Dr Ingrid Pincott, ND
How can you boost your immune system to fight off flu and infections over the summer? Based on my practice experience, I look at the lifestyle of the individual. Eating habits are an important consideration.
Poor eating habits when travelling or preparing rich food for guests is very common in the summer when we’re social and on the go. There are many healthy snack ideas to have on hand in the house—ask your ND. One of my top recommendations is to get rid of sugary soft drinks; they should be a treat, not a regularly consumed item. As an alternative, consider making iced tea with herbal tea and, if you require a sweetener, try stevia. I use three different flavours of fruit teas, steep them together in a liter of fresh water in the fridge overnight and then flavor with liquid stevia, fresh lemon or lime juice. Given that it’s summer, you might have fresh mint, spearmint or lemon balm in the garden, all great additions! Some people just can’t give up the habit of fizzy drinks though. In this case, you could buy a product such as the SodaStream where you can carbonate your own purified water. Flavorings are only added afterwards and mostly I recommend using fresh lemon or lime juice. These can also be added to herbal iced tea.
One way to help offset temporary changes in diet and prevent digestive issues leading to illness is to take a probiotic every day. This helps maintain the immune system at the level of the intestinal mucosal lining to head off invaders at the pass. There are many on the market; look for 24-50 billion live organisms and those which are sold (and stored) in the fridge, although most are safe to travel with outside of the fridge for short periods. Another trick to give your body a rest is to fast on fruits or vegetables for one day. Be sure to maintain your bowel function; a little extra magnesium is a simple easy fix for this along with probiotics.
Maintaining optimal vitamin D levels is also important. Most people think that the summer gives us enough through sun exposure but if you are working indoors or keeping out of the sun chances are you are low in D. I recommend maintaining vitamin D blood levels at 150 nmol/L range to prevent colds and flus and to boost the immune system. Over the years as I have checked blood levels of patients it is rare that these ideal levels are met. Most who live on the west coast need on average 4000 IUs per day year round.
So why am I encouraging Canadians to optimize their vitamin D levels? The health benefits of vitamin D are many. Research indicates it can help with calcium absorption, bone health maintenance, gut mucosal integrity, maintaining muscle mass, act as an anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, has other anti-autoimmune benefits, is immune supportive among many other potential benefits. So have your 25(OH) checked, (your naturopathic doctor can run the test at a small fee) and prove it to yourself that you are taking enough. A Canadian study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 2010 August found that 37,000 deaths per year in Canada could be prevented by taking therapeutic dosages of vitamin D.
To ward off mono, chest infections and seasonal allergies consider adding good old vitamin C to your daily regime. It is anti-viral, anti-histamine, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Taking it to bowel tolerance is the best dosage, however 2000 mg per day is a good start for children and adults. Children can take a chewable form just make sure they brush their teeth afterwards.
Echinacea root is my herb of choice to take at the first sign of infections. Taken 3-6 times per day in any form for 7 days will speed up the healing process of any bacterial infection. If you need deeper immune support, for example to get over mono faster, use Deep Immune, an herbal tonic made by St. Francis Herb Farm. This can be taken by adults for three months to bolster poor immune systems.
Enjoy your summer by not getting sick!