“I don’t have time for the flu!”
That was what my patient told me this week. She had been fighting off something that her daughter brought home from school, and was praying that it was not the flu.
Turns out it was a stomach bug, and not the flu, FYI. But can you relate to that reaction? Really, who has time to be knocked out for a couple of weeks?
And before you say, “I’m good – I got the flu shot!”, keep in mind that the flu shot reduces your odds of getting the flu by about 50% in a good year, and can be far less effective if the CDC ends up missing the mark on the vaccine this year.
So that is why I always recommend taking a multi-faceted approach to boosting immune system function to help reduce the likelihood of coming down with the flu.
Like most of the systems in our body, the immune system is complex. For example, did you know that approximately 70% of your immune system tissue is in the gut and affected by digestive health?
Immune system function is also highly affected by stress (mental and physical), certain medications, blood constituents, nutrition, alcohol, and other daily activities and habits.
When attempting to influence a complex bodily system like the immune system, it is In your best interest to use multiple therapies to affect function as much as possible.
Here is my list of the most important areas of focus to avoid getting the flu. I highly recommend starting these as soon as possible. Preventative medicine only works if you start early to give your body time to react to the changes you are making. Prevention won’t work if you’re already sick.
Your top 4 areas of focus:
1. Focus on your gut. Like I said, a healthy immune system starts with a healthy digestive system. Your immune system will not be effective if you are ignoring your gut health.
ESPECIALLY during this time of year of holiday parties, increased sugar and alcohol intake, it is important to do what you can to also add in the foods that are going to nurture and protect your digestive system.
Probiotic-rich foods (e.g. raw sauerkraut, low-sugar kombucha, kimchi), pre-biotic rich foods (e.g. onions, garlic, asparagus, spinach) and high-fiber foods feed the bacteria that improve the health of your gut, and consequently your immune system.
2. Focus on herbs. Related to diet are herbs that can boost digestive and immune system function. Many herbs in the Chinese medical pharmacopeia are also foods (e.g. ginger, cinnamon and licorice root) and when appropriately combined can have powerful effects on the body.
The herbal formula that is most commonly prescribed as an immune booster at this time of year is called Yu Ping Feng San. This formula has herbs in it that, not surprisingly, affect digestive and immune system function. It is what I am taking now!
NOTE: I recommend getting your herbs from a Licensed Acupuncturist or trusted local herb store. There have been many reported issues recently of online retailers not storing and/or sourcing herbs properly leading to spoiled products.
3. Focus on stress. The balance between your fight-or-flight (sympathetic) and rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) systems has a tremendous impact on your immune system function.
Long story short, immune system function is down-regulated when stress is high, making you more vulnerable to illnesses.
The proven ways to strengthen the effectiveness of your parasympathetic nervous system (and your immune system) include engaging in mindfulness meditation practices, getting regular acupuncture, and spending time in nature.
4. Focus on sleep. Certain body processes only occur when you sleep, and effective immune system function relies on these processes to function.
Studies show that lack of sleep makes you more likely to contract an illness, and also affects how fast you recover if you do get sick.
Aim for 7-8 hours EVERY night. “Catching up on sleep” on the weekend or when the kids go to college is not actually possible.
Nobody (that we know of) is immune to getting the flu, but you can take simple steps to protect yourself. Being proactive with your health will save you time, save you money and give you more energy and better mental and physical function on a daily basis.
To your health!