As we officially enter the ‘Cold and Flu Season,’ many out there are likely searching for ways to prevent catching the dreaded bugs being passed around the water cooler at work; either giving in to the societal pressures of the flu shot, investing in gallon-sized containers of hand sanitizer for the house, car and cubicle at work, or simply taking advantage of hard-earned those sick days before you truly need them in an attempt to avoid the infected masses altogether. While buying up the last bottle of Purel in the county may see like best way to keep your bodily fluids intact, there is a safer and more reliable way to fend off the flu during this, and all future seasons. The answer quite simply, is to reduce your stress.
It may seem like a no-brainer that stress has a major influence on the function of your immune system, which is why you’ve probably noticed you’re more likely to catch a cold when you’re directly under a lot of stress or participate in lifestyle choices from which additional stress results. This is true during acutely stressful episodes, such as preparing a big project for work, chronic emotional stress, such as relationship troubles and grief, and chronic physical and metabolic stress, which are almost always severe in individuals with diabetes, whose blood sugar continually spikes and dips. All types of stress will deteriorate your immune system and leave it less able to fight off infection.
We’ve all been told that the hormone Cortisol is to blame for such negative stress-induced symptoms as unwanted weight gain (specifically around the abdomen, often termed a ‘spare tire’), irritability, poor skin, IBS and other digestive issues such as constipation, to name a few. Yet it is unlikely that many people fully understand the intricate role this stress hormone plays in the body and why high levels of stress have such a detrimental impact on the immune system.
Why Too Much Stress Makes You More Vulnerable to Illness
When stress is acute, the body releases stress hormones like Cortisol, which prepare the body to fight or flee the stressful event. Heart rate increases, lungs take in more oxygen, blood flow increases and parts of the immune system – such as White Blood Cells, which Cortisol directly regulates – become temporarily suppressed, which reduces the inflammatory response to pathogens. When stress becomes chronic, however, the immune system either becomes less sensitive to Cortisol, or the organs responsible for Cortisol production, the Adrenals, become so overworked that the hormone’s production slowly grinds to a halt, both of which actually serve to heighten the inflammatory response.
This increase in inflammation is what actually leads to coughing, sneezing and other cold symptoms, as well as makes you more vulnerable to getting sick in the first place. And, in the event you do get sick, emotional stressors can actually make your cold and flu symptoms worse by depressing the function of those organs meant to support the body during such stressful events. In fact, the catastrophic consequences of runaway inflammation can be seen in the promotion of diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders; often the very disorders from which inflammation was intended to protect us.
The Vitamin D Connection
Like stress, vitamin D also works on the epigenetic level to influence your susceptibility to illnesses like colds, as well as chronic disease. Vitamin D influences nearly 3,000 of your 25,000 genes, and plays a critical role in your immune response. Vitamin D could rightly be described as a “miracle nutrient” for your immune system, as it enables your body to produce well over 200 antimicrobial peptides, which are indispensable in fighting off a wide range of infections.
Research has confirmed that “catching” colds (and flu) may actually be a symptom of an underlying vitamin D deficiency. Less than optimal vitamin D levels will significantly impair your immune response and make you far more susceptible to contracting colds, influenza, and other respiratory infections.
The research is very clear, the higher your level of vitamin D, the lower your risk of contracting colds, flu, and other respiratory tract infections.
It’s not surprising, then, that the average American gets so many colds each year, as current guidelines for optimal intake and normal vitamin D levels are far too low — and since most people do not get adequate sun exposure on a daily basis (which is what produces vitamin D in your skin) many are deficient. .
The Perfect “Recipe” for Avoiding Colds
Chronic stress and vitamin D deficiency could be described as the perfect “storm” for developing colds; if you’re facing these two scenarios and you’re exposed to a cold virus, there’s a good chance you’re going to get sick.
Cold viruses can live on pens, computer keyboards, coffee mugs and other objects for hours, so it’s easy to come into contact with such viruses during daily life. However, the key to remember is that just being exposed to a cold virus does not have to mean that you’ll catch a cold. If your immune system is operating at its peak, it should actually be quite easy for you to fend off the virus without ever getting sick.
If you want to join the ranks of “those people” who rarely get sick, start with the strategies listed below. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does give you a general idea of how to live healthy and avoid getting frequent colds and other infections. Other factors, like getting high-quality sleep and avoiding exposure to environmental toxins, are important too, but if you’re looking for a few simple “secrets” to get started on today… start with these…
- Reduce and Eliminate Stress in Your Life, Especially Chronic Stress
- Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels
- Optimize Your Insulin and Leptin Levels by Avoiding Sugar, Fructose
Eating sugar, fructose and grains will increase your insulin level, which is one of the fastest ways to get sick and also experience premature aging. Leptin is another key hormone associated with disease and the aging process.
Like your insulin levels, if your leptin levels become consistently elevated, your body will develop resistance to this hormone, which may wreak havoc in your body.
If you are exercising regularly, the likelihood of your acquiring a cold or other viral illness is significantly reduced. In one study, staying active cut the risk of contracting a cold by 50 percent, and cut the severity of symptoms by 31 percent among those who did catch a cold. The researchers noted that each round of exercise may lead to a boost in circulating immune system cells that could help ward off a virus.
It is actually a well-known fact that exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. The job of these cells is to neutralize pathogens throughout your body. The better these cells circulate, the more efficient your immune system is at locating and defending against viruses and other pathogens that may opportunistically overrun the body.
Due to the key role that exercise plays in supporting your immune system, it’s crucial to treat exercise like a medicine that must be properly prescribed, monitored and maintained for you to enjoy the most benefits.
- Eat Plenty of Raw Food
One of the most important aspects of a healthy diet that is frequently overlooked is the issue of eating uncooked, natural raw food.
Unfortunately, as you may be aware, over 90 percent of the food purchased by Americans is processed. And when you’re consuming these kinds of denatured and chemically altered foods, it’s no surprise we have an epidemic of chronic and degenerative diseases, not to mention way too many cases of colds and flu. Ideally you’ll want to eat as many foods as possible in their unprocessed state; typically organic, biodynamic foods that have been grown locally, and are therefore in season. But even when you choose the best foods available you can destroy much of the nutrition if you cook them.
As you can see, the miracle solution for cold and flu avoidance is nothing more than mindful, healthy living. The true avoidance should be stress and the foods, situations and individuals that causes it.