A strong, healthy immune system is key to avoiding serious infection. Even if you are infected with a virus or bacteria, much of your prognosis depends on how robust your immune system is.
Anyone can get sick at anytime for any reason. All of us are exposed to millions of bacteria and viruses every day. So, why don’t we always get sick?
Resilience and strength. The same keys that help us to overcome chronic illness are what help us avoid acute infections like the flu, the common cold, and — yes — Ebola, SARS, Bird Flu, and ANY OTHER microbiologically-derived pathogenic illness.
Maintaining strong immune function is mostly a matter of common sense. Our bodies are wonderfully designed to stay healthy, and they definitely know how to do it. When we give proper support to them, they take care of us in return.
So, without further ado, here are 5 things you can do TODAY to make sure you have a strong, healthy, resilient immune system. None of them are based on rocket science, and all of them are amazingly helpful.
1. Stay calm
Yes, epidemics are scary. Nobody wants to contract any of them, including me. However, not everyone exposed to an epidemic bacteria or virus dies. And, on top of that, more people die from influenza every year than have died this year from any other epidemic.
For example, in 2014, Ebola claimed around 5000 lives. Compare this to WHO estimates of influenza deaths ON A YEARLY BASIS:
“Worldwide, these annual (influenza) epidemics are estimated to result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 250 000 to 500 000 deaths.”
This is not to minimize other epidemics, such as Ebola, at all, as the death rate of those who contract them tends to be much higher than influenza. It’s just to put things in perspective — you are more likely to die from the flu than from Ebola and pretty much any other recent epidemic, in terms of the numbers of cases.
Additionally, ANY viral or bacterial pathway is greatly reduced by proper sanitation — closed sewers, food sanitation, water treatment, and other hygeine measures that are routine in Western countries. One of the reasons Ebola (and so many other epidemics) break out so severely in “poorer” or “less developed” countries is because of the LACK of these measures. It is EXTREMELY UNLIKELY there will be any type of major epidemic here in the U.S.
It’s also very important to note that media LOVES these kinds of stories. Why? Because they’re scary. Ratings go up on scary stories because more people watch. So, they cover it and cover it and cover it and… it becomes overkill. But, they’re making a lot of money in the process. Their incentive is to report news, of course. But, they also make a killing (no pun intended) when they focus on fear-based stories.
And, ironically, being afraid lowers your immunity. Fear and anxiety increase levels of cortisol and adrenaline, both very important adrenal hormones that help the body fight stress. However, both of these hormones suppress your immune system.
So, feeding into the fear around an epidemic doesn’t help ANYTHING.
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that helps you stay calm and recharge your body’s organs, tissues, and glands.
2. Stay hydrated
Dehydration creates a wonderful environment for viruses and bacteria to take root. Why? Because less water = poor circulation and poor circulation = delayed immune response.
Your immune cells need efficient transport to the site of an infection, so they can deal with it. They also need SPACE in which to work. Dehydration increases transport time and reduces the amount of interstitial fluid — or space between cells — in which the immune system does its work.
I recommend at least 3L of water daily as a baseline for most people. That’s only SIX 0.5L bottles of water daily. Not that difficult.
Another thing — you can support your body’s water levels by reducing fluid-depleting foods like caffeine, alcohol, and other diuretics. Obviously if you’re on diuretic medications, please don’t stop those! But, reducing your use of caffeine and alcohol allows your body to focus more on staying healthy and less on processing excess sugar and toxins.
3. Get your rest
Nothing depletes your immune system (or every other system in your body, for that matter) faster than lack of sleep.
Sleep is essential to adrenal function which, again, is an essential foundation for immune function. Also, sleep helps balance thyroid, brain, and just about every other hormonally-triggered body system.
In addition, your immune system does most of its repair work during sleep. Tissues are replenished and restored from the stresses of the day. Collagen synthesis and growth hormone levels are highest during sleep as well. Both promote tissue healing.
Healthy, strong, resilient tissue is essential to maintain the boundaries that keep infections at bay while the immune system works to contain them.
A depleted, tired body simply can’t handle any kind of stress well — much less a pathogen like bacteria or a virus. So, get your rest!
4. Wash your hands regularly
I know, I know… You’ve heard this over and over and over. But, it really does work.
I can personally attest to this because in clinic, seeing 25 or so patients daily, I continually wash my hands and use hand sanitizer. And… (knock on wood)… I almost never get sick despite having people coming through with all kinds of coughs, sniffles, and colds.
With viruses like Ebola, hand washing is essential. These pathogens are transmitted via body fluids. You won’t necessarily catch it unless body fluid from an infected person enters an absorbent mucus membrane like nose, mouth, or eyes.
Hence, the most common pathway for a virus to affect you is YOU. Touching your face, itching your nose, rubbing your eyes, or putting food in your mouth with your hands.
Keep your hands clean, and you’ll be doing a major job keeping infection at bay.
5. Take immune-supporting herbs and supplements
Of course, there are things you can take that help keep your immune system and body healthy.
Probably the BEST protection against viruses are substances that increase lymphocytes and Natural Killer (NK) cell function. And, in this category, nothing beats Astragalus, which is readily available at most health food stores.
Vitamin C is helpful, but be careful as it can cause diarrhea in high doses. Vitamin E is important, as are Zinc and Selenium.
Safe doses of these are widely published and, if you purchase a supplement, just start with the base recommended dose on the bottle, as potencies vary from brand to brand.
There are anti-viral herbs as well. One of the more famous ones is a Chinese herb called Andrographis. This herb earned its legend centuries ago in China, and most recently was used extensively during the H1N1 epidemic in Asia. You should be able to find this in health food stores as well. Keep it on hand and don’t take it unless you feel symptoms coming on. It’s not something you want to take long-term as it can cause stomach upset and fatigue if taken for long periods of time. These side-effects aren’t typical if the herb is used for short courses, however.
It’s easy to get swept up in the general fears about epidemics. It’s natural to be afraid of this kind of thing. But, keep in mind the likelihood of your exposure is very low. AND, if you take the measures mentioned above, you’ll go a long way towards keeping yourself healthy even if you are.