It’s important to build your immune system to resist colds and flu. And it’s good to know, many of the steps we provide here offer additional benefits—including helping to prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even varicose veins!
The start of winter makes us think of exciting snow-covered ski slopes and heartwarming holiday gatherings. Unfortunately, winter is also the height of cold and flu season. But building your immune system and keeping it strong is important all year long.
How Our Immune Systems Help Us
Our immune systema help our bodies fight against harmful infections and diseases. It’s made up of a complex balance between our white blood cells, lymphatic system, thymus, and more!
Health care providers will recommend certain vaccines for protection against specific germs or invaders. But getting vaccinated is just part of protecting our health. There are many things one can do, daily, to keep our immune systems strong and our bodies healthy.
Immune Systems Weaken with Age
Immune systems change with age. And aging is certainly out of our control. Many older adults find their immune systems have weakened and they’re more susceptible to certain diseases.
But still there are things we can do at any age to make our immune systems stronger.
Here are ways to improve your immune system to better fight colds and flu. And you’ll find that the health benefits extend way beyond flu season.
Eat Healthy Foods
We enjoy foods because of their pleasing tastes and textures. But our bodies depend on food to get the necessary nutrients.
Not only does food give us energy (measured in calories) for activity and growth— it also keeps our immune system robust.
A healthy diet includes:
- Fresh fruits
- Whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Lean protein
A diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables will provide lots of fiber to support your gut’s microbiome production for a strong immune system.
You should avoid:
- Too much salt
- Saturated fats
Read how eating certain superfoods helps fight body inflammation and pain and helps prevent varicose veins and other health problems.
Vitamins and Supplements
Key micronutrients for strong immunity include:
- Vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D and E
Many doctors recommend taking zinc supplements if you’re developing a respiratory infection to ease symptoms and shorten the length of the infection.
A healthcare provider will let you know the best amounts of zinc and vitamins to take. You don’t want to take too much as some can be harmful if taken in too large a dose.
A balanced and complete diet may even eliminate the need for any additional supplements.
A well-hydrated body will better fight off the flu and colds. Hydration can come from water, teas, and even chicken soup!
Adequate hydration helps the communication and biochemical pathways of the immune system. Your blood will more easily transport nutrients, fluids, and signals to organs to help fight infection.
Sometimes the thought of reducing stress seems a bit like herding cats—a highly difficult task. But even if you can’t control the events in your life, you can help your body better deal with the stress you’re experiencing. This is important because stress can harm you.
Stress weakens parts of your immune system and leaves you at greater risk of infection. For example, shingles, a painful and sometimes dangerous rash, often emerges when a person is under constant stress.
Some easy ways to reduce stress include:
- Going for a 20-minute walk
- Listening to favorite music
- Practicing yoga or meditation
- Reading a good book
- Calling a friend
- Doing something you enjoy—such as cooking a delicious meal for yourself
- Watching a funny movie
- Relaxing outside in the fresh air
- Spending time with your pet
Start exercising to give your immune system a boost. Exercise helps the immune cells circulate throughout your body during the periods of exercising. Afterwards, the immune cells will remain for up to three hours, working to protect your body from harm.
Harvard Medical School published the benefits of brisk walking to boost immune function during the cold and flu season. It reported, “A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.”
Exercise will also support vein health so veins can efficiently help your immune system circulate throughout your body.
Watch Your Weight
Keep at a healthy weight for a strong immune system and optimal health.
Health professionals define an obese person as someone with a body mass index (BMI) higher than 30. Studies have shown that obesity can decrease the immune system’s effectiveness and is associated with a lower effectiveness of vaccines—including the flu vaccine.
Other studies have found a connection between being underweight and having an impaired immune system.
When it comes to your immune system and your health in general, it’s best to maintain a good weight. Your health care professional can give you the best weight range to strive for.
These factors play a role in weight management:
- Eating a well-balanced and healthy diet
- Getting enough sleep
- Minimizing stress
Get Plenty of Sleep
It’s an undisputed fact that experiencing a poor quality of sleep hurts your immune system.
Not getting enough sleep will:
- Dangerously reduce production of cytokines (small proteins that enhance activity of immune system cells and blood cells)
- Reduce production of antibodies
- Increase your risk of viral infections
Read more about the effect of sleep on your veins and arteries.
Give Your Lifestyle a Checkup
Two of the most important things you can do to preserve your immune system are:
- Stop smoking
- Limit alcohol
Smoking will make you more susceptible to getting influenza and pneumonia, as well as making these illnesses more severe and long-lasting.
Excessive use of alcohol will reduce the antibodies your body has to fight off infections. It also disrupts gut barrier function that produces antiviral proteins and eliminates infections.
Are you wondering about your vein health? Contact us at NJVVC to request a free vascular screening.
Today the word superfood enjoys widespread use and is the highest compliment a food can receive! It means that the food has unusually high levels of nutrients and offers a variety of significant health benefits.
Happily, there are superfoods that can even help fight inflammation and pain.
You probably have heard the term “superfood,” but do you know its origin?
During World War I, the US imported large amounts of bananas. The United Fruit Company called bananas “superfoods” since they were cheap, nutritious, easy to digest, and conveniently came in their own packaging! Bananas quickly became a staple in many Americans diets.
