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STAYING HEALTHY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

Balancing healthful choices with enjoying life, which includes celebrating from time to time, is key to staying healthy and avoiding sickening attacks by viruses, bacteria and other pathogens in our everyday environment.

We have entered the season of giving:  giving gifts, sharing traditional sweet treats in abundance, swapping germs with distant friends and relations.  Enjoying the holidays is an enriching part of our lives, but that said, if you feel yourself coming down with a cold or flu, this is NOT the time to be eating sugar, artificial sweeteners or processed foods.

Sugar is particularly damaging to your immune system, which needs to be ramped up, not suppressed, in order to combat an emerging infection.  The amount of sugar in a glass of orange juice-much less a piece of pecan pie-is enough to cut your body's immune response by 50% for up to 8 hours!   Mix that with a brew of unfamiliar viruses carried into the room from three states over, and you have the perfect formula for coming down with some sort of illness.

You must address nutrition, sleep, exercise and stress issues the moment you first feel yourself getting a bug. This is when immune-enhancing strategies will be most effective.  When people come down with a cold or flu, it's because some combination of factors has weakened their defenses. You might be able to get away with one or two transgressions, but a bucketful of poor choices will cause your immune system to crash. And then suddenly…you're sick.

When you're coming down with a cold, it's time to address ALL of the contributing factors immediately.  This would be a good time to tweak your diet in favor of foods that will strengthen your immune response. Good choices include:

  • Raw, grass-fed organic milk and/or high-quality whey protein
  • Fermented foods such as kefir, kimchee, miso, pickles, sauerkraut, etc.
  • Organic eggs from free-ranging chickens
  • Grass-fed beef and wild-caught salmon
  • Coconuts and coconut oil
  • Locally-grown fruits and vegetables-eat a rainbow full of antioxidants
  • Mushrooms, especially reishi, shiitake, and maitake, which contain beta glucans (which have immune-enhancing properties).  New Chapter's Host Defense contains all the mushrooms listed and more, if you're not keen on eating them.
  • Garlic, a potent antimicrobial that kills bacteria, viruses and fungi
  • Herbs and spices with high ORAC scores: turmeric, oregano, cinnamon, cloves

Make sure you are drinking plenty of fresh, pure water. Water is essential for the optimal function of every system in your body.  If the thought of water makes you shiver in the cold, try hot green tea.  Switch to chamomile tea toward evening for its calming benefits.

Pay attention to how you are sleeping.   If you aren't getting enough sleep, or enough restorative sleep, you'll be at increased risk for a hostile viral takeover.  Supplements such as magnesium help the body relax and drift into sleep more easily.

And don't underestimate the importance of regular exercise for increasing your resistance to illness. There is evidence that regular, moderate exercise can reduce your risk for respiratory illness by boosting your immune system.

But at the same time, don't overdo it. Over-exercising can actually place more stress on the body, which can suppress the immune system--and you don't want that either. When the den-and the bathroom-are overflowing with family might be an ideal time to take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood.  Any rise in body temperature will be an unwelcome climate for a viral invader.  And you'll be relieving some emotional stress at the same time.

Emotional stressors can also predispose you to infection.  (Your in-laws from Idaho might have brought more than a virus with them.)  Finding ways to manage daily stress as well as your reactions to circumstances beyond your control will contribute to a strong and resilient immune system.

Most of the people incorporating a significant number of these wise lifestyle choices into their daily lives simply don't get sick. And when they do, it's mild and short-lived.