Don’t fall prey to these mistakes.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, there’s a lot of talk about how to keep yourself from catching the novel coronavirus, which is important.
However, there are things you should also avoid in order to improve your immune system, increase your resilience, and protect your health from other illnesses, like the common cold.
Your wellness is vital to staying safe while in quarantine, and catching other illnesses could cause a lot of anxiety and undue stress.
Although someone refers to “catching” a cold, the truth is that we’re surrounded by viruses all the time.
Whether or not the viruses take hold in your body depends on two major factors:
- How virulent (“strong”) the virus is
- How weakened your immune system is
The following is a foolproof recipe for catching a cold or the flu in one long, exhausting week. Mix the ingredients carefully.
Some substitutions are allowed (e.g., substitute a sick spouse or co-worker for a child).
- Three to four hours of sleep per night
- Four to six cookies per day
- One midterm exam for the evening MBA class
- Two presentations at work
- 30 ounces of fluid per day
- Two sick children at home
- One serving of fruits and vegetables per day (and some days that one serving is ketchup)
- Three difficult phone calls (one with your boss, one with your mother, one with your ex)
- One sudden weather shift with a 30-degree temperature drop overnight
- 25 minutes waiting for the bus in the rain
This recipe includes the finest ingredients for stressing the immune system and creating the perfect internal environment for developing a cold or the flu.
You become ill when a potent enough virus encounters a weakened immune system.
Here are 6 ways you can boost — rather than undermine — your immune system.
1. Get enough sleep.
Sleeping less than seven hours per night increases the risk for developing both acute and chronic diseases.
Lack of sleep decreases the activity of natural killer cells and B cells, important components of your immune system’s ability to respond to acute infections.
Regularly sleeping less than seven hours per night also increases the risk for developing gastric, colorectal, and lung cancer. Increasing sleep is one of the most enjoyable ways of preventing colds and flu.
2. Avoid sugar.
Eating even small amounts of refined sugar can depress immune function up to 24 hours. Snack on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole-grain crackers, almond butter, and fresh nuts.
The most recent research suggests eating seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day supports optimal immune function.
3. Avoid stress.
Anticipating stressful situations — e.g., two presentations at work, an exam, or a conversation with an angry boss — can weaken the immune system.
What lands as “stress” is different for each person. Sometimes, the mind can handle more stress than the physical body can.
Many professional athletes, for example, are trained to ignore or override their bodies’ distress signals. They take that training into their daily lives, often with unhealthy consequences.
Physical activity helps to “use up” stress-related hormones, e.g. epinephrine and norepinephrine, that are dumped during stressful encounters. Work with a counselor, minister, or mentor to resolve underlying issues.
4. Be cautious of poor weather.
In the West, we like to think we’re impervious to the elements. What could standing in the cold rain have to do with developing a cold?
Chinese medicine recognizes the impact of the elements on the body. Colds, for example, are considered an invasion of wind, dampness, cold, or heat.
While in Eastern understanding, these elements are particularly prone to enter the body through the back of the neck, other medical studies have shown that cold weather does, in fact, suppress your body’s immune system response.
If you’re going to be outdoors when the weather’s inclimate, plan accordingly and take precautions. Better yet, avoid it altogether and stay safe inside!
5. Get enough water.
Your respiratory tracts are lined with mucous membrane tissue rich with immunoglobulins to fight bacteria and viruses. When you’re dehydrated, the ratio of immune globulins (IgA, IgG, IgM) changes, the immune system is suppressed, and neutrophil activity is decreased.
In essence, the respiratory tract is more vulnerable to invasion by bacteria and viruses. Drink more water, herb teas, and diluted 100 percent fruit juices.
6. Limit your exposure to viruses and bacteria.
Although you’re surrounded by bacteria and viruses all the time, the virulence (strength) of the viruses and their sheer number influence whether or not you’ll become ill.
Two sick children are perfect vectors, as are travelers coughing on the plane and a coworker sneezing in the next cubicle. You can minimize these exposures by regularly cleaning commonly used surfaces (e.g., sink handles, doorknobs, light switches, refrigerator door handles, etc.).
Remember that the primary supports for the immune system include a good diet, rest, and basic hygiene.
You don’t “catch” bacteria and viruses — they live around you all the time. Limit your chance of succumbing to them by keeping your immune system strong and thriving.
Dr. Judith Boice is a naturopathic doctor, licensed acupuncturist, and a fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology.