Is this you? “I get two bad colds a year, one small one in the winter and another in the summer.” Two to four days of down time for a cold or flu can cost you thousands of dollars in sick days as a busy health care provider. I am going to share with you some insider strategies to shorten your sick days or eliminate them altogether. Instead of over the counter meds and Echinacea, I am going to give you another way to look at fortifying your body to weather the sickness storms of life. Caution this article contains FIVE foundational methods to support a healthier immune system and boundless energy this summer!
From the Latin immunis meaning untouched, the term immune system refers to your Superman or Superwoman cape that protects you from harm. Some of the strategies I will share will make intuitive sense but some will blow your mind. Let’s start with the first one:
1. Scientists report that Immunoglobulin A in saliva is the front of the line defender against influenzas and pneumonia.
95% of infections start in the nose and mouth1. It is immunoglobulin A or IgA that neutralizes and protect the body from penetration by viruses2. My favorite E word, exercise, has been proven to boost IgA and lower the chance of getting a cold or flu.
I know my dental colleagues can be overachievers. Nothing wrong with that – it got us through dental school. Regular exercise is very good for you but more isn’t necessarily better.
Ultra endurance exercisers have depleted glutathione levels for more than a month after an intense race. Glutathione or GSH has many functions besides being the body’s most abundant antioxidant. It also regulates the immune system4
A study in the European Journal of Exercise Physiology showed that a physical active group (compared to a inactive group) who did aerobic style exercise (for as little as half an hour three times a week for twelve weeks) had 50 percent higher levels of IgA – your first line of defense immune soldiers3 . I know my dental colleagues can be overachievers. Nothing wrong with that – it got us through dental school. Regular exercise is very good for you but more isn’t necessarily better.
Ultra endurance exercisers have depleted glutathione levels for more than a month after an intense race. Glutathione or GSH has many functions besides being the body’s most abundant antioxidant. It also regulates the immune system4. In the months following a marathon, these gladiator type athletes (I might be describing some readers) experienced a two to six fold increase in upper respiratory infections5. NOTE TO SELF, “keep your GSH levels up by not overdoing your new exercise program.”
2. Get more quality and quantity of sleep to have a stronger immune system.
But this sense of “I ought to go to bed,” “Tonight I will catch up on sleep,” doesn’t make the cut. Getting to bed on time sounds easy to do BUT what is easy to do is also easy not to do. An average adult gets by on less than seven hours of sleep a night. This doesn’t bode well for the dentist intense work day, which starve you of sunlight and keep you packed in the operatory in close contact with legions of patients – the last thing you want is a lackluster immune system.
Staying awake for 18 hours a day isn’t a great idea. When you’re awake, your body’s repair / recover / rebuild system is running on standby mode. It is only while you’re sleeping that your body launches its powerful offensive where close to 95% of resources are poured into regeneration mode. Muscles relax, heart rate lowers and the kidneys detoxify. 50 million cells are renewed per second as the unsung hero of your immune system – your lymphatic system disposes of damaged cells6 .
Next time you are sitting next to someone coughing and sneezing on a plane, you are going to think back to this article and remember that I told you regeneration of your immune system is limited to the deepest phases of your slumber. And I know you’re going to pledge to go to bed earlier before you travel when you realize that in a long term study by the BBC in the UK reported that people who regularly get less than seven hours a night are three times as likely to catch a cold. Good night my frequent flyer friend. You know who you are…
3. Mind your guts.
Not the outside but the gut flora on the inside of your belly. You see we live in harmony with over 100 trillion single celled bacteria. 80% of them live in your digestive tract7 and a recent ground breaking article in Scientific American reported their influence on our health is shaking the very foundation of medicine and nutrition8.
The bacteria in your gut play an important role in immune system modulation. Three quarters of the cellular constituents of your whole immune system are located in this area9. If you want to build the strongest foundation for your immune system, you need to do these things to keep your gut flora in good shape:
a) Eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day. (The average North American consumes half that amount). Fiber is the gut bacteria’s number one choice of nutrition on which all other interactions depend reported Justin Sonnenburg PhD assistant professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
b) Regular exercise makes your gut bacteria more diverse in their make-up. This adds to the stability and potency and most of all… keeps pathogens in balance10
c) Limit your use of hand sanitizers outside the operatory. Robynne Chutkan MD author of The Microbiome Solution wrote that part of developing a balanced gut flora means having them less disrupted by overboard sanitization at home (and the overuse of antibiotics). Indiscriminate use of these drugs can decimate your gut flora from six to twelve months after a single course of antibiotics. It takes that long to recolonize your microbiome.
d) Unmanaged stress also decreases diversity in your gut flora and therefore hampers fabrication of the cellular constituents of your immune system.
e) Probiotics are good bacteria found in cheese, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso soup and assorted vegetables.
If consumed regularly they will support optimal gut health and the fortification of an empowered immune system. How about probiotic supplements? Great question, everyone seems to be interested in this popular supplement. There is a very recent study written up in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that just came out in January of this year12.
It looked at thirty hard driving athletes and it showed that probiotic supplementation would help rebuild the first line defense or humoral immune system that gets beaten up from intense training in the winter months. So the athletes who took the probiotic had less respiratory illnesses. There are different formulations and numerous brands available in high-end health food stores, grocery stores and pharmacies. I prefer room temperature stable varieties with multiple strains that are easy to swallow.
4. Manage the stresses in your life.
Chronic activation of your fight-flight nervous system overloads your immune system and increases the odds of you coming down with a virus (cold, flu, etc). Yes there’s real science as to how you can “worry yourself sick.”
Natural Killer (NK) cells patrol your entire body continually looking to attack and obliterate bacteria, viruses and cancer cells. NK cells are blocked or get passively stuck to the walls of your 60,000 miles of blood vessels by elevated cortisol and noradrenaline. This allows viruses and bacteria to linger in your system longer than they ought11. So stop sweating the small stuff – hire a good consultant to take you to the next level, delegate (don’t micro-manage) and empower the talented team you hired so you all get to the finish line (or spring) without down time from sicknesses.
5. Stay hydrated throughout the summer and into the fall.
Drinking adequate water (if you are thirsty you are already too late – the body has already tapped into the contents of your colon in a preprogrammed plan of recycling the water in your fecal matter – sorry I had to tell you this little known physiological fact). Water is a major player in lymph production and helps keep this vital part of your immune system functioning well.
Did I mention vitamin C and Echinacea? Sorry these well-known immune boosters aren’t going to help you if your foundation is not solid. My goal was to provide with core strategies that will provide you, my fellow health care providers, with the best chance of making it through the year without getting a cold or flu. If you utilize the five strategies above you will have my personal insider tools to enjoy vibrant health and energy year round.
1. Neville V et al “Salivary IgA as a risk factor for upper respiratory infections in elite professional athletes” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2008
2. Otsuki T et al “Salivary secretory immunoglobulin A secretion increases after 4 weeks ingestion of chlorella-derived multicomponent supplement in humans: a randomized cross over study” Nutrition Journal 2011
3. Klentrou P et al “ Effect of Moderate Exercise on salivary immunoglobulin A and infection risk in humans” European Journal Applied Physiology 2002
4. Turner J et al. “Prolonges Depletion of Antioxidant Capacity after Ultraendurance Exercise” Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise 2011.
5. Walsh NP et al “Position statement. Part one: immune function and exercise. Exercise Immunological Review 2011
6. Idea and Discovery Magazine April 2016
7. Bermon S et al. “The microbiota: an exercise immunology perspective. Exercise Immunology Review 2015.
8. Scientific American 2015 Special report. Pp S1-S15
9. Campbell SC & Wisniewski P “Exercise is a novel promoter of intestinal health and microbial diversity” October 2016 American College of Sports Medicine Journal.
10. Clarke SF et al. “Exerise associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity.” Gut 2014
11. David Servan Schreibner MD, PhD © 2008 Anti-Cancer: a New Way of Life. Harper Collins.
12. Michalickova DM et al “Lactobacillus Helveticus Lafti L10 Supplementation Modulates Mucosal and Humoral Immunity in Elite Athletes: a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled Trial” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31(1) Jan 2017