Is Your Immune System Ready for the Fall Season?
Among the beautiful changes to the scenery and family holidays, fall is also a time when your immune system faces some of its biggest challenges. Between changing temperatures and reduced sunlight and reduced physical activity, the self-care that we engage in with a healthful diet and exercise through summer months is set aside during the fall and winter months. The holiday season and increased indoor social activities help to expose us to more antigens and infectious opportunities. To get your immune system ready for the fall season, we would like to share some information about how it all works, and what you can do to navigate the Fall with better health and wellness outcomes.
How The Immune System Works
When something is wrong with your body, you can just feel it. There are many messages that your body sends through a variety of different symptoms to let you know that the immune system is not running at an optimal level. Your immune system is constructed of a network of complex cells, tissues and major organs that work in unison to provide protection from bacterial or viral infection.
There are two types of white blood cells at work every minute within your body to seek out and destroy antigens and other threats to health. Leukocytes are stored in the thymus, bone marrow and the spleen. These white blood cells exist in two forms; the phagocytes and the lymphocytes. The Phagocytes are aggressive cells that find and eradicate any bacteria or virus that enters the body. The soldiers of the immune system literally chew up and destroy foreign organisms. The second type of white blood cell are lymphocytes, which act as a learning and memory center for the immune system. These remarkable cells remember the markers of viruses and bacteria, which help trigger an earlier response next time your body is exposed to invading organisms. The two pronged approach of the white blood cells are critical to the healthy functioning of your immune system, and are essential to remove infection (thereby reducing the length of time you are sick) and recognize the pattern of bacteria and virus to prevent future infections.
The Sweet Dilemma
Craving sweets is one way that your body compensates for a lack of energy. As the days get shorter and the weather changes in the fall, naturally we begin to crave higher carbohydrate foods. How we eat changes as a result with less fruits and vegetables, and more potatoes, thick creamy soups, bread and rich gravy saturated meats. There is nothing wrong with healthy comfort food options incorporated into a balanced diet, but overloading on carbohydrates can create other problems for your health.
Did you know that a large amount of carbohydrate (sugar) can impede the ability of white blood cells to fight bacteria for up to five hours after consuming something sweet and sugary? Every time you load up on sweets, consider that you are disabling the efficiency of your immune system for hours afterward, leaving you susceptible to viral or bacterial infection and moderate your intake, particularly during the cold and flu season.
Dehydration and Health
In the summer it seems habitually easier to remember to drink a sufficient amount of water; after all, the hot weather inspires us to stay hydrated. But the truth of the matter is that your body requires the same level of hydration throughout the year, regardless of the season. Trading fresh water for other hot beverages like hot chocolate, tea or coffee contribute to dehydration. When you feel tired, do you reach for a retail energy drink? They are generally loaded with salt which contributes to further dehydration. Your cells need water, and dehydration directly impacts the ability of white blood cells to function, making you more susceptible to viral and bacterial infection.
Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Immune System
- Reduce caffeine intake
- Reduce high carbohydrate meals and snacks (and replace them with high fiber and protein options for more sustained energy without the ‘carb crash’).
- Exercise regularly.
- Ensure you are drinking an adequate amount of fresh water daily. Remember that by the time you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated.
- Wash your hands frequently and use antibacterial wipes or gels to reduce your viral or bacterial load on hands and your chance of infection.
- Get sufficient rest. Naps are not just for kids (you are allowed to have one too).
- Ensure you take a quality daily multivitamin and probiotic to fill in the gaps between your dietary nutrition and what your body needs daily for healthy functioning.