Vascular Issues Associated with Inflammation and Pain
Chronic inflammation commonly causes varicose veins. The inflammation damages the valves in the veins. These damaged valves lead to stagnant flow in the affected veins, eventually leading to varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). Once this occurs, the veins no longer function well in getting blood back to the heart.
Varicose veins can also create long-term swelling that causes ulcers or sores that won’t heal.
Having a sedentary lifestyle, or needing long periods of bed rest, are just two f actors that slow down blood flow and can also contribute to the development of varicose veins—and to more inflammation and pain.
Poor circulation can cause you to feel pain, numbness or tingling in different parts of your body, including:
- Hands and fingers
- Feet and toes
Read more about signs of varicose vein disease.
Here are simple ways to improve your blood circulation.
Inflammation is a serious condition. Along with contributing to the development of varicose veins, it can cause plaque to develop and loosen in the arteries, and even cause blood clots that result in strokes or heart attacks.
Chronic inflammation contributes to many other serious medical conditions, including:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
Inflammation can also cause chronic pain in the muscles and tissues, or can even cause painful skin rashes, such as psoriasis, or joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
An anti-inflammatory diet can not only reduce inflammation in your body, helping you to avoid dangerous medical conditions, but can even reduce pain. This diet will also help you control your weight, which will most likely further reduce pain in your body.
Fortunately, we can improve both vascular issues and inflammation with:
- A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods
- Elimination of inflammatory foods
- Weight loss/control
- Blood sugar control
So, incorporate some of these anti-inflammatory superfoods into your diet and learn which is the most damaging inflammatory food to avoid.
Eat These Superfoods to Reduce Chronic Inflammation and Pain
Blueberries, Strawberries, Oranges and Other Fruits
Blueberries are chock full of phytonutrients that fight inflammation. If you can’t find fresh blueberries, buy frozen berries for the same nutrients.
Chili peppers have lots of vitamin C—an antioxidant that fights infections. It’s also associated with elimination of cancer-causing radicals in the body. Hot peppers also help reduce pain due to the capsaicin they contain.
Other fruits that are strong inflammation fighters include:
Sweet and Tart Cherries (Fruits worth mentioning on their own)
Sweet (Bing) cherries and tart (red) cherries both have strong anti-inflammatory properties, and a lot of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are closely associated with reduced muscle pain and reduced muscle weakness.
Salmon, Herring, Tuna, Mackerel, Sardines
Wild salmon has lots of omega-3 fatty acids, which are great inflammation fighters. Salmon helps improve blood flow and reduces inflammation in blood vessels and nerves. It’s also good for your heart and can even help reduce joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis or back pain.
Not a fan of salmon? Try other types of cold-water fish such as sardines, tuna, and mackerel.
But not all fish offer these health benefits. For example, catfish and tilapia have high levels of omega-6 fatty acids which can actually increase inflammation.
Consuming these spices leads to reduced inflammation:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
EVOO helps lower bad LDL cholesterol. It’s rich in antioxidants (polyphenols) and has other anti-inflammatory properties. Use it instead of butter or other cooking oils.
Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Medical School reports that the health benefits of EVOO include a reduced risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease, and dementia for people who consume more olive oil than those who have little or none.
Pumpkin seeds have powerful antioxidants and magnesium. They can help reduce the number of migraines. They also support a healthy heart and lower blood sugar levels.
Chia and flaxseeds also top the list of anti-inflammatory seeds.
Coffee and Tea
Coffee has polyphenols and other compounds that fight inflammation. It also narrows dilated blood vessels to help reduce headache pain. Just be aware that consuming lots of coffee, and then suddenly avoiding coffee, can cause a withdrawal headache.
Healthful anti-inflammatory teas include green tea, black tea, and rosehips.
Edamame, young soybeans, are a substantial source of antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin K. It may reduce heart disease risk, as well as cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.
Yogurt is associated with many health benefits, including decreased insulin resistance and decreased inflammation. Researchers possibly connected the anti-inflammatory powers of yogurt to its probiotics, but more studies are needed. Be sure to avoid sugar-flavored yogurts!
More Foods That Reduce Inflammation
Include these additional anti-inflammatory foods into your diet for better health and to feel great:
- Vegetables—including leafy greens, broccoli, cucumbers, spinach
- Nuts and beans—including walnuts, almonds, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, soybeans
- Whole grains—including whole grain bread, rye bread, brown rice
Eating a healthful diet will help you look great too! Read about vitamins for healthy skin.
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
The number one inflammatory food is sugar. So, skip the sodas, desserts, candies, and fruit juices and look forward to feeling better. There is much debate about whether sugar is actually addictive, but there is no debate regarding the harm it causes the body.
Avoid these other inflammatory foods to feel better:
- Processed meats—bacon and ham
- Fried foods
- Red meat—hamburgers and steaks
- Refined carbohydrates—white bread, white rice, pasta
- High-fructose corn syrup—watch for on all food labels
- Margarine, corn oil, shortening
Learn more about the connection between diet and varicose veins.
Contact NJVVC for treatment of varicose vein disease and venous insufficiency.