When the weather changes, viruses always seem to sneak into our homes, offices, and schools. Here are some tips to avoid sickness this time of year and boost your immunity!
Lifestyle Factors and Immunity
Chronic stress and chronic exposure to stress hormones can weaken the immune system by reducing the activity of essential immune cells.
According to the CDC, 50 – 70 million adults in the US suffer from sleep disorders and do not get enough sleep. Multiple studies show that sleep deprivation causes a dip in immune cell numbers which can increase the likelihood of contracting a virus or an infection.
A high level of alcohol intake can also weaken the immune system in a similar way to stress and sleep deprivation.
Physical activity helps support immune function in multiple ways. Increased circulation helps flush out bacteria from mucous passages and helps white blood cells become more efficient. The rise in body temperature that comes from physical activity also helps to slow the growth of bacteria.
Vitamin A helps support the protective mucosal barriers that line the digestive tract and nasal passages and is important for the creation of immune cells. Foods rich in vitamin A include green, yellow and orange vegetables.
Vitamin C concentrates in the cells of the immune system and is an essential nutrient. Food sources of vitamin C include oranges and citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, kiwi fruit and rose hips tea.
Vitamin D helps coordinate the immune response and is important for preventing infections. It is known as the sunshine vitamin because we can make vitamin D with exposure to sun – but only in the summer months. There are not many meaningful food sources apart from fortified milk and fish, so it is best to take a supplement.
Zinc is a mineral that helps white blood cells work efficiently and also keeps the gut barrier strong and intact. Food sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, meats, fish, shellfish and legumes (especially lentils).
Staying hydrated also helps support the mucosal barriers and circulation of immune cells.
Article by Bastyr core faculty member, Kelly Morrow, MS, RD, CD. Featured in Inside Bastyr Winter '17