“The greatest mistake in the treatment of diseases is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated.” Plato
IBEC estimated the cost of absenteeism to the Irish economy is 1.5 billion. (1). It is not in employers’ interest to have high levels of absenteeism and indeed it is not in our own personal interest to be ill.
Given that the cold and flu season is coming upon us I thought you might like some tips on how to boost your immune system. You might be surprised at the lack of hard core conventional scientific studies backing up some of the more popular beliefs and practises we subscribe to but we thought we would give you some Scientific Facts behind these traditional approaches.
Conventional and complementary medicines differ greatly in their beliefs. Some conventional medical practices have an interest in belittling herbal or vitamin solutions as they cannot be patented and therefore are not as commercially lucrative as drugs. Other entities have a commercial interest in promoting these as the vitamin, mineral and fortified food sectors are multi-billion dollar industries.
As human beings we all have unique DNAs and different requirements. What works for one may not work for another. Therefore we suggest that firstly you take a balanced approach to all in life and secondly find what works for you from the below without being exploited.
Here are 9 ways to boost your immune system
1. Useful minerals and vitamins to have in your immune system at this time of year are Selenium, Zinc, Vitamins A, B2, B6, C, D and E.
Do you ever wonder is it worthwhile taking a supplement? Well there is limited evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E do alter immune responses in animals, as measured in test tubes.
However, the impact of these immune system changes on the health of animals is not conclusive. The effect of similar deficiencies on the human immune response has yet to be assessed by the traditional medical routes. But research at this stage is promising, at least for some of the micronutrients. (2)
Ideally, unless you have been diagnosed with a deficiency, you should try and get your required nutritional intake from your diet. However, in many instances diet will not provide this sufficiently if food has been grown in “tired” soil , has travelled long distances and been left in storage for long periods of time. As such, local and fresh may be best for fruit and vegetables but if not available opt for frozen. If you feel your diet is not providing you with all your micronutrient needs consider taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement based on your doctor’s or nutritional therapist’s advice.
If you are going to do this you are best taking a good quality one, which can be easily absorbed by your body. You get what you pay for and the quality of supplements is very different. Vitamin C is best taken twice a day as a standalone vitamin in no more than 500 mg as it is water soluble and excreted over the course of the day from your body. All our bodies have different needs in terms of supplements so find out what’s right for you and act accordingly.
2. The above vitamins can be found in the following foods.
Load up your shopping baskets with; frozen berries, nuts, seeds, citrus fruits, kiwis, tomatoes, garlic, leafy green and brightly coloured vegetables, button and shiitake mushrooms, avocados, bananas, dairy products, meat, eggs, vegetable and fish oils, herring, canned salmon, margarine, sprouting vegetables, yeast, wheat germ, cod, shrimp, snapper, fresh tuna, halibut, salmon, turkey and chicken.
3. If taking Echinacea, take it in drop format as it is more easily absorbed by the body.
With regards to Echinacea, most experts don’t recommend taking it on a long-term basis to prevent colds. A group of physicians from Harvard Medical School notes that studies looking at the cold prevention capabilities of Echinacea have not been well designed. A study by the National Centre of Complementary and Alternative Medicine which is part of the US National Institutes of Health set up by the US Government to test herbs and other alternative health remedies has spent $6.8 million testing Echinacea since 2002. It has found that taking Echinacea has no major benefits in preventing or shortening colds!(3)
However some people swear by Echinacea and if you want to try it, just make sure you don’t suffer from asthma or hay fever as it may cause an allergic reaction.
4. Substitute your high sugar probiotic and prebiotic drinks with a good natural organic yogurt which will offer better gut immune system protection.
For Probiotics and prebiotics to support a healthy immune system they must be of the right type, quantity and quality. In a 2006 report, the American Academy of Microbiology said that “at present, the quality of probiotics available to consumers in food products around the world is unreliable.” This doesn’t mean taking probiotics is useless; it just means there is still some doubt around the health claims made.
If you choose to take a probiotic in moderation, it probably won’t hurt and the scientific evidence may ultimately show some benefit but do steer clear of those probiotic drinks which tend to be high in sugar, expensive and their health benefits are being questioned by the European Food Safety Authority. (4)
5. Try and get 7-8 hours’ sleep a night. If you can’t, then try to catch up with 20 minute naps.
As for sleep, we are not quite sure the exact function it fulfils, but we do know that it is essential for good mental and physical health. Bad sleeping patterns affect our bodies’ ability to generate hormones adequately, affect our blood pressure, mood, sugar levels and ultimately can wreak havoc with our general health.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 50 to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems that can significantly diminish health, alertness and safety.(5) If you are not getting decent quality sleep find out why and do something about it before it is too late.
6. Find something you like doing physically and try and do it every day for 30 minutes vigorously- it may be walking, gardening or even housework.
Good sleep is promoted by exercise and indeed being active has many other benefits. Even though a direct beneficial link hasn’t been established between exercise and the immune system it’s reasonable to consider moderate regular exercise to be beneficial in terms of general health and wellbeing. The secret is to find something you like to do and do it. Exercise, amongst having numerous other benefits is great in terms of managing stress, which if managed well can be a powerful motivator.
7. Make stress work for you; know what and how much keeps you operating at peak performance and what negatively impacts your performance and do something about it
A certain amount of stress is positive and can motivate us to perform more effectively but too much can hinder our performance. (Yerkes-Dodson Law) Whilst it is difficult to accurately mange the impact of stress on the immune system, there are some telling studies which indicate excess stress certainly does no favours for your health. For example, published studies indicate that social stress can be more damaging than physical stress and isolation can dampen the immune system in certain animals.(6)
In humans, the Holmes and Rahe’s Social Readjustment scale based on research carried out over different cultures, age groups and genders indicate that certain life factors may negatively impact our immune systems and leave some of us more susceptible to serious illness than others. Under all conditions, it is stress derived from the family which provides the highest causes of stress (7).This is particularly true for carers of elderly relatives with Alzheimers.(6)
8. Consider getting the flu vaccine, it can seriously reduce the risk of contagion
A reduction in immune response to infections has been demonstrated by people’s response to vaccines. For elderly people in particular, research does indicate that there have been lower rates of sickness and death for those who have had flu vaccinations. (8) With the flu vaccine remember that it’s important to get it annually as new strains of flu come out each year and you want to be best protected against the latest strain.
Many corporate companies now safeguard against their employees contracting flu by providing them with inoculation on site, deploying the HealthWatch Flu Vaccine. It may be a cost effective tool to assist manage absence in these challenging months. Note that the vaccine takes up to two weeks to become effective so just remember to take extra care and follow all the tips above to make sure you don’t get caught out in the first few days!
9. Take a balanced approach to everything in life.
So, what’s the best thing to do to boost your immune system? Well in summary, as you can see there is a lot of conflict in terms of what’s scientifically proven so as always we suggest a balanced approach to everything is probably the best solution to keep you energised, motivated and productive!
(1) IBEC 2011 Absence Report: www.ibec.ie/research
(2) http://www.health.harvard.edu/flu-resource-center/how-to boost-your-immune-system.htm. Harvard food note)
(7) (Note 1) It is based on “TH Holmes and RH Rahe” from the Social Re-Adjustment Scale – Journal of Psychosomatic Research 11, 1967 pp 213 -218.