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Spring is just around the corner, but before those flower buds peak through you might still be worried about catching a cold or a viral infection. The start of 2020 brought on multiple respiratory viral infections, including a novel coronavirus throughout North America and internationally. So, it’s not surprising that maintaining a healthy immune system remains a top priority for many of us.
Our immune system is made up of organs, specialized cells, signaling molecules, proteins and communication pathways to help defend against unwanted invaders. The cold seasons bring about viral and bacterial infections which can result in a range of symptoms such as sore throat, cough, fever, sneezing, headache, body aches and congestion. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that bare a similar appearance to a crown (corona = crown in latin). There are numerous types of viruses within this family and some types cause the common cold. Rhinoviruses (rhino = nose), are another family of viruses and are predominantly the main cause of the common cold. With influenza A, influenza B, coronaviruses and rhinoviruses, there is certainly no shortage of infectious agents that can lead to illness during the winter months. Most people completely recover from uncomplicated infections like the common cold or flu with the help of a well-functioning immune system. However, if the immune system is not functioning optimally, getting sick often or having difficulty recovering may become a common occurrence.
There are a variety of factors that can impact optimal functioning of the immune system, including:
All these factors can contribute to poor immune health.
Stress is a normal physiological response that promotes survival and is actually good for us, but only when it’s short-lived. Stress that lingers for weeks, months or years can bog down the immune system, resulting in poor immune activation and a weakened response overall. This is why following a stressful event such as a string of exams or the loss of a loved one, most people fall ill. So, although short-term stress is beneficial to our health, long-term, chronic stress can suppress the immune system.
Sleep also impacts immune health. It’s well known that when you’re sick the body has a strong desire to sleep. Feeling tired, achy and having trouble concentrating are all symptoms to help encourage your body to get more zzz’s. While asleep, the immune system works hard to battle against the unwanted infection. Studies involving sleep-deprived individuals reported altered immune markers, which can potentially increase the susceptibility to respiratory infections. So the next time you feel the beginnings of an infection, getting under the covers for some shut-eye can actually benefit your immune system.
Additionally, a nutrient-rich, varied diet is an important factor in maintaining a healthy immune system. Studies have shown a deficiency in various vitamins or minerals (such as vitamin C and zinc), have been associated with immune system incompetency. Consuming colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and proteins contribute to immune cell activation and antibody production. Both these processes help identify and target unwanted invading organisms. Hence, ensuring your diet includes a variety of essential nutrients plays a major role in immune function.
Despite getting a good night’s rest and eating well some individuals may need additional support for optimal immune wellness. There are a number of herbal agents that come to mind to help keep the immune system working effectively.
Using herbal compounds alongside lifestyle modifications to ensure you are well-rested, eating a variety of healthy foods and managing stress can keep your immune system working hard to protect against common viral agents during the remainder of the cold and flu season.
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