The Christmas season is upon us and even though it’s the season of giving, we’d rather not receive your cold or flu! Have you ever noticed that around this time of year more people have sniffles, sneezes, fevers and stomach bugs than any other time of the year? Doctors are even pushing flu vaccines (don’t get me started on that one) because it’s “Flu Season”. Really? Influenza has a season of its own?!? Is it just naturally a time when there’s stuff “going around” or are there other factors involved? The truth is there’s a host of factors as to why people might be more vulnerable to catching something at this time of year. In this article I will highlight three “S’s”. I’ll also make some recommendations for what you can do to boost your immune system and help you stay healthy at this time of year!
A Weakened Immune System
Let’s face it, pretty much ALL sickness and disease is the result of a weakened immune system. Our body has natural mechanisms to fend off foreign invaders and keep us well. However, there’s certain things we can do(both dietary and in terms of lifestyle) to weaken these lines of defense. When our immune system is compromised, we’resetting ourselves up for the inevitable – getting sick!
I like to use the analogy of an offensive line protecting the quarterback in football. There are several positions on the offensive line and each has a different role and way that they protect the quarterback. Similarly, the body has many systems and methods of fighting off illness ranging from white blood cells, to lymphocytes, to T-Cells. Occasionally the offensive line sustains an injury and this weakens its ability to protect – likewise the body might have autoimmune diseases or HIV. Alternatively, the defense in football can send additional attackers to get to the quarterback as a “blitz” – this would be like dietary and lifestyle choices that bombard and overwhelm our immune function.
Bottom line is this, if your immune system (offensive line)is compromised you’re far more susceptible to pathogens! Here’s that thing though – we can actually do things to strengthen our immune system and give it more help. In the same fashion, in football, an offensive line that is having trouble protecting the quarterback, can have additional players like running backs and receivers (who don’t normally do that job) help out in certain situations.
The First S: Stress
I don’t know about you, but between buying and wrapping all the gifts, travelling, attending parties, and a full on schedule through the month of December – things can get a bit stressful. There’s a lot to get done this crazy month and the to-do list seems never-ending at time! Our bodies don’t deal well with stress. They focus on key functions to keep us alive and slow down some of the secondary and tertiary systems like our immune system.
Since Christmas can be a very stressful time of year, it’s important to plan things in advance, look at your schedule and ensure that you’re not trying to do too much! Our bodies don’t distinguish between what’s causing us stress. They just release more cortisol into our bloodstream and this cortisol results in weakened immune function. If something is stressing you out this holiday season – find a way to avoid it or at least reduce it in some way. And I know you might be thinking it so I’ll say it! Drinking alcohol to “cope” with stress is NOT the answer! It actually compromises the immune system further and doesn’t really deal with the root cause of stress anyways.
TIPS for Reducing Stress :
- make sure that you still have time for exercise (an immune system protector),
- find healthy ways to relax like yoga/meditation/massage
- deep breathing exercises can be done any time anywhere to help
The Second S: Sleep
Let’s face it, between staying out late at obligatory parties,going to kids’ Christmas concerts, and staying up late binge watching Christmas movies a lot of us aren’t getting enough sleep through the holidays. Every person has a unique number in terms of what’s ideal for them, but experts agree that the average person requires between 7-10 hours per night to function “normally”.
Lack of sleep plays havoc on the immune system. Sleep is really the time when the body goes to work repairing itself. Both our heart rate and breathing rate decreases during deep sleep. Furthermore our bodies no longer have to use energy for movement or digestion, so they can re-direct their energy to perform“maintenance”. It’s no wonder that when we’re really sick, we avoid eating, we don’t want to move, and we’d prefer to stay in bed and sleep all day. That our body’s built-in way to allow the immune system go into over-drive.
TIPS for Ensuring you Get Enough Sleep:
- Set a bed-time alarm on your device
- Avoid screen time in the 30 minutes before bed
- Get some form of exercise during the day
The Third S: Sugar
I’ll admit it, I consume far more sugary treats at this time of year than any other! Will power alone isn’t enough to stop me, and I’m guessing it’s not enough for you either! The problem is that consuming high amounts of sugar weakens immune function as well.
According to Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS:
“When you eat a big dose of sugar like a bottle of Coke or a candy bar, you temporarily tamp down your immune system’s ability to respond to challenges. The effect lasts for several hours, so if you eat sweets several times a day, your immune system may be perpetually operating at a distinct disadvantage.”
So grazing at all those sugary baked goods throughout the day puts us in jeopardy of picking up whatever pathogens are ready to pounce!
Everyone enjoys the holiday treats but let’s face it, we know we don’t need all those empty calories either. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have anything –that’s unrealistic! Instead, limit the amount of treats you have during the holiday season. Go in with a plan that you’ll only have a certain number.
Tips for Avoiding Excess Sugar:
- Only eat sugary treats AFTER a meal and not throughout the day (with a full stomach, sugar isn’t absorbed as rapidly)
- Keep your sugary treats, and baked goods out of sight.
- Have a set number of treats that you’re willing to enjoy and don’t go over!
Between increased stress, lack of sleep, and consuming excess sugar during the holiday season we’re setting our bodies up to have a compromised immune system. The first step to winning this battle is being aware. When you have a plan of attack, you can ensure that your immune system isn’t compromised and you’re able to fight off those nasty colds and viruses. Below are some additional products and recommendations I have to ensure you’re at 100% through the Christmas Season!