By Katie Rosenbrock
Almost everyone loves fall, but absolutely no one loves flu season. Unfortunately, the two tend to commence right around the same time.
Anyone who’s ever suffered from the flu or even the common cold knows just how utterly unpleasant a viral sickness can be, especially because they can be challenging to treat.
Usually the most you can do is rest until the virus runs its course, which is why avoiding infection all together is a much more effective plan of attack.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts the flu each year, and on average, flu complications land about 200,000 Americans in the hospital each year.
Luckily, aside from getting a flu shot, there are several healthy habits you can follow (and a few things you can avoid) that will help decrease your risk of getting sick, both during flu season and all year round.
A few experts weighed in with advice about what you can do to improve your immune response.
Dr. Kathy Gruver, PhD is a health and wellness expert and the author of Conquer your Stress with Mind/Body Technique; Kusha Karvandi is a nutrition expert, personal trainer, best-selling author, and host of the Exerscribe Radio podcast; and Dr. Kalpana DePasquale is a physician and Founder at St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat.
Continue reading to find out what they say you should do to ensure you stay healthy and flu-free all year long.
Easy Ways To Boost Your Immune System
"Too much sugar curbs immune system cells that attack bacteria," says Dr. Kalpana DePasquale, a physician and Founder at St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat. "Eat more fruits and vegetables that are rich in nutrients like vitamins C and E, plus beta carotene and zinc. Shoot for five cups of fruits and veggies a day."
"Study shows people that have connections with small or large groups of people have stronger immune systems," DePasquale says.
"Smoking allows Hydrogen Cyanide into your lungs, which prevents cilia, the small hair cells that transport secretions and bacteria out of the lungs, from working properly,” says DePasquale. "Decreased ciliary clearance increases the likelihood of toxic chemicals building up inside the lungs and predisposes smokers to pneumonia. The tar found in cigarette smoke also damages the immune cells that exist in in the lungs and prevents them from functioning properly.”
Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation
"Excessive alcohol consumption inhibits the function of your white blood cells which can lower your resistance to infection," DePasquale explains. "Excessive consumption will impede the ability of the liver to store important vitamins and prevent the body from absorbing enough protein. Lastly, alcohol intake can also create changes in the cells and molecules that outline our immune response."
"Chronic stress exposes your body to a steady stream of stress hormones that suppress the immune system," says DePasquale. Dr. Kathy Gruver, a health and wellness expert and author of Conquer your Stress with Mind/Body Technique adds, "Anything we can do to lower stress is going to help our immunity." She recommends a technique that she calls mini meditation. "Concentrate on the breath and on the inhale think, 'I am' and on the exhale think, ‘at peace,’ and repeat."
"Studies show that working with things like affirmations, visualizations and meditation can help our immune function," Gruver said. "First saying things like 'I am healthy and well' is going to be better than, 'I hope I don't get sick.' Anything we do that adds stress depletes the immune system. So, using affirmations can help."
Improve your gut health
"Over 70 percent of your immune system lives in your gut," says nutrition expert Kusha Karvandi. "This consists of not only helper T cells, but mainly good bacteria that helps fight off pathogenic (bad) bacteria and viruses. Most people have damaged gut flora (good bacteria) and a damaged gut wall --when the gut is damaged many foods will not completely digest and the undigested particles will make their way into the bloodstream wreaking havoc on the brain, immune system, metabolism."