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Navigating Cold and Flu Season: Strengthening Your Immune Health

healthy tips for immune system support
The onset of the cold and flu season brings with it common symptoms such as runny noses, sore throats, and persistent coughs, which can be quite tiresome. Thankfully, there are numerous measures we can take to bolster our immune systems, reducing the severity and duration of the inevitable cold. 

It’s important to recognize that approximately 70% of the immune system resides in the gut. Nourishing our bodies and the beneficial gut bacteria with a diet rich in high-fiber, diverse plant foods while avoiding refined sugars, and pro-inflammatory, and processed foods can significantly enhance immune system functionality.

Direct Primary Care with Dr. Vince WinklerPrinsBy making health-conscious dietary choices and embracing a holistic lifestyle, we can even potentially ward off illnesses entirely, as our immune systems become better equipped to handle incoming viral and bacterial threats. Should illness strike, our recovery is likely to be swifter and symptoms less severe.

So, how can we adapt our eating and living habits to support our health? While the objectives may seem ambitious and even daunting, they are achievable. These objectives include:

  • Eat 30 colorful plant foods each week
  • 30-50 grams of dietary fiber daily
  • Incorporate at least 6 cups of plant-based foods into our daily diet
  • Reduce sugar intake
  • Drink half our body weight in ounces of clean water daily
  • Engage in regular physical activity, preferably outdoors
  • Participate in community activities
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Prioritize quality sleep and more.

If you’re already diligently adhering to this comprehensive list, you’re indeed a health champion, and I encourage you to maintain these exceptional habits. Your body undoubtedly appreciates your dedication.

However, for many of us, consistently incorporating these practices may present a challenge, especially if our diets primarily consist of the same vegetables and limited water intake. The good news is that even small, incremental improvements can yield significant benefits.

While working toward the loftier goals mentioned above is commendable, here are five simple and unconventional strategies you can implement today to fortify your immune system during this season.

Incorporate these health-conscious practices into your daily routine:

  1.  Embrace Microgreens: Microgreens are nutrient powerhouses, containing the same nutritional value as their full-grown counterparts. For a convenient and diverse selection, consider acquiring a bag of pre-mixed microgreens at your local farmers’ market.
  2. Sip on Herbal Tea: Enjoy the benefits of herbal tea, particularly ginger, known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Brew a soothing ginger tea and keep hot water on hand throughout your workday with an electric kettle at your desk.
  3. Venture Outdoors: Revel in the crisp outdoor air, ideally while engaging in physical activity. The “open-air factor” indicates that spending time outdoors can reduce the survival and infectivity of pathogens, offering protection against illness. If outdoor access is limited, take advantage of open windows while driving or sleeping to breathe in fresh, cold air.
  4. Floss: Flossing is crucial, as studies suggest that poor oral hygiene is linked to more severe COVID-19 symptoms and unfavorable outcomes. Secure a piece of floss to your toothbrush to ensure this essential practice is not overlooked.
  5. Take a Stroll Post-Meal: Just a brief 2-minute post-meal walk can lower blood sugar levels and reduce insulin levels, supporting your overall health. If outdoor walks are impractical, consider a stroll around the office to engage with colleagues, offer greetings, and express gratitude. For those working remotely, put on your favorite song and indulge in a dance break to achieve similar benefits.

Incorporating these practices into your daily routine will contribute to your well-being and overall health.

Immune Support Rules to live by: 

  • Feed your microbes 
  • Eat more plants
  • Eat more fiber
  • Stay hydrated
  • Reduce your refined sugar intake
  • Get moving
  • Get outside
  • Sleep more
  • Get quiet

In addition to the previously mentioned strategies, there are specific supplements that can be considered to proactively prevent illness or alleviate its severity by supporting the immune system.

Vitamin D: Research indicates that the active form of vitamin D enhances immune cells that combat microbe proteins. This research further reveals that individuals who were supplemented with vitamin D had a 40% reduced risk of contracting type A influenza compared to those who did not. It is essential to determine your baseline vitamin D levels through a simple blood test before initiating supplementation. Dosage recommendations should be obtained from your healthcare provider. Vitamin D supplementation can be incorporated into your daily routine as a preventive measure.

Vitamin C: Scientific studies demonstrate that vitamin C plays a multifaceted role in bolstering the immune system. You can obtain vitamin C from dietary sources such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. Note that excessive vitamin C intake can lead to diarrhea. For most individuals, a daily dose of 1,000 – 2,000 mg is considered safe as a preventive measure.

Zinc: Research highlights the immune-supportive properties of zinc in combating bacteria and viruses. A safe daily dose for most people ranges from 15 to 30 mg, making it suitable for preventive use.

Propolis: Research suggests that propolis is a potent enhancer of the immune system. It may be prudent to consider propolis for illness prevention, particularly during the cold and flu season or while traveling.

Should you contract COVID-19, here are some recommendations and supporting evidence from the Institute of Functional Medicine to effectively manage symptoms.

Making conscious efforts to increase your consumption of whole foods, spending time outdoors for fresh air, and managing stress to the best of your ability will significantly aid you in navigating the challenges of the cold and flu season. In the unfortunate event of illness, prioritize rest and maintain proper hydration by drinking an ample quantity of fluids.

Vince WinklerPrins, MD, FAAFP

Traverse City & Petoskey

Now Accepting New Direct Primary Care Patients