable to flu and viruses.
4) Shower after working out.
In addition to smelling bad, all the perspiration left on your skin allows bacteria to grow. Breakouts aren’t the worst of it. Sweat helps to breed funguses, like yeast infections. And any abrasions on your skin are prone to infections.
5) Take vitamins.
Vitamin C contributes to immune defense by supporting cell function and protecting against environmental oxidative stress (free radicals and pollutants). The best way to get Vitamin C is through oranges, strawberries, spinach, kiwi and grapefruit. Vitamin D can enhance your immune response and may protect you from respiratory conditions. It’s often called “the sunshine vitamin” because sunlight is a great source, however this depends on your skin’s melanin level. Only 10 minutes of sun exposure daily produces plenty of vitamin D for fair-skinned individuals. No more or you are susceptible to skin cancer. Those with dark brown skin tones who never burn would be better off taking a vitamin D supplement. The Cleveland Clinic also recommends Vitamin B6 (found in chicken, cold water fish like salmon and tuna, hummus and green veggies) and Vitamin E (found in nuts, seeds and spinach).
6) Reduce your stress level.
Yes, easier said than done. However, here’s why it’s important: Stress affects your body’s immune response. It causes you to produce extra levels of cortisol and cytokines, which trigger inflammation. In can decrease the number of white blood cells available to fight infection, leaving you at risk for cold sores and colds. In addition, people who are stressed are probably not getting enough sleep and eating right so they are neglecting other healthy habits that boost immunity.
7) Take up yoga and meditation.
This calms your nervous system, helping to reduce inflammation.
8) Practice deep breathing techniques.
This simple act of slow, controlled breathing from the diaphragm is something you can do anywhere. It’s a terrific way to lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.
9) Make sure you get enough sleep.
It’s a natural reboot to your system. Did you know that your chance of coming down with a cold is affected by how much you sleep? In a UCSF study from 2019, researchers found that poor sleep (less than six hours per night) made someone four times more likely to catch a cold. It was the number one factor for determining if someone got sick – more than age or stress level. Your body relies on a full night’s rest to replenish cells and proteins.
10) Employ positive thinking.
Fake it until you believe it. Your mental state really does influence your physical health. Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine found that positive thinkers were less likely than “negative” people to have a heart attack, although they had risk factors and a family history of artery disease. A University of Kansas study found that smiling – even if you have to fake it – reduced blood pressure in stressful situations. Negative emotions can weaken immune response so reassess your outlook. Be grateful.
and with that.. the warm comforting fireplace calls and I wish you all a lovely week. I would love to share a fermentation recipe to help you help your gut and stay away from the flu season.
FERMENTED BEET KRAUT INGREDIENTS:
onion, garlic or ginger- all optional
optional: caraway seeds, herbs.
HOW TO MAKE BEET SAUERKRAUT
Finely slice and grate cabbage and raw beets. You’ll need about 4 cups total. I like to add a ⅛ to ¼ cup of sliced onion, and sometimes minced garlic. This is optional. It will make the smell slightly off-putting as it ferments, but once it’s refrigerated, it adds a really delicious flavor.
Place beets and cabbage in a bowl and massage with 1 teaspoon salt. Let it sit in the bowl on the counter, mixing occasionally for a couple of hours. Add caraway seeds if you like, or a little grated ginger.
You’ll notice in the photo- I peeled the beet, which I do not recommend. TIP: As I’ve made this recipe over and over now, I stopped peeling the beets- because the beet skin actually has beneficial bacteria, so I just leave it on. As it sits, the salt will help draw the water out. Place the cabbage mixture along with all the juices in a mason jar, and pack it down with a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon. Cover it with a cabbage leaf. Pack it down once more. Cover it with a cloth, or just partially close it with a lid – you want it to be able to breathe a bit. Let it sit on the kitchen counter for 24 hours, in a warm spot, occasionally pressing down on the cabbage, and compressing. After 24 hours, if there is not enough liquid to cover the cabbage –in a separate cup, make a brine. Mix 1 teaspoon fine sea salt with 1 cup filtered water, and ONLY add enough of the saltwater brine to bring the water level to the top of the cabbage (while pressing down on the cabbage). You may not need to use the whole cup of water. Then leave it on the counter, with the cabbage weighed down ( see notes) covered loosely with a lid, over a pan to catch any juices, with a dishcloth placed over it (or place somewhere cool, ideally 65- 72 degrees F) for 3-5 days, or longer if you prefer more fermentation, occasionally pressing down on the cabbage. My personal preference is 4-5 days at 65F for a refreshing and crunchy version. After a few days, you should start to see some activity, bubbles, with you tap the jar. After 3-7 days, close it with a lid and put it in the fridge…and don’t worry, it will smell better once it is chilled. Once it chilled, it’s ready to eat. As it rests in the fridge, it will continue to ferment but at a much slower rate. It will taste better and better.
Be Kind Do Fearless