• Dr. Cirelli

Get Your Immune System Fall-Ready



Are you having a Surreal September? Our traditional season of going back to school and starting new work projects definitely has a few twists this year. We face many unknowns, but here’s what we do know: our immune system is more vulnerable in fall. And the stress of the constant pivoting of the last several months has inevitably taken its toll.


This year more than ever we must support our immune system - and September is the perfect time to get started. Let’s take a look at why our immune system is more vulnerable in fall, who is most at risk, and what you can do to get your immune army strong and ready to ward off invaders.


Why You’re More Likely to Get Sick in Fall

It’s not only that viruses are stronger in the fall because of the ideal weather conditions. Unfortunately, many of the same conditions viruses love can negatively impact our immune system.


Hot, Dry Indoor Air

Cold weather + low humidity = the ideal virus environment. And while the weather cools down outside, things heat up inside. Indoor heating can make the air hot and dry, which can irritate the delicate skin of the nasal, sinus and throat passages. The resulting small cracks act like open doors, allowing bacteria and viruses to enter the body. Did you know that most viruses can reproduce as much as 100 times faster in heated, low humidity air?


Less Sunlight

Our skin produces vitamin D readily when it’s exposed to sunlight, but lower levels of sunlight in the fall mean less Vitamin D for us. Research shows that Vitamin D (a.k.a. the Sunshine Vitamin) is a key nutrient needed to support a healthy immune system.


Fluctuating Weather

Fall means frequent changes in temperature, humidity, wind levels and barometric pressure. This transition can be hard on the body, causing stress as it constantly tries to adapt to this roller coaster of seasonal changes.

What are the Risk Factors for Weakened Immunity?

When a virus gets past our body’s first line of defense: our skin and mucous membranes, it will encounter our immune army. But will it meet a big, powerful army or a small, ineffective one? Let’s take a look at the factors that may weaken our immune defense.


Existing Health Issues

When a virus invades, your immune soldiers are designed to work fast to locate and deactivate the invader. But if they are already fighting battles against viruses, bacteria or any illness that impacts the immune system, there may not be enough soldiers available to wage war against the new virus.

As a result, the new virus can slip past the soldiers, (aka our white blood cells working via our lymphatic system) and cause unfettered damage.


The Potential Impact of Medication

In some cases, both the illness itself and the treatment may weaken your immune system. Some drugs (such as those used in chemotherapy or to treat autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis) work by deliberately suppressing the immune system.


Health Conditions Carrying High Risk of Impacting the Immune System:

⦁ Respiratory illnesses like asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

⦁ Organ or bone marrow transplant

⦁ Autoimmune conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Type 1 Diabetes or Psoriasis.

⦁ Cancer

⦁ Digestive illness like SIBO, IBS or Leaky Gut Syndrome


Chronic Stress

Several months of sky-high stress levels have resulted in increased anxiety and general overwhelm across the globe. Research shows that chronically being in fight of flight mode can significantly weaken the immune response.


Lack of Sleep

If Netflix has become your new late-night BFF consider this: sleep is when your immune system takes note of the day’s invaders. Every night, our immune system gathers everything it has learned about viruses and bacteria it encountered that day. It notes the invader characteristics and methods of attack and creates antibodies to fight off that invader in the future. Research shows that this process of ‘immune memory’ creation can ONLY happen during sleep.


A High Sugar Diet

Eating sugar feeds the bad microbes in our gut so that they multiply. If these bad microbes become too numerous, our good bacteria may be crowded out. Since the majority of our immune system resides there, the state of our gut is a vital part of the immune response.


