The holiday season is here, which can result in additional stress and anxiety for many due to time crunches, obligations and demanding schedules. Stress and anxiety interfere with immune function so stress in check is important especially since this time of year also tends to also be cold and flu season. Three immune suppressors that we have direct control over include dehydration, stress and sugar intake.
Stress has been linked to almost every major disease. When you’re stressed out, the body produces excess cortisol, the stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, which accelerates aging and causes excess belly fat. Too much cortisol prevents the immune system from functioning properly, and releases fat and sugar into your bloodstream increasing blood sugar and risk of diabetes, allergies, autoimmune diseases, hormone disruption, heart disease and digestive issues.
10 strategies to supercharge the immune system, lower stress
1. Sleep immune power builds the most during restful sleep. A good night’s sleep helps boost mood and memory, has anti-aging qualities, and is often the overlooked and undervalued component for fat loss. According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), the physical body repairs between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The mind/emotional/spiritual body repairs between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m. Growth hormone is released during sleep, which boosts the immune system and aids in the growth and repair of your body. Lights out by 10:30 p.m. at the latest. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night, and keep the cell phone and all electronics out of the bedroom.
2. Healthy digestion and gut function. The gut is one of the largest and most important centers of the immune system. Approximately 80 percent of the immune system is located in the digestive tract. A healthy functioning gut is essential to absorbing and digesting nutrients, as well as overall health.
Be aware of foods your body is sensitive to which will make you tired, hyper, cause skin or sinus problems, diarrhea or constipation, bloating, increase inflammation, and deplete the immune system. The top culprits to avoid include diary, wheat, corn, peanuts, gluten, artificial sweeteners, sugar and soy.
Eliminate processed foods, soda, starches, and sugar all of which cause an insulin spike and are destructive to the immune system. The immune system is suppressed for eight to 12 hours after consuming sugar. Processed foods, starches, alcohol and sugar destroy the ability of your white blood cells to kill germs.
Eat breakfast consuming a bagel with a sugar-sweetened coffee drink, or sugar in a box (cereal) with low-fat milk are some of the worst things you can eat in the morning. Fuel your brain and body with a nourishing breakfast that includes protein. The first 40 grams of protein you consume daily goes to rebuild your immune system. If you are not rebuilding your immune system, you’ll have a hard time rebuilding your brain chemistry to be happy and think straight.
3. Drink more water. More green and white teas. Drink a minimum of half your weight in ounces of water daily. Add the juice of a fresh lemon or lime, plus a pinch of unprocessed sea salt to your drinking water to increase mineral absorption, boost alkalinity, and nourish the adrenals. Many people are chronically dehydrated ,which may reveal as dry skin, constipation, brittle bones, low back pain, constipation, cravings or hunger, which is actually thirst and even depleted brain chemistry.
Green and white teas contain powerful antioxidants, and have been shown to inhibit bacteria and viruses, and stimulate the immune system.
4. Look your best and feel better. Drink your veggies. Many of my clients initially turn up their nose at the thought of juicing or blending veggies and leafy greens, but when their skin becomes clear and vibrant, their energy level soars, their digestion and elimination improves, cravings disappear, and they stop running to the doctor for antibiotics they begin to see the endless health benefits of green drinks.
5. Consider immune-boosting supplements vitamin D, vitamin C, probiotics and zinc. Goldenseal is helpful in combination with echinacea for the treatment of colds and flu. Consider nutrient support for stress such as magnesium or phenitropic. Take a high quality daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure adequate nutrient support, which can build up the immune system. It’s important to know that it takes most people six to 12 weeks of use before the immune system becomes stronger. It’s very challenging to obtain sufficient nutrition from food alone since the majority of our food today is overly processed and void of many essential nutrients. Additionally, food is grown in depleted soils that have been over-planted and saturated with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies trigger more diseases, aging, sickness, and trigger a weakened immune system. Consult with a qualified health care professional to determine your personalized protocol.
6. Move your body. Aside from strengthening your heart and lungs (two organs that can become physically affected from too much stress), exercise particularly strength training and interval exercise (i.e. sprints) increase lean tissue and boost metabolism, and also increase endorphins, thereby stimulating your immune system, reducing stress and put you in a better mood. Just be sure not to overdo it. Excessive exercise, particularly aerobic/cardio-type exercise is not effective for fat loss and is an additional stressor compromising and suppressing the immune system.
7. Boost your cardiovascular and immune system, flush your lymphatic system and detoxify your cells by bouncing on a mini-trampoline three to five minutes daily. Create balance and include parasympathetic, yin-style activities such as Qi Gong, Tai Chi, restorative yoga or yin yoga and leisure walking into your exercise routine at least two days per week.
8. Breathe. Deep breathing releases endorphins that create feelings of happiness. Deep, full diaphragmatic breathing is the foundation to de-stressing, healing, revitalizing, and energizing every cell in your body. Studies show that deep, full breathing lowers blood pressure, increases creativity and productivity, enhances your ability to handle stressful situations, and releases healing hormones throughout your body.
9. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often and thoroughly throughout the day with soap and water, especially after restroom use or shaking hands. Refrain from sneezing or coughing openly into your hands and instead sneeze or cough into your elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth since that is often how the viruses enter the body.
10. Relationships and connections. Numerous studies show that those who are connected to other people through healthy, loving marriages, friendships, and communities actually live longer, are healthier and have better functioning immune systems.
Surround yourself with like-minded, supportive people who make you feel happy. Listen to your heart and intuition, pay attention to how you respond. Set boundaries. Respect self. Minimize time spent with people who are negative, full of drama and deplete your energy.
Smile and laugh more. It releases endorphins, your body’s natural pain killer. Laughter lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and boosts your immune function.
Following these tips will supercharge your immune system naturally and minimize stress this holiday season and throughout the year.
Have a happy, healthy and joy-filled holiday.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens, M.S., is the author of two books, is a nutritionist and fitness and fat loss expert with more than 25 years of experience. Visit Paula at www.PaulaOwens.com.