Happy New Year and Welcome to 2018!
The holidays are an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones, but they can also make you feel like you need some serious recovery and “me” time.
By Bianca Drennan, ND, Toronto Naturopathic Doctor
December brings parties, irregular and poor eating behaviours, lack of sleep, excess alcohol, and a constant “go go go” feeling. Combine these with a lack of sunlight and cold temperatures and you have a recipe for feeling less than your best. A lot of people choose January to change their habits in order to feel better – diet, detox, exercise, etc. Although these are all great intentions to start off the new year, we often overlook a huge component to why we feel so run down – our immune systems.
Immunity is not as “sexy” as detoxification this time of year, but it should be. If you’re feeling run down, burnt out, foggy, low, sick, and have an overall feeling of unwell, your immune system likely needs a reboot. The crammed schedules and irregular routines of the holidays takes a significant toll on your body’s immune system and can deplete it’s resources that help you fight infection, stay energized, and keep you strong and healthy. With a compromised immune system, you’re more susceptible to illness, chronic disease, fatigue, and irregular moods. Thankfully, there are many ways to support your immune system through diet, supplementation, and behavioural modifications. Below I have listed some of my favourite and most effective ways to get your immune system back on track and you feeling like your best self.
- Ensure adequate protein at every meal and snack – protein is essential for the building blocks of our immune systems. They help form the backbone of antibodies and disease-fighting signals.
- Eat more mushrooms – fresh or dried, raw or cooked, encapsulated or powdered, mushrooms contain fantastic immune modulating properties, as well as serving as a source of plant protein.
- Reducing or eliminating refined and added sugar – sugar is the enemy of overall good health, but it especially dampens the immune system, making it less able to do it’s job.
- Incorporate adaptogens like maca – adaptogens such as maca help the body cope with stresses and changes to your system, and also improve energy and hormone function. I prefer maca in it’s powder form versus a capsule.
- Immunity-based herbal tinctures containing Echinacea or Astragalus – these immune supportive herbs are fantastically powerful. Echinacea is best taken while feeling sick as it is immune stimulating, whereas Astragalus is best taken when not actively ill as it acts more as an immune booster. You do not want to take an immune booster while sick.
- Take the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D – in it’s active form (D3), Vitamin D helps support the immune system, improve mood, ease the transition to less daylight, and regulate hormones. Most of us in the Northern Hemisphere lack Vitamin D in the winter, and often all year, and therefore we require supplementation via gel capsule or liquid. It is incredibly difficult to get adequate Vitamin D through diet alone.
- Improve your gut health with probiotics – probiotics are key to supporting gut health and your microbial flora which is where a lot of the immune system originates. Kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi are great food sources. I recommend these foods in addition to a high quality supplement in order to reap the most benefit.
- Exercise in a gym or get outside – exercise, even when run down, will help improve energy, stimulate blood flow and oxygenation to the brain and muscles, build lean body mass, and improve resilience to illness. Whether you do it inside or outside (exercising outside has been shown to even further enhance immunity), get moving!
- Get adequate sleep – sleep is when our body system’s enter a recovery phase, including the immune system. It is when all of the good things you’ve done for yourself have an opportunity to really take effect. This is especially necessary after a month of sleep deprivation. Aim for 6-8 hours per night.
- Incorporate contrast showers daily – doing a series of hot and cold cycles at the end of your shower is a form of hydrotherapy treatment. This is similar to when you go to a spa and do a cold plunge after a sauna treatment. Alternating hot and cold has been shown to stimulate components of the immune system (white blood cells) and improve energy. Always remember to end on cold.
Always consult a health care professional, such as a Naturopathic Doctor before drastically changing your diet or taking any natural (or pharmaceutical) supplements to ensure safety, efficacy, and proper dosing. Some of the above listed recommendations require a Naturopathic Doctor to safely and appropriately dose, and should not be self-prescribed in order to reduce the risk of side effects and ensure effectiveness.
Dr. Bianca Drennan ND, provides nutritional consulting and naturopathic medicine services at Pacific Wellness and is available for appointments four days a week. If you would like to detoxify and trim your body, improve your lifestyle or address certain health concerns please call us at 416-929-6958 or submit your online appointment request to arrange your initial appointment. The naturopathic appointments are covered by most employee benefits.