What You Can Do to Support Your Immune System


1 - A Healthy Diet

Did you know that 80% of our immune system resides in our gut? Starve out bad microbes, reduce mucus production and nourish your good gut microbes by eating an organic, gut-friendly diet rich in nutrient-dense vegetables. Here are some choices to consider:


Reduce These Foods:

Alcohol

Sugar

Simple carbs like bread and pasta

Processed foods

Dairy

High-fat foods


Embrace These Nutrient-Dense Immune System Friendly Foods:

Proteins

Oysters

Sardines

Eggs

Salmon

Beans

Legumes


Vegetables

Carrots

Button mushrooms

Spinach

Sweet potatoes

Broccoli

Red peppers

Fermented cabbage (sauerkraut or kimchi)


Fruit

Orange

Grapefruit

Watermelon

Pomegranates

Blueberries

Strawberries

Mangoes

Lemon


Nuts and Seeds

Sunflower seeds

Brazil nuts

Pumpkin seeds

Walnuts

Sesame seeds


Spices and Soups

Onions

Garlic

Turmeric

Ginger

Miso soup with seaweed

Bone broth


Beverages

Green tea

Smoothies including fruits and veggies above

Kombucha

Plenty of filtered water


2 - Install a Humidifier

Make things uncomfortable for viruses by increasing the humidity of your indoor air. If you only have one humidifier, put it in the bedroom to treat the air while you sleep.


3 - Get Better Sleep

Regularly having 7 – 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night is a fast track to optimal immune function. In addition to forming ‘immune memories’ our bodies detox and produce hormones at night. These tasks can only happen while you’re asleep. Research shows that lack of sleep significantly weakens the immune system, and sets the stage for further illness.


4 - Set Boundaries

For a two-letter word, ‘no’ can be very difficult to say. But think about it this way: you’re not saying no to someone else. You’re saying yes to yourself. With so many unknowns this fall, make sure you don’t over-commit. Each week carve out some time for yourself and don’t book anyone else in, no matter how tempting it may be to say yes. Practice makes perfect – just say no!


5 - Get More Exercise

If you’ve fallen off the exercise bandwagon (and who hasn’t this year?), the cooler temperatures of fall make this a great time to kick-start your routine. Exercise increases circulation, making sure that your immune army cells can quickly get to where they are most needed. Avoid injury by easing back in with gentle exercises like tai chi, yoga or walking.

Ready for some cardio? It turns out that strenuous exercise doesn’t have the immune-lowering action we once thought, so go for it! Recent research shows that strenuous exercise increases natural Killer cells – a key type of soldier in our immune army.


Supplements to Support a Strong Immune System

Keeping your body fully nourished and topped up in these key vitamins can help it to be ready should the battle arrive at your door:


Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that’s essential to the body. It contributes to our immune defense, among many other roles, by supporting various immune system functions. It is actively transported to the skin where it helps to create a strong initial barrier against pathogens, and it encourages the production and function of white blood cells for internal defense.


Vitamin D

The Sunshine Vitamin is now recognized as a key part of immune support by the medical community as a whole. Research shows that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with higher rates of infection and longer recovery times, and supplement is recommended in the winter months.


Zinc

Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system. It is crucial for the normal development and function of immune cells, and has a crucial role in moderating the body’s inflammatory response.


Elderberry

Elderberries have long been used in herbal medicine to support the immune system during an illness or infection and reduce the symptoms of illnesses such as colds and flu. Packed with antioxidants, elderberry has a direct antiviral effect, blocking viral proteins and inhibiting the early stages of an infection. Try it in a delicious syrup that even kids will love!


Do you feel ready for fall? Let’s make sure your immune system is fully supported to work at its best. We can do food sensitivity testing to make sure your diet is right for you, assess your immune response, and work to reduce stress. Together we can design a personalized plan to make sure your immune army is ready to protect you against whatever this September throws at you!




References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2277319/#:~:text=Zinc%20affects%20multiple%20aspects%20of,are%20affected%20by%20zinc%20deficiency.

Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M. The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease. Physiol Rev. 2019;99(3):1325-1380. doi:10.1152/physrev.00010.2018

Calder PC, Carr AC, Gombart AF, Eggersdorfer M. Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System Is an Important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):1181. Published 2020 Apr 23. doi:10.3390/nu12041181

Campbell JP, Turner JE.Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan. Front. Immunol., 16 April 2018 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2018.00648

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/

Charoenngam N, Holick MF. Immunologic Effects of Vitamin D on Human Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2020;12(7):2097. Published 2020 Jul 15. doi:10.3390/nu12072097

Hawkins J, Baker C, Cherry L, Dunne E. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 2019;42:361-365. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004


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