How To Combat Cold + Flu Season

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Happy February to all of our Cryo Recovery Blog followers! This time of year, there seems to be a lot of buzz surrounding Cold & Flu Season, as we are heading into what doctors and researchers deem the annual “peak” of these illnesses. This post has been long-awaited, as many of you have wondered if there are things that you can do in hopes of combatting this volatile time of year. First and foremost, let’s talk a little about what is infamously known as “Cold & Flu Season”, and debunk some of the myths that surround it.

Contrary to popular belief, Cold & Flu season isn’t actually a season at all. Yes, there are certain times of year where we are more inclined to succumbing to viral infections like the common cold and influenza; however, we can come down with these illnesses all year long. What increases our propensity to getting sick this time of year has much more to do with environmental factors and our own health behaviors, rather than scientific reasoning.

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What Exactly is Cold & Flu Season?

Over the last few months, there has been a great quote circulating about the misconceptions of Cold and Flu season. It reads, “Cold & Flu Season is not a SEASON. It is our body’s inability to ADAPT, due to decreased sun exposure and reduced water intake, combined with increased sugar intake, and of course—stress!” Let’s unpack this piece by piece.

Reduced Sun Exposure. During the colder months, we escape frigid temperatures by spending more time indoors. According to this study from researchers at Harvard Health, “most health experts agree that the reason that the colder months are known as the peak of ‘cold and flu season’ is not that people are cold, but that they spend more time indoors, in closer contact with other people who can pass on their germs”.

So now that we know that humans spend more time indoors during the cold winter months, we must now address one of the vital components of decreased immunity during this time of year: reduced sun exposure. Sun exposure is one of the most underrated forms of “free medicine” that exists. This is due to the fact that humans get the highest amount of Vitamin D through sun exposure, as our bodies make Vitamin D from cholesterol when exposed to sunlight. Reduced sun exposure means reduced Vitamin D, and what many people don’t know is that Vitamin D deficiencies can wreak havoc on your immune system.

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The Importance of Vitamin D to the Immune System

Vitamin D is ESSENTIAL to the optimal functioning of our immune systems. Sufficient levels of Vitamin D strengthen the structure of our immune systems, thereby, reducing our risk of succumbing to infectious diseases.  Without enough Vitamin D, we are unable to fight off foreign invaders, making us far more susceptible to getting sick. Moreover, chronic Vitamin D deficiencies are linked to autoimmune conditions such as: Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Diabetes Mellitus, and System Lupus Erythematosus. Furthermore, studies have found that people with low Vitamin D levels, (<30 ng/ml) were more likely to self-report with upper respiratory infections.

Pro Tip: in order to ensure that we are getting enough Vitamin D, supplementing with a high quality Vitamin D3 is a great way to help your immune system thrive this time of year. In addition to supplementation, eating a diet rich in Vitamin D (fatty fish, cod liver oil, and egg yolks) is a great way to strengthen the integrity of your immune system.

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How Do Our Dietary Choices Impact Immune Functioning?

Whether you’re plant-based, Paleo, Keto, or an “everything in moderation” kind of person, eating a diet that is free from dietary triggers and allergens is a great way to prevent colds and flus. On this post on the Cryo Recovery Blog, we discussed in great depth the role that our dietary choices play in the inflammation process. When we eat foods that our trigger our histamine receptors, inflammation is produced in the body. Just like when you roll your ankle and your body produces inflammatory cytokines, eating foods that do not agree with you can actually produce inflammation that weakens your immune system. The biggest culprit: SUGAR.

When we discuss diet-related inflammation, refined sugar is often considered to be the number one culprit. The moment that we ingest sugar and refined carbohydrates, our blood sugar levels surge. When this happens, the pancreas must produce more insulin in order to process the glucose. This taxing process activates the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and advanced glycation end products (AGEs), both triggering inflammation throughout the body. Furthermore, when individuals have high blood sugar for extended periods of time, they can become insulin resistant, leading to the storage of pro-inflammatory visceral fat inside of the body. Bottom line: consuming excess added sugar drives widespread inflammation.

During the months where the Cold & Flu are most active, there tends to be more sugar consumption. Think about it: November through February are marked by an abundance of holidays that present ample opportunities for overindulgence. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day—what do these holidays have in common? Sugar. This increased sugar intake can, in fact, result in excess bodily inflammation, and this inflammation can suppress your immune system. When indulging, be mindful of the fact that you may want to participate in some immune-bolstering behaviors, in order to minimize your risk of getting sick.

What Foods Can Help Boost My Immune System?

Regardless of what diet works best for you, there are certain foods that are ideal for strengthening the immune system. When it comes to the immune system, finding foods that are naturally high in Vitamins C, D, and Zinc can be greatly beneficial for your health. We’ve talked a great deal about Vitamin D, so let’s take a deeper look at the other two.

Vitamin C: Vitamin C has been cited in a multitude of research studies as a way to naturally strengthen your immune system, thereby reducing your risk of becoming ill. This study shows that Vitamin C deficiency can reduce our resistance against certain pathogens, while a higher supply of Vitamin C can actually enhance the immune system’s innate ability to function. This is due to the fact that several cells of the immune system; more specifically, phagocytes and T-cells, require Vitamin C in order to perform their specific tasks. Therefore, a diet high in Vitamin C may be immensely beneficial in warding off illness, or expediting the healing process once you have succumbed to an infection. Foods high in Vitamin C include: citrus fruits (lemons, limes, grapefruits, and oranges), leafy greens, bell peppers, and strawberries.

