By Dr. Chad Larson
Flu and cold season is quickly approaching and there isn’t a soul looking forward to it. While even the healthiest of individuals can be hit hard with the symptoms of the influenza virus and bacterial infections, those with autoimmune diseases are at even greater risk. Research has shown that inflammation, which is caused by the immune system becoming overactive, increases in the winter. Results from one study conducted on the correlation between seasons and human health revealed that genes promoting inflammation were increased in winter while genes suppressing inflammation were simultaneously decreased in the winter.
The way a body reacts to viral or bacterial infections varies from person to person. While some may just experience typical flu symptoms, others may be more affected by a radical flare up of their autoimmune disease. The reason for this is best explained within the very premise of how an autoimmune disease works: the confused autoimmune system feels the need to attack their host body, rather than just the foreign virus that arrives uninvited.
Since an individual with an autoimmune disease already has a compromised immune system, flu season can be even more challenging for them to get through than an otherwise healthy individual in the following ways:
- Higher susceptibility to catching a virus
- Prolonged recovery periods
- Challenging treatment protocols
- Experiencing a major setback to autoimmune progress
Here are a few prevention, treatment and recovery tips to help those who suffer from autoimmune issues navigate through this year’s flu season:
Get plenty of sleep – Try for seven to nine hours of sleep per night to keep your immune system strong. Our T cells, which fight virus and infection, go down when we are sleep deprived, while inflammatory cytokines go up.
Exercise – Of course, exercise is important for your overall health and well-being. However, it is believed that exercise contributes directly to a healthy immune system in that it promotes good circulation, which allows the cells of the immune system to move throughout the body to do their job efficiently.
Eat right (for you)! – For those with autoimmune diseases, this can be extremely tricky. There are many foods, such as gluten-containing grains and dairy, which can cause inflammatory response, thus weakening the immune system. Your best bet is to eat whole foods, rich in antioxidants and vitamins, such as fruits and vegetables, organ meats, fish oils, nuts and seeds. Testing for food sensitivities is a great way to rule out any and all foods for which you might have an intolerance – and may in turn trigger a negative autoimmune response.
Your gut reaction when coming down with a bug might be to run to the drug store in search of natural remedies or supplements that are labeled to fight flu by stimulating the immune system. Unfortunately, this can be completely counterproductive for you if you suffer from an autoimmune disease, as it can aggravate your already over-active system! Instead, consider adding key vitamins and minerals to your diet that help strengthen and modulate the immune system, such as fat-soluble vitamins A and D, probiotics, zinc and selenium. You should also consume extra high-inflammation fighters such as turmeric, onion, ginger, and cucumber. Drinking green juices that detox can also help to eliminate viral and other toxins in your body.
Extra rest and sleep – Our bodies heal when we doze. The immune system loses functionality when you’re on the go, nonstop. Resting and relaxing your mind from stress will help your body recover without resistance.
Non-strenuous movement – Though you want to eliminate strenuous activity and exercise during any recovery, some movement is important to keep your circulation going. Whether a short, easy walk outside for some fresh air and vitamin D, or simple stretches, keep that blood flowing and those T cells circulating.
Our health is greatly impacted by stress, sleep, exercise and what we put in our bodies. If you suffer from autoimmune related symptoms, it is important to take preventative measures and follow a treatment and recovery protocol that is autoimmune specific, but also tailored to your body’s individual needs and reactive nature. Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical laboratory specializing in functional immunology and autoimmunity, offers the Array 10, a unique, revolutionary panel, which measures reactivity to 180 food antigens in the cooked, raw, modified and processed form and monitors the effectiveness of customized dietary protocols.
First and foremost, the best thing you can do is to communicate with your healthcare provider. Self-awareness, a healthy lifestyle and proactive testing can keep you one step ahead in the prevention of any illness.
Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor and Consultant on Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories. He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.