Gesundheit!

Strengthen your family’s immune system

Gesundheit!

With cold and flu season around the corner, it's time to boost the immune system. Good nutrition, supplementation, and proper hygiene can keep your family healthy.

With September upon us, back to school can mean back to getting colds for many families. Colder weather allows the easy spread of germs, and often families with young children find themselves suffering the most. Take some simple steps to boost your family’s immune system.

Battling the common cold

As children huddle together and play indoors in close proximity to each other, the risk of contacting others who may be infected with a virus becomes greater. Coughing and sneezing cause micro-organisms to become airborne. When inhaled, these micro-organisms find a way to infect the respiratory system, giving rise to the classic symptoms of a cold. Once brought into the house, parents, siblings, and even grandparents may not be spared by the cold or flu virus.

So how do we improve our immune system and prevent the circulation of the common cold throughout the family? From good nutrition and proper supplementation to handwashing, many ways to prevent the common cold can be effective.

Good nutrition

When it comes to strengthening the immune system, research shows that mom knows best. The advice, “eat your vegetables” is important for a fighting chance against viruses and bacteria. In fact, researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, found that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts promote immune function, underscoring the link between diet and immunity. On the other hand, consuming a diet high in sugar can actually promote bacterial growth and overwhelm the immune system.

While most of us have heard of vitamin C for boosting the immune system, we may wonder if this nutrient actually does us any good. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that individuals who consumed gold kiwi fruit, which is high in vitamin C, experienced reduced severity and duration of the common cold. The authors of the study found that gold kiwi fruit is particularly helpful in raising vitamin C levels in the blood, suggesting vitamin C may confer protection from upper respiratory tract infections.

Yogourt can also provide a multitude of benefits to the immune system. Elderly individuals who consumed around 90 grams of yogourt fermented with the common probiotic Lactobacillus bulgaricus were shown to have augmented natural killer cell activity and a reduced risk of catching a cold. Yogourt, too, has been shown to be beneficial to children, and may help give the entire family a much-needed immune system boost.

Proper hygiene

One of the most important ways to control the spread of viruses and prevent the common cold is proper hygiene in the form of regular handwashing. Scientists in Finland found that regular handwashing with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub was linked to less illness.

Another interesting report focused on children aged five to 15 in Denmark who were required to disinfect their hands three times a day in school. The study found that scheduled hand disinfection resulted in less absenteeism, hence a great method of acute illness control in the school setting.

One more important aspect of reducing the spread of viruses can be categorized as “coughing etiquette.” Think of a sneeze or a cough as a great launch pad for germs. As droplets carrying the microbes become propelled into the air, they can be inhaled by another person in close proximity, which is a primary method of spreading infection.

Often we are told to cover our mouth, but perhaps a better technique would be to cough or sneeze into our sleeve. This prevents microbes from accumulating on the hand, which may go on to open a door or engage in a handshake.

Careful supplementation

We often hear about different supplements to boost the immune system and avidly take various products in the hopes of reducing our susceptibility to getting sick. But which supplements are backed by research?

One of the most effective supplements in reducing influenza in children is vitamin D. Researchers in Tokyo found that regular supplementation of 1,200 IU of vitamin D per day in school-aged children significantly reduced the occurrence of influenza A.

Another key supplement for preventing the spread of the common cold is garlic. Having a multitude of benefits, garlic is shown to prevent attack by the common cold virus. Those who supplemented with garlic daily recovered faster if infected and had fewer sick days than the placebo group. Regular intake of 600 to 1,200 mg of aged garlic daily can confer immune-boosting benefits.

A recent meta-analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that zinc supplementation greatly shortens the duration of colds. Regular supplementation of zinc has been shown to be useful during the fall and winter months for added immune benefits. Keeping zinc lozenges on hand may also provide soothing relief for sore throats and painful coughs.

Regular exercise

While we know that exercise is good for us, the link between our immune system and exercise has now been confirmed by researchers. When it comes to exercise and immune function, a little goes a long way. Even low-intensity exercise such as walking 10,000 steps a day, three times per week has a significant impact on immunity.

In fact, any light exercise that gets the family off the couch and active can have tremendous benefit. Published in the International Journal of Yoga, researchers reported that regular practice of yoga and meditation could regulate cytokine levels, which in turn could translate into better immune responses during stress.

Mind- and mood-boosting hobbies and activities

Engaging in mind- and mood-boosting hobbies and activities can also enhance immune functioning. Activities that lower stress levels such as reading funny books and stories have been scientifically proven to augment the immune system. A number of scientific articles report the positive effects of laughter, including one with breast cancer survivors and another with HIV-positive patients.

Laughter seems to up-regulate natural killer cells, which provide the body with a shield against infection. So a funny book or a humorous movie could actually help you fight the common cold. As well, stress-reducing activities such as gardening and volunteering may also provide additional protection against illness.

Being sick with a cold during the fall and winter months is an all too familiar occurrence for most families. In all cases, preventing the common cold requires a concerted effort by all family members.

Taking simple steps can go a long way. Practice good hygiene such as handwashing to stop the spread of viruses, and possibly shorten the duration of a cold by taking supplements.

From children to parents and even grandparents, this season, stay one step ahead of the infamous cold virus by boosting your immune system. 

Probiotics for immunity

Probiotics are the good bacteria that keep our gut healthy and boost our immunity. Naturopath, Brenda Watson explains it this way, “Think of probiotics as our own personal army standing guard. The average human body has about 10 trillion cells; it has ten times that amount of micro-organisms in the intestinal tract. That’s 100 trillion bacteria and we want most of those bacteria to be good guys!”

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