TAKING CARE OF YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM THIS WINTER
Our body’s immune system is a complicated biological structure and process that protects us against disease. It is capable of detecting a wide variety of entities, called pathogens; of recognizing that these pathogens are not our own healthy tissue; and of attacking these to keep us healthy and alive. Even though pathogens evolve rapidly—think every year’s new batch of flu viruses!—our wonderful immune system adapts to these changes and continues to recognize the newly developed pathogen whenever we run up against it in future again, keeping a body memory of those pathogens it defeated in its past.
Pathogens vary widely, from viruses, through bacteria, and to parasitic worms. All of them can maim or even kill the human body. Pathogens are so prevalent, that without immunity we would not survive even a simple paper cut. If our immune system becomes compromised, we have less protection against cancer, autoimmune diseases, and inflammatory diseases. A compromised immune system, or immunodeficiency, occurs when we are born without the correct genetic coding to bestow a healthy immune system, when we get sick with such viral illness such as HIV/AIDS that dismantle our immune system, or when we have to take medications such as chemotherapy that suppresses the immune system.
Although a great many of us do not have an immunodeficiency, we may develop a decreased immune response for a variety of reasons. Let’s look at seven of these reasons today. All of these can be managed or avoided, restoring our full immune response:
Practice stress-reducing activities like yoga and mindfulness. Attempt to be grateful, make a decision even if it is not the perfect one, and connect with people. All of these activities help reduce stress and improve our immune response.
Avoid simple carbohydrates, such as cane sugar, glucose candy and fruit juices. Complex carbohydrates, such as that found in pasta, are alright in moderation. Focus on increasing the number of fruit, vegetables, and amount of low-fat milk.
- Lack of sleep
Make sure you have a great sleep hygiene. Most importantly, get up at the same time every day; and do not watch TV or read when in bed.
- Lack of exercise
Walking for as little as twenty minutes a day five days a week can help our immune system work at its peak.
- Too much sunlight
Avoid being in the sun without UV radiation protection sunscreen (SPF). Use “broad-spectrum” or “multi-spectrum” protection for both UVB and UVA. For the vast majority of people, SPF 15 is good, but those of us with very fair skin, a family history of skin cancer and conditions such as lupus with increased sensitivity should use SPF 30 or higher.
The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day.
- Smoking and drinking
Get help to stop smoking, and ask family members to stop as well, if they smoke. If we do not drink alcohol at all, it puts us at some higher risk for heart disease, but in addition to decreasing our immunity, too much alcohol intake causes increased deaths due to cancer and liver disease. It appears today that the “Goldilocks” level of alcohol use in adults is between two to four standard glasses of wine a week.
About Dr. Pieter Strauss:
Dr. Strauss was born in South Africa, emigrating to Canada with his family in 1995. He has a private practice in the Fraser Valley and sees patients with mental health issues in his community. He was Head of the Psychiatry Department at a regional hospital with a staff of nine psychiatrists until last year when he decided to focus on his practice and his work at our hotel. Dr. Strauss has always been interested in long-term human relationships and envisioned enhancing relationships.