Chronic stress shifts the balance of immune response. When stress is acute, like during exercise or studying for an exam, the innate immune system jumps into action as the first line of defense against bacterial and viral infections. On the other hand, chronic stress causes the adrenals to continuously produce the hormone cortisol. Long term exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones suppresses the innate immune system while increasing the activity of immune cells responsible for allergic and autoimmune conditions.
Sex hormones also play a role in regulating the immune system. Both estrogen and progesterone regulate immune cell creation and function. Imbalances in either of these hormones could lead to poor immune response to acute infections, like colds or cuts. At the same time, estrogen and progesterone imbalances may cause an overactive immune response related autoimmune conditions. Excess androgens, such as testosterone, as found in PCOS, suppress immune cell function and can lead to increase susceptibility to colds and flu.
The keys to preventing and fighting colds and flu are managing stress, balancing hormones and building a healthy immune system. This can be accomplished through diet and lifestyle choices, as well as, with nutritional and herbal supplements.
Here are a few tips on building and nourishing the immune system to ward off colds and flu naturally:
1. Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Sugar and refined carbohydrates tax the immune system by feeding bacterial and fungal growth. Sugar contributes to inflammation in the body which can be a factor in hormonal imbalances.
2. Reduce caffeine.
Caffeine is an anti-nutrient substance which can reduce your body’s natural defenses. Caffeine triggers the adrenals to release cortisol which can perpetuate chronic stress. Try green tea in place of black tea and coffee for a bit of a boost with added antioxidants.
3. Eat your greens.
Green vegetables are sources of vitamin C and antioxidants which support the body’s immunity. Green cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and bok choy contain indol-3- carbinol which helps to eliminate excess estrogen. Spinach, chard, and avocado contain magnesium which is an important nutrient for relaxation and regulation of the body’s stress response.
Chronic sleep deprivation is a form of chronic stress. It reduces immune function and increases inflammation. By going to bed earlier and turning off electronics an hour before bed, you can support quality sleep. Meditation and taking short walks away from work are other methods to incorporate rest into your day.
5. Enjoy Herbal Teas.
My favorite herbal tea for fighting colds and flu is Lemon Ginger Turmeric Tea:
Lemon Ginger Turmeric Tea
8 ounces hot water
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon raw honey
1 to 2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated or chopped finely
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine the ingredients in a mug and pour the 8 ounces of hot water over them. Stir and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir and enjoy.
The ginger is warming and contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune supportive.
Nutritional and Herbal Supplements may be used to aid in strengthening the immune system:
1. Probiotics balance and support healthy gut microbiome which in turn supports a healthy functioning immune system.
2. Elderberry is a natural source of vitamin C and flavonoids with antiviral properties. It also has one of the highest ORAC values of all of the berries, making it a potent antioxidant.
3. Reishi mushroom has been used traditionally as an immune tonic due to its antiviral, antibacterial, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties.
4. Vitamin D plays a vital role in enabling immune cells to function more effectively. Vitamin D is important for reducing inflammation.
5. Zinc is essential for the production, function and regulation of immune cells. Zinc is necessary for estrogen and progesterone production.
Building a healthy immune system requires supporting your body as whole, hormones and all.
Have you been struggling with reoccurring colds? Do you see a correlation between stress and your menstrual cycle and your colds? Leave your comments below.
Warm winter wishes,