Zinc has also been studied for its immune-bolstering benefits. Zinc is crucial for both cellular development and functioning, and this study shows that Zinc plays an extraordinary role in the cells that make up the immune system. Moreover, studies show that 15 to 30 mg of Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system, and even acts as an antioxidant by fighting off free radicals. Like Vitamin D deficiency, Zinc is also a very common deficiency worldwide. Recently, promising research elucidates that Zinc can actually modulate oxidative stress in the body. As we have discussed in the past, oxidative stress plays a major role in the several chronic diseases. Natural sources of Zinc include oysters, crab, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and high-quality red meats.

Stress + Immune System Functioning

It doesn’t take an advanced medical degree to know that chronic stress is problematic for our bodies. Since stress produces inflammation, chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation in the body, thereby suppressing our body’s immune response. Stress also releases cortisol, which interferes with our T-cells, or white blood cells that play a vital role in immune system functioning. Cortisol production also lowers an important antibody, secretory IgA, which according to research, “lines the respiratory tract and gut, and is our first line of defense against invading pathogens”. If you feel like stress is an ongoing issue for you, look into stress reduction techniques like meditation, mindfulness, or moderate exercise. This link has a wealth of great information regarding stress, and can be helpful to those looking to take steps towards reducing the burden of stress on their bodies.

A Word on Exercise. The science is clear: regular exercise enhances immune system functioning. Physical activity increases our heart rate and breathing, which in turn, can help our bodies detoxify any bacteria or toxins that the body is holding onto. But keep in mind, over-exercising can actually pose adverse effects on your immune system, as it is a stressor that can increase your risk of getting sick. Listen to your body, and be mindful of the way you feel before, during, and after exercising. 

Adequate Sleep

Chronic sleep deprivation and sleep disturbances cause an activation of the inflammatory immune response. When we don’t sleep, our bodies do not produce the immune cells necessary to ward off foreign invaders. Chronic sleep deprivation and disruption of the sleep-wake cycle cause an activation of the inflammatory immune response. Furthermore, this study of identical twins demonstrated that sleep deprivation was linked to increased inflammatory markers and immune system dysfunction.

Pro tip: aim for at least eight hours of sleep at night. If you struggle with this, take a look at your sleeping environment. This blog from our Inflammation Series discusses sleep hygiene, and includes helpful tips to getting those zzz's!

Drink Up!

Did you know that our bodies are made up of an impressive 60% water? Given that we are predominantly comprised of H2O, it is no surprise that our bodies require adequate hydration in order to function optimally. There are a myriad of reasons why we should maintain adequate hydration; however, none more convincing than the fact that our bodies depend on it. Water is essential to life, as it carries oxygen to our bodies’ cells, which then allows the cells to function as designed.

Water is also responsible for flushing toxic buildup from the body, and is necessary for our bodies’ excretory processes. When discussing immune health, it is important to consider hydration as a key component in facilitating the body in eliminating toxins and problematic substances that could contribute to infection. Furthermore, in reference to the common cold and influenza, research shows that water is the best fluid to drink, as it helps to lubricate the mucosal membranes. This article is a great resource detailing the importance of drinking water.

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Go With Your Gut

Researchers have determined that 70-80% of your immune system exists inside of your gut. Gut bacteria are facilitators in the development of our immune system’s T cells, and are responsible for teaching the body how to differentiate foreign substances from the body’s own tissues. Since so much of our immune system is within our gut, it is imperative that we cultivate a strong and healthy gut microbiome.

In order to prevent gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut), a good probiotic supplement, or consuming prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods, can be a helpful asset in supporting gut health. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha can help to repopulate your gut microbiome, while prebiotic foods like bananas, artichokes, and onions can be used in conjunction for maximum benefits. In addition to a good, diverse probiotic, help replenish your healthy gut environment and strengthen the tight junctions in your gut with a supplement like Restore.

Here at Cryo Recovery, we love Restore, a carbon-rich, alkaline supplement that has been shown to strengthen AND heal the tight junction proteins inside of the gut. Restore has also been shown to create a beneficial shift in gut bacteria WITHOUT the use of probiotic supplementation. Head to this post for more information about Restore, gut health, and your body's "Second Brain". 

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Healing Foods that May Help Fight Infection

Elderberry: This miraculous berry is an antioxidant powerhouse, and possesses anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties that may be helpful in fighting colds and flus. This study illustrates that in addition to its antiviral properties, elderberry activates the immune system, and was “shown to be effective against 10 strains of influenza virus, reducing the duration of flu symptoms to 3-4 days”.

Raw garlic: This superfood has very strong antimicrobial and antiviral properties. According to this study, the potent sulfuric compound found in raw garlic, allicin, possesses a slew of properties that can help to kill both bacterial and viral invaders in the body. Because of its strong taste, we recommend finely chopping one clove of garlic, and mixing it with honey, another potent antimicrobial food.

Oregano oil: this incredible healing food has a longstanding history of antimicrobial, antiviral, AND antifungal benefits. You can find oregano oil in gel capsules at virtually any health food store or supermarket, but cooking with this powerhouse herb is also extremely beneficial.

Manuka Honey: for centuries, honey has been touted as a healing food. Research has long substantiated honey’s nutritional, antimicrobial, antibacterial, AND anti-inflammatory benefits. Furthermore, Manuka honey from New Zealand has substances that can kill bacteria topically, and when this medicinal-grade honey is ingested, it can even work to improve the efficacy of antibiotics. If you don’t have Manuka Honey on hand, feel free to use raw local honey!

Ginger: is well-known for its antiviral properties, as research shows that it can come between viral invader substances and the walls of your respiratory tract. Ginger binds to the viruses, and then can excrete them from the body, all before the virus has a chance to cling onto your upper respiratory system. If you are catching a virus in its earliest stages, opt for pure ginger juice shots. Watch out, it’s spicy, but the benefits are seemingly endless. 

Bill Hanks