Tune Up Your Immunity!

Cold and Flu Season Returns

By Joel Thuna

Every year before the “cold” season approaches, we should all work on tuning up our immune systems. Today I’ll go through my tune-up suggestions, adjusted for our current COVID circumstances, as winter 2021/2022 will be different from previous winters. 

Last winter was an anomaly. The world was neck deep in the COVID crisis. We were wearing masks full time, staying away from gatherings, no restaurants, keeping our distance from others, washing our hands and sanitizing everything. This served to help flatten the COVID curve, and at the same reduced the transmission of other infectious diseases including colds and flu. Because of this, last winter was one of the lowest for colds and flus. 

But we have become complacent. We often see people indoors either wearing masks improperly or not wearing them at all. Social distancing seems to be just a memory. We can only guess what happens out of view regarding hand washing. Now that we are opening up, infectious diseases are beginning once again to see the conditions they love, those that are ripe for them to spread. When everyone else is being careless, you have to go above and beyond to ensure your own health.

Your immune system is an incredibly complex system with many moving parts that work together to keep you safe and healthy. Your system goes into alert mode when it comes into contact with any germ it has not seen before. Your arsenal includes skin and mucus (physical barriers to stop the germ from getting into your body), the over 100 trillion (yes trillion) bacteria in your microbiome, (found in your gut, in mucus and on your skin) some of which produce antimicrobial and antiviral compounds to compete with and combat germs (active barrier). If a pathogen gets past these defenses, they have to deal with your white blood cells. These are the cells that actively attack invaders. These specialized cells literally chase pathogens, latch on to them and then absorb them or destroy them. 

Unfortunately everyone’s immune system has a blind spot or two. This is why some people tend to get a cold each and every season and others are always getting UTIs. Fear not, a healthy lifestyle will ensure your defences are as good as they can be.

Start with the basics! Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Clean high touch surfaces often, and wear your mask properly whenever in the company of people other than those you live with. Avoid sick or potentially sick people.  Avoid touching your face.

Eat healthy. By eating  a diet rich in antioxidants, water, fiber, vitamins and minerals you give your body the raw materials to assist it in making the antivirals, antibiotics, connective tissue and other chemicals to keep invaders out and attack those that get in. Refined carbohydrates (especially sugar), processed foods, and artificial ingredients all act as immune suppressors, helping germs to win the fight. Spices are your immune system’s cheering section. They are rich in natural antioxidants, antivirals and antibiotics, help with circulation and taste great! Try to incorporate them into your food and drinks (e.g., add cinnamon, turmeric and/or ginger to your tea or hot chocolate). Please remember that salt of any kind is NOT a spice.

Another component of your immune system is proteins. High-quality amino acids in your diet are essential to maintaining immune system cell structure and overall health. Not all proteins are immune-enhancing. Whey Protein Isolate is a well-known, complete protein source that provides all the essential amino acids our body needs. Numerous studies have shown that Whey Protein Isolate specifically has immune-enhancing bioactivity.

Be mindful of the effect the foods you eat have on your blood sugar, even if you are not diabetic. I’m talking mainly about drinks and refined carbohydrates. Wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels weaken your immune system, leaving it open to more blind spots and making it easier for infections to start.

Take prebiotics and probiotics daily. With 80% (yes 80) of your immunity coming from your gut it is vital that you nourish good gut health. Your gut is a constant bacterial battleground between good (probiotic) and bad (pathogenic). Prebiotics nourish your probiotics allowing them to thrive (and fight on) by giving them the food they need to survive. Taking additional probiotics daily helps to add soldiers to your fight for immune supremacy. I stick to certified organic vegan pre + probiotic capsules, the cleanest choice.

There are many herbs with a history and clinical confirmation for immune system support. I will stick with my go-to immune boosters; elderberry and chaga in certified organic capsules. They are clean, effective, easy to take wherever you are and offer many other benefits beyond immune health.

Take vitamin C and Zinc daily as soon as cold and flu season starts. 1000 mg vitamin C plus 10 mg zinc has been widely studied as a preventative and works. Vitamins D (D2 and D3) as well as Vitamin K2 support immune system health, but also support your emotional health. A further bonus is that together these vitamins help bone and heart health.

The effect of exercise cannot be overstated. Exercise allows immune cells to perform effectively — it increases blood flow, reduces stress and inflammation, and can strengthen antibodies. Exercise may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways reducing the likelihood of infection. But, don’t immediately go all in for your exercise routine. If you are just starting to add exercise to your life, start slow and stick to what you are comfortable with.  If you already exercise, slowly up your game with time and intensity. If unsure, always talk to your doctor first.

Remember to detox. Being cooped up indoors (as we all are every winter) and eating preserved foods will increase your exposure to toxins. You want to let your immune system concentrate on pathogens, not toxins. A couple of glasses of water with liquid chlorophyll will help you gently eliminate the daily toxins you encounter.

Act smart, think before you act and avoid unnecessary risks. Remember that only you can keep yourself healthy. No one wants to take a trip to the ER. Keep your immune and emotional health well-tuned and remember spring is on the way and getting closer every day.   

Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. www.globalbotanical.com