This fantastic article was written by Trisha Miller, a freelance writer from Boise, ID. She is a dedicated vegan who promotes an all-around healthy lifestyle. We encourage you to check out her blog and follow her on Twitter!
In a world with copious amounts of pollution, high sugar, processed foods, and constant stress, it makes sense that most of us are used to getting sick a few times per year. However, there are some very simple steps that you can take in order to improve your overall health and lower your risk of getting sick so often.
Fix Your Diet and Boost Your Immune System
Avoid Excessive Refined Sugar
Ingesting large amounts of sugar decreases a process called “phagocytosis.” This process is carried out when white blood cells engulf invading bacteria. Studies have shown that excess consumption of sugar can greatly reduce their ability to carry out the process. As a result your body’s natural process to remove free-roaming bacteria isn’t very effective. This means that bacteria missed by your white blood cells have a higher chance of spreading and making you sick.
Sugar is still an important part of any diet; it’s just much more absorbable and provides nutritional benefit to your body when you consume it in the form of fruit. As such, if you find yourself craving a lot of sugars, try reaching for some fruit instead. It’s OK to consume some sweeteners, but if you can, try to choose plant-based and raw alternatives. Try to reach for things like raw and unbleached sugar, raw coconut sugar, or raw honey. The reason I stress “raw” so much is the fact that many of these products can be construed as being healthier alternatives to sugar, and in some cases they are, but sometimes alternative sugars can be processed just as much as white sugar. So, always reach for the raw forms when you can.
Eat Fermented Foods
Fermented foods accomplish several things in your body when you ingest them. First, the good bacteria in the fermented products feed on the sugars in your food, which helps to break them down better during the digestion process. This saves your body from having to do more work, especially on tough and difficult to process foods. After it does this, your food is broken down into forms that are more easily absorbed by your intestines. This means you’ll actually receive higher nutritional benefits to the foods that you eat. Your body can extract all those wonderful vitamins and minerals much more efficiently. Lastly, there is evidence that eating fermented foods promotes all-around better gut health, which means your intestines will experience less inflammation in addition to the benefits listed above. Having healthy bacteria circling the gut has also been linked to improvements in allergies and a strengthened immune system.
All in all, when your body is able to absorb more nutrients and vitamins from your food, it can function at a higher level, which can help it to better ward off bad bacteria that enter your body. If you do get sick, a stronger body will be able to fight off illness faster and more efficiently. Examples of great fermented foods to eat and drink include yogurt, tempeh (fermented soy), kombucha, kefir (fermented milk drink), kimchi, and many other fermented fruits and vegetables.
In addition, if you feel that you’re not getting your hands on enough fermented foods, try adding a probiotic supplement to your diet. Probiotic bacteria exist in all of the foods we just mentioned, so adding a supplement to your diet will have the same effect. It will introduce those good bacteria into your digestive tract, which of course promotes a healthier body altogether.
Avoid Excessive Alcohol
Many of us enjoy drinking an alcoholic beverage now and again, which is OK. The key to consuming alcohol is moderation. It is suggested that women don’t exceed one drink per day and that men don’t exceed two drinks per day. In fact, some studies show that wine and beer, when consumed in moderation, may have a positive effect on our immune system. However, things like, age, body size, and sex have a lot to do with that as well. So, essentially the effect may be different on each person. I suggest sticking with the one to two drink rule listed above, and if you’re going to drink, you might be better off with wine or beer rather than liquor.
Excessive drinking or binge drinking has a negative effect on your body’s ability to fight off nasty bacteria. When consuming large amounts of alcohol quickly, a depression of your immune system begins within mere minutes. White blood cells in the body are triggered after consumption of alcohol and they begin to start their bacteria fighting process. Alcohol consumption activates a protein in the body that tells white blood cells that they should be on high alert. However, this effect quickly fades and the immune system becomes tired quickly. Researchers found, after high amounts of alcohol were consumed, the immune system crashed and was much less effective than before any alcohol was ingested.
2 Key Lifestyle Habits to Avoid Getting Sick
Physical activity is an important part of any healthy routine. Even for the busiest individuals, there are many ways to stay in shape. Simply getting up and walking around or going to the gym for light to moderate exercise a few times per week is recommended by medical professionals. However, working out too much and too often can actually weaken your body instead of strengthening it.
