Is it a coincidence that cold and flu season starts right after Halloween? I don’t know about you, but I’ve dipped into my kids’ candy stash more than once this weekend and we’re starting into the two months when I make the least healthy choices all year: sugary desserts, cocktail parties, cheese trays and let’s not forget the holiday stress! So, what’s going on and what can we do it about it?
It has long been documented that added sugars weaken the body’s immune response. Specifically, blood tests after high sugar consumption show that certain white blood cells have significantly reduced capacity to battle bacteria. Expect to see some runny noses at school this week!
Reduced Fruits & Vegetables
The average American doesn’t eat enough fruit and vegetables to begin with, and during winter months our consumption drops 12%. That means we’re getting even less of the antibacterial and antiviral phytochemicals that stimulate the immune system and support detoxification.
It’s a fact – we eat way too much during the Holidays. While you may notice the feeling of bloat or a couple of extra pounds on the scale, you may not notice the effect that these overeating patterns have on your immune system. First, overeating affects our gut health, the source of over 70% of our immune response. Also, eating a higher-fat diet during the holidays lowers the body’s ability to destroy harmful bacteria. Don’t stand next to the cheese tray at the cocktail party, because the saturated fat found in dairy and animal protein lowers immunity most.
Chronic stress can cause almost all measures of immune system function to drop across the board. When we experience high stress, “the immune cells are being bathed in molecules which are essentially telling them to stop fighting,” according to Dr. Esther Sternberg of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Clearly, you can give your immune system a boost by reducing the impact of these four common holiday habits. Here are a few things you can add to your diet that can help you make it a healthier holiday season.
- Vitamin C – According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 31 percent of the U.S. population does not meet the estimated average requirement for vitamin C, but it is a critically important nutrient. Vitamin C plays a role in the repair and defense of every cell in the body. Studies show that taking 500mg/day results in a 66 percent lower risk of contracting colds than getting only 50mg/day. The body metabolizes vitamins from food much more readily than it does from supplements. Fresh citrus fruits are the best-known, but peppers are an equally amazing source of Vitamin C. Just one Hatch green chile pod has the same Vitamin C as six oranges.
- Zinc & Selenium – These trace minerals have a tremendous impact on the immune system and are commonly underrepresented in the American diet. Zink helps keep white blood cells healthy so they can fight off infections and selenium is necessary for the proper function of several different types of immunity cells. Seeds and nuts are one of the best sources of both selenium and zinc. Topping list: Brazil nuts and cashews and our favorites seeds pumpkin, sunflower and flax.
- Echinacea – This is perhaps the best of all immune-enhancing herbs. It is excellent in helping to prevent and treat colds and influenza. In a meta-analysis of 14 studies, researchers found that taking Echinacea cut the risk of catching a common cold by 58 percent, and if subjects already had a cold it decreased the duration by 1.4 days. In one of the studies, Echinacea taken in combination with Vitamin C reduced cold incidence by 86 percent.