As we approach the cooler, darker months of winter, many of us will be giving thanks and celebrating the coming of the new year. With these months, however, we find many of our friends (and sometimes us), relatives and acquaintances suffering from the chills, the sniffles and the dreaded coughing and sneezing. How come these months promote illness more so than any other? There are some simple reasons for this, all of which we can hopefully address in this post. Along with the speculation comes advice which I have come across myself (and that has worked for me) or actual medical research which aids in prevention or quick recovery from colds or the flu.
The Common Culprit: Sugar
Sugar weakens the immune system at any time of the year, but when do you suppose people are eating more sugar than usual? Aha! Around the holidays of course. The winter holidays promote the consumption of cookies, pies and refined carbohydrates, all which can decrease the function of the immune system for hours after eating them.
You don’t have to give up these once-in-awhile sweet temptations every holiday to prevent illness during the winter months. Far from it if you are a regular reader of this blog. I enjoy making healthy but tasty alternatives to the white flour, sugar laden treats I grew up with, and the ones I’m sure you grew up with as well. Pumpkin pie, powdered sugar cookies and mock corn bread stuffing, which would normally send your insulin through the roof, barely even moves when I make them. Getting a little experimental in the kitchen while utilizing alternative sweeteners and flours can really pay off in the terms of your health. I will share my holiday alternatives very soon when the approaching winter holiday comes closer. I’m experimenting myself as I type this!
Humans can often become lazy, spoiled and unmotivated to move during the cold months. We may find ourselves in a hibernation state during the holidays in order to stay warm by conserving energy for heat. We also find ourselves just wanting to take a break from everyday life and relax. Let me tell you, though, that I can only stand so much of relaxation before my body starts itching for movement–running, jumping, kicking, stretching (I’m 50!) and punching. I grab for any form of exercise when I don’t move my body every once in awhile.
When we are not exercising during the holidays, the function of our immune systems decreases, leaving us susceptible to possible illness, like the cold or the flu. The simple act of walking may reverse this, but also performing interval cardio or simple yoga exercises can also stimulate body heat and improve the immune system. Brisk walking for only 30 minutes a day has been shown to decrease the incidence of colds, leading many experts to advise walking as a healthy form of exercise. Just walking, however, will become too easy for your body, so it is a good idea to break up your exercise routine as to not get bored with the exercise you perform everyday.
Lack of Sunlight
Vitamin D3 is an essential nutrient for the human body, making sunlight a crucial nutrient to maintain life. There are synthetic versions of this vitamin, however it is questioned as to how readily these synthetic forms of vitamin D3 are absorbed. Lack of vitamin D3, which is compared to the inadequate vitamin D2, decreases immune function, increases risk for blood sugar instability and has also been associated with depression.
During these darker months, we are often inside, ideally around a warm and cozy fire (in the fireplace, hopefully). However nice this may seem, we tend to avoid going outside because of the bitterness of the cold which brings our vitamin D levels down immensely. Clouds usually inhabit the horizon, making it impossible to receive any a ray of light, a ray of health, which may shine down and hit our skin. Taking a natural vitamin D3 supplement may be the best way to go, even if absorption quality is an issue. It’s better to get as much as you can, than get none at all. Sardines are a good natural source of both calcium and vitamin D, making it an option for those who are also wanting to increase their dietary omega-3 fatty acids (which are wonderful immune building fats).
Lack of sunlight can also produce depression, or a state called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Natural light is psychologically a sign of goodness, purity and hope; lack of this source may be connected to the rise in depressive symptoms and actions during these months. Also, when natural light is not presented to our eyes during the day time, it suppresses our serotonin release which naturally occurs during the daylight hours. Remaining in the dark all day long aids in secreting melatonin, making us groggy, slow and tired during these longer months. Many people use light therapy to fight the holiday depression, whereas others are barely affected by the emotional shifts.
With recent studies showing that blue light is effective in treating SAD, and seeing that the mind doesn’t know the difference between a real and imagined event, I theorize that the mere thought or imagination of being enveloped in a bright, blue light might be effective in lowering depressive symptoms. I will be making a hypnosis/meditation program very soon to help test this theory.
This rule applies all year round, but is especially important during this time of year when one can become succeptible to illness through their lifestyle habits. Negative thoughts and words poison the heart and soul, and promote dis-ease in the body. Such thinking and behavior towards ourselves and others disconnects us from the source of love and healing. Speak words of beauty to yourself and others this holiday season (and all your round), be thankful, grateful and generous. Look to the up side of things (but still be logical at times) and treat others the same way you would want to be treated. This brings the body a sense of calm, peace and joy. Positive thoughts alone have been shown to increase the health of the immune system, so