The four pillars of building and maintaining a healthy immune system all year round – not just flu and cold season!

Are you feeling under the weather? There are ways to prepare your body for summer colds, winter flu’s and more by putting a focus on the four pillars of immune health and providing each one with natural health support. 

Nutrition

Nutritional imbalances have been linked to decreased immunity and increased risk of illness. To help the body identify, break down and dispose of invading bugs, our immune system relies on a diverse collection of nutrients. Macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates and fat help our system build antibodies, which function to identify and remove viruses and bacteria. To perform to its fullest, the immune system also requires micronutrients like folic acid, vitamins A, C, E, B6 and minerals including copper, zinc, selenium and iron. 

It’s best to get your nutrients from a rounded diet of whole foods, but lifestyle and dieting habits can often result in nutritional imbalances. Consider adjusting your supplement routine during cold and flu season to fill in any nutritional gaps you may have and give your immune system the support it needs to keep you going.

Exercise 

Although it may not always be a good idea to work out while you’re sick, exercise can go a long way in helping you avoid illness in the first place. Exercise protects your immune system by flushing out bacteria in your lungs and airways, improving circulation and causing mild fluctuations in body temperature to fight infection. 

A daily brisk walk can cut your number of sick days by more than half!

Just 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise per day can improve your body’s immune response, but modern life means it can be difficult to find time for even this moderate amount of activity. Make the most of the exercise you do get with a few supportive supplements including:

  • Krill oil, which increases white blood cell production and therefore helps sustain immune function
  • Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), the building blocks of protein, which help muscles recover after exercise and improve immune cell growth and development
  • Vitamin D, which limits infections in athletes 
  • Echinacea, which can improve the immune function of high-intensity or endurance athletes. It can also decrease the number of chest colds you may experience.

Mindfulness 

Stress can have a number of negative impacts on the immune system. Mild stress caused by brief pressures like important exams or tight deadlines at work can suppress the immune system’s ability to break down invading pathogens. Being stressed can also increase the cortisol levels in your system, which makes you more susceptible to becoming sick and more likely to make others sick.

Being more mindful can actually help to minimize the occurrence, length and severity of the flu or common cold. It reduces inflammation markers and stress hormones and has been shown to improve activity in the areas of the brain responsible for coordinating the immune system. Make it a daily habit.

If you tend to experience more stress at this time of year, consider complementing your mindful routine with a few natural health products.

  • Valerian can be used as an herbal tea or supplement for its sedative and anxiety-reducing effects. 
  • Fish oil supplementation has been shown to reduce stress symptoms. 
  • Probiotics aid the microbial content of the gut, which plays a key role in immune development.  

Sleep 

Your body responds to lack of sleep in a similar way to how it does acute stress. In fact, our immune system may be correlated with our sleep patterns, and sleep deprivation can impact the activity of our immune cells, making it difficult for your body to identify and fight cold and flu bugs. 

Prioritizing quality sleep can be difficult, but plays a critical role in enhancing your immune defences. Consider the following natural remedies to help improve your sleep:

  • Vitamin D can help to promote longer, healthy sleep durations.  
  • Magnesium has been shown to calm the nervous system, induce relaxation, reduce blood pressure and even increase energy during the day.
  • L-theanine promotes relaxation and better sleep by reducing anxiety.
  • Melatonin is known for increasing total sleep time and reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.

Our immune system is one big puzzle, each piece working with the others to create a strong immune defence to keep invaders out. Support the four pillars of immune health, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and sleep, to boost your immune system.

If you already use natural health products, you might be interested to know that Health Canada is proposing some significant changes to the way these products are regulated, which could impact their cost and availability.

Author: Michelle W. Book is the in-house Holistic Nutritionist and spokesperson for the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), an organization dedicated to educating Canadians about the benefits of natural health and organic products. As a busy professional with a young family, Michelle strives to spread the message that small changes in our everyday lives can have significant, positive effects on our health. She is also a regular contributor to Optimyz print and digital editions.

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