When you work out too much, your body has a hard time catching up. After you work out, your blood flow increases and all of your muscles and organs start to work efficiently together. Although, if you try to work out for too long, it can be difficult for your body to maintain a heightened level of efficiency. As such, your muscles get tired and so does the rest of your body, which can have a negative effect on your immune system. Your body becomes sore and overly tired, and your body has to work harder to just recover from the workout. On the other hand, if you try some mild to moderate exercise a few times per week, your body will feel less stressed, less strained, and more like a well-oiled machine.
Researchers have found that most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night in order to function properly. While you sleep, there is direct communication happening between your brain, your nervous system, and your immune system. Sleep is a period in which your body can balance itself and somewhat “reboot” each individual system of the body. This is a time for your body to examine its current status and prepare for the day ahead. When you’re awake, your body subscribes to more of an alert-and-response type system. When something happens to your body, it responds accordingly. However, it’s not always great at shutting down these responses once they’re up and running. So, a lack of sleep can result in an increased amount of stress, a lack of focus, and ultimately a deficient immune system.
We absolutely need this period of reflection within the brain in order to decompress, sort through all of the events of the day, and prepare for another full day of activity. Our bodies go through so much stimulation (sight, sound, touch, and emotion) that the brain needs time to process all of these different stimuli. If you’re running on empty, you’re trying to pack on more information than your brain can process at one time; you’ll probably feel overwhelmed and find it hard to remember key pieces of information. Well, the same thing happens to your body. Your brain tells your immune system to start back as zero, so to speak, so that it’s armed and ready to right off any sickness trying to invade your body.
Important Daily Habits for Keeping Your Immune Strong
Hygiene / Hand Washing
There is a reason that you see signs in restaurant bathrooms instructing workers to wash their hands before they go back to work. When you’re touching things throughout the day, and especially in places like public bathrooms, your hands pick up all kinds of germs and even potentially bacteria that can lead to disease. So, of course it’s important for food workers to wash their hands thoroughly before they prepare your meals, but it’s equally important for you to do the same to ensure you’re saving yourself from illness.
This means you should wash your hands well and often. Simply putting your hands under running water does nothing for removing bacteria. It will still transfer to everything that you touch. The only thing that is proven to work in the removal of bacteria from your hands is warm water, soap, and friction. The combination of all three of these things for at least 20 seconds is the only method that we know with certainty works.
What’s more, you can use hand sanitizers in between washes if necessary. If you’re unable to wash your hands periodically throughout the day, try to keep hand sanitizers with you that contain alcohol. Alcohol-based sanitizers are proven to kill most bacteria sitting on your hands. However, they can be quite harsh on your hands and dry out your skin, so be aware of that as well. In addition, sanitizers aren’t great at killing all bacteria, and they can have a hard time breaking through oils that are sitting on top of your skin. So, in the end, it will come down to a need to wash your hands regularly no matter what. There is no substitute to hand-washing that will prevent the spread of illness and disease.
Don’t Bite Your Nails!
When you’re washing your hands, it’s important to wash every part of the hand, including the nails and underneath them. However, we can’t always wash away bacteria in small, very hard to reach places. Hand-washing is a great way to get as much of it off as possible, but there may be other things lingering under your nails, especially if you’re a nail-biter.
As we discussed, bacteria are everywhere; even if you wash your hands regularly, you’re still picking up bacteria when you touch anything. Now, if you’re a nail-biter, you’re also transferring bacteria from everything that you touch directly into your mouth. These bacteria also sit under your nails, which are undoubtedly the hardest part of your hands to keep clean, and the bacteria transferred into your mouth will start to spread. Everything you touch can receive some amount of transfer of this bacteria, which means you end up with a back and forth spread of bacteria from your hands to your mouth and everything else you come into contact with. As I said, some of this can be eliminated by washing your hands, but not all. In order to keep the spread of bacteria to a minimum, it’s a good idea to try and stop biting your nails immediately.
Most of us in the world hate getting sick, and as you’ve read today, there are many things you can do to try and avoid it. If you’d like to cut down on the number of times you get sick per year, try and pay attention to things like your sugar intake, physical activity level, amount of sleep, and how often you wash your hands. Being cognizant of these things can lead to a strengthened and protected immune system that can more effectively and efficiently fight off sickness.