Winter Do Your Worst, I’m Protected

By on February 10, 2018
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Like every winter, flu and colds are doing their rounds. Why do some people turn into watery-eyed, sniveling wrecks that can’t drag themselves out of bed, while others remain seemingly unaffected?

Those having a successful season may take precautions, vigilantly washing hands after outings and packing their fridge with nutritional protection, but they probably also keep their sunny disposition even during a torrential downpour. Why? A positive mindset plays a role in immunity.

Colds and flu are caused by viruses, and your body certainly will contract the virus if it doesn’t recognize it (if you’ve never had it before) and build immunity to it. However, you only succumb when your immune system is compromised.

When you have a healthy immune system, symptoms are either mild, like being tired or achy for a few days, or are hard and fast, meaning that it’s quickly resolved in a day or two. If it lingers for weeks or you’re down for the count or bedridden, your immune system could be stronger. Therefore, it’s not that some people don’t get sick when exposed to a virus, it’s in how well your body deals with it.

Stressed? Depressed? Suppressed?
Your immune system becomes suppressed when you’re upset, anxious or feeling stressed. This is due to your innate “fight or flight” response that is helpful in certain circumstances, but can reduce protection against invading viruses. Chronic stress not only suppresses the immune system’s protective effects, but it can exacerbate “pathological immune response” that causes illness symptoms of all kinds. Even persistently feeling low due to winter darkness is now thought to play havoc with your immunity.

When Stress Saps Your Health
Your negative response to stress (and remember, you can take a positive approach to any stressor occurring in your life) triggers changes in hormones and even your genes. Epinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitters and cortisol and other hormones are produced by your pituitary and adrenal glands. When immune cells bind with these, it can interfere with their function, reducing your defenses. And this can affect your cells’ DNA, which leads to premature aging.

Feeling Blue? Try Painting Yourself a Different Colour!
If you often feel tension, anxiety, anger or depression, learn simple tricks to uplift your mood:

1. Smile. A gentle smile (think Mona Lisa or Buddha) relaxes facial muscles, and in turn, the entire body’s muscles.

2. Ask for a hug. Physical contact even for a few seconds is proven to calm, and boost immunity.

3. Go for a walk. Swinging your arms while walking uses both sides of the brain; this triggers creative thinking and problem solving.

4. Eat right. Whole vegetables, grains and lean protein balance blood sugar to keep you on an even keel.

5. Laugh. It’s the quickest and most innate stress reliever.

Allies in Your Flu Fight
When you need extra help, immune-boosting botanicals can be a lifesaver. The woody mushroom Ganoderma lucidum or reishi has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Reishi has antiviral and immune-strengthening properties and it aids the adrenal glands to calm you and lessen negative reactions to stress. A 2015 study found that just two weeks of taking reishi mushroom significantly reduced the effects of the flu by stimulating all types of immune cells, resulting in a “lower viral load.”

Certain herbs can stoke your internal flame when you’re feeling cold and miserable. True to its Italian roots, oregano oil heats things up — you simply have to take a drop under your tongue to feel its intense warmth. Many studies show that it’s much more than an ingredient in marinara sauce! Concentrated wild oil of oregano extract acts as a potent antiviral. Research from 2016 found that it does this by helping to create a stronger immune barrier within your intestines. This immune cell barrier reduces inflammation, wards off bad bacteria, and protects against viruses and diseases.

Some seeds are also powerful protectors. Black seeds (also called Nigella sativa or black cumin seed), a seasoning in Middle Eastern cooking, contains over 100 healthy compounds. Two of them, crystalline nigellone and thymoquinone, have been found to knock out invading viruses and bacteria. A 2014 study found that it reduced throat viral infection by 80%!  Black seeds were found in King Tut’s tomb, and used by ancient physicians, yet are well-researched by modern science, with 500 medical papers published on them.

Resources
1. Dr. Bryce Wylde, health and wellness expert for CityTV and CityLine, Toronto, ON. wyldenaturalhealthteam.com, 2005 interview, Vista Magazine, “You Probably Don’t Have the Flu.”

2. Dhabhar FS, “Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful.” Immunol Res. 2014 May;58(2-3):193-210. doi: 10.1007/s12026-014-8517-0.

3. David A. Padgett, Ronald Glaser, “How stress influences the immune response,” Trends in Immunology, Volume 24, Issue 8, p444–448, August 2003

4. Vaclac Vetvicka, Jana Vetvickova, “Glucan supplementation enhances the immune response against an influenza challenge in mice,” Ann Transl Med, 2015 Feb; 3(2): 22.

5. Yi Zou, Quanhang Xiang, “Oregano Essential Oil Improves Intestinal Morphology and Expression of Tight Junction Proteins Associated with Modulation of Selected Intestinal Bacteria and Immune Status…” Biomed Res Int. 2016; 2016: 5436738. May 29. doi: 10.1155/2016/5436738

6. Fatemeh Forouzanfar, Bibi Sedigheh Fazly Bazzaz, “Black cumin (Nigella sativa) and its constituent (thymoquinone): a review on antimicrobial effects,” Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2014 Dec; 17(12): 929–938.

Carol Crenna has been a national health journalist for 20 years, and a certified holistic nutritionist for over 10 years. She has written features for Reader’s Digest, Best Health, MORE and Canadian Living, and conducted seminars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Association, Stroke Recovery Association, GF Strong Amputee Recovery, Inspire Health, Capilano University and Langara College.

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