I have always remembered myself as a snotty nose girl growing up. Being snotty had caused me to be a wallflower because, well, I was disgusting. Fast forward many years later, I became the girl who knew exactly when the pharmacy went on sale, so I would go straight to the Cough and Cold aisle and bought as many items as the discount would apply. It was so pathetically like “I’m gonna get sick and use all of these up anyways, might as well just stock up.”
When the cold got really bad sometimes, I would go from Benilin to Robitussin to Mucinex to Tylenol to Advil to Vicks and, as a final resort, to Buckley’s (because it tasted disgusting).
Despite exercising 3 – 4 times a week, and eating “well,” my immune system functioned like a dead snail. I caught a cold twice a month and each time lasted 2 – 3 weeks. Basically, I barely had a day in my life without cold/flu symptoms. The stress levels being in school didn’t help, either.
Being snotty nose and severe allergies run in my family, but we took it as a cold medication deficiency. Allergies, defined as the body’s immune responses to seemingly harmless substances, suck up the body’s resources to fight harmful things like germs. As a result, I walked around sniffling all the time.
“It’s genetics. It’s the card I was dealt with and I just have to live with it,” what what I believed.
Fast forward until 2013, I discovered an ancient object in my drawer at work that is a pack of expired Tylenol and Claritin. I haven’t needed any of these since 2 years ago.
It turned out my immune system had room for improvement after all.
Here are what I did:
1. Eat a diet that doesn’t send my blood sugar in constant rollercoaster.
High blood sugar sucks for the immune system. But controlling my blood sugar doesn’t only mean giving up sugar alone. Sugars are sneaky these days. I gave up all forms of fruit juice and added sugar, such as dextrose, glucose-fructose, high fructose corn syrup, etc, on food labels.
Starchy foods can throw your blood sugar out of whack, especially if you live on a bread, rice and pasta diet. I stopped eating a diet comprising mainly of bread, rice and pasta. Rather, I started composing my plates of a full serving of protein (meats or beans), lots of vegetables and sometimes a condiment-sized serving of rice, sweet potatoes or quinoa. Every meal had to contain a good amount of protein (at least 20 g) and fibers. I started eating more good fats like fish oil, nuts, butters, and avocadoes. Breakfast, too, had to be full of proteins, good fats and vegetables; and the so-called breakfast cereals should only be rarely eaten as treats. Just from these changes alone, I realized that I don’t have to be starving less than an hour after I eat (which was usually the case if I ate 2 – 3 slices of pizza or a large sandwich for lunch). I felt much more stable. My acne clears up, and my immune system works so much better.
2. Learn to sleep properly and take back my meditation practice
We all live in a constant “ON” state, while our bodies also need the “OFF” state to properly rest and repair. I’ll take it as common sense now that everyone knows it’s easier to get sick if you are super stressed out and don’t get enough restful sleep, but there’s a bit more to that.
The sleep hormone “melatonin” rises and fall in opposite direction as the stress or awake hormone “cortisol.” Melatonin helps increase antioxidants in the body, which in turn helps with the immune system. Also, we go through sleep in phases when the body undergoes different repairs. Hence, if your sleep time jumps around between weekend and weekdays, you will not have optimal immune system.
Excess stress suppresses the immune system, so it is important not only to manage stress, but to increase stress resilience. A marvelous (and inexpensive) way to do it is to participate in calming (parasympathetic) activities like meditation, restorative yoga, Qi gong.
3. Take a high dose probiotics supplement
Up to 80% of our immune system is in the gut, so a good gut flora is important for many aspects of health. Unfortunately, being exposed to multiple bouts of antibiotics as a child and by eating conventional meats destroy the gut flora. If poor immune system is an issue, you should supplement with good bacteria at least 50 – 100 billion CFUs (NOT when you are taking stomach acid blocker medications). Note that commercial yoghurts don’t have anywhere as much so they won’t work for that purpose.
4. Nutrients: Vitamin A (not Beta-carotene), C, Zinc, Selenium, D; but also everything else in a real, whole foods diet.
Deficiencies of these nutrients can cause poor immune function. So eat the foods, i.e. butter, cod liver oil, liver, pumpkin seeds, seafoods, brazil nuts.
Most of us don’t eat plant foods that are freshly harvested, so much of the vitamin C is destroyed in the shipping and preparation process. It may be important to supplement vitamin C just under bowel tolerance.
5. Introduced adaptogenic herbs
My life changed forever when I discovered this thing called Adaptogens. They are herbs that function to help our bodies adapt better to stress. Most of them have immune-boosting properties and some of them are also calming.
Herbs like astragalus can boost the immune system, although it’s not meant to be taken for more than a few months.