This Just In… Sleep is Really Important!
Yesterday I posted part 1 of a two part series on boosting your immune system. Read on for part 2.
Get enough sleep
Unfortunately, those of us who regularly get less than 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep per night may be putting our immune systems as risk. High quality sleep includes stage 3 and 4 sleep, or non- REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is the deepest sleep we experience, and is associated with low serum cortisol and catecholamine, and high serum growth hormone and prolactin. This type of sleep also appears to promote healthy immune function; T cell extravasion to lymph nodes improves, as does the function of select cytokines that promote the interaction between antigen presenting cells and helper T cells. To put this simply, a lack of sleep can fundamentally alter the delicate balance that exists within the immune system, predisposing one to decreased immune function.
Manage Stress Effectively
Your adrenal glands are endocrine organs that sit above your kidneys and play a pivotal role in stress response. They manufacture and secrete cortisol (among other hormones), an important hormone that regulates the body’s stress response and modulates the immune system. During times of acute stress, cortisol production increases. Immediate effects of cortisol include an increase in anti-inflammatory mediators, a down-regulation of inflammatory proteins, sleeplessness, digestive disturbances and anxiety. As the acute stress response dissipates, cortisol levels drop, allowing the immune system to resume function. Many of us have experienced this – perhaps working hard to meet a deadline, barely sleeping and living on coffee. As soon as the stressful period ends, we get sick! This isn’t because our immune system has given up, it’s actually the opposite; since cortisol depresses the immune system, our bodies puts fighting pathogens on hold. Once we have the time and energy to “be sick” cortisol production drops and our immune system resumes once again, causing those symptoms associated with the common cold or flu.
So how can we manage stress to improve immune function? Firstly, it’s important to avoid periods of prolonged stress. This isn’t always possible, of course, but dealing with stress effectively can help stave off excessive cortisol production and the symptoms associated with it. Meditation, organization and a healthful diet during times of stress can work wonders. Taking a 10 minute walk after work while winding down for the night can help induce relaxation, and prevent excessive cortisol production.
If all else fails, supplemental nutrients help to improve immune response, and most have clinical efficacy in reducing duration of upper respiratory tract infection, in addition to preventing recurrence.
Elderberry – Sambucol, an over the counter elderberry syrup, contains a compound called antivirin that prevents many flu viruses from invading other cells. Elderberry also prevents flu virus haemagglutination, thereby inhibiting viral adherence to cell receptors. Anthocyanins within the syrup produce an analgesic effect similar to that observed with standard doses of acetylsalicylic acid. Elderberry has a long tradition of safety in botanical medicine and also tastes great, it’s a great option for kids over 3. Take 1 tspn 3x / day, away from food.
Andrographis – An herb that has a rich history in Ayurvedic medicine, andrographis has numerous health benefits that range from liver protection, to protection of gastric mucosa, to cancer prevention. With respect to cold and flu prevention, andrographis significantly reduces the likelihood of falling ill. In a double blind, placebo controlled clinical trial, researchers found that children who received 200 mg of andrographis extract daily for 3 months, were 2.1 times less likely to miss school due to cold and flu. In adults, the dose is higher, at 2-3 g/day for prevention of cold and flu, and 4-6 g/day to treat acute infection.
Following these lifestyle tips will have you well on your way to feeling great, and preventing illness. It takes time and energy to change your lifestyle, so if you’re already feeling under the weather, try Sambucol or Andrographis, you may be surprised at how quickly you recover!
Have a great day,
Dr. Kaleigh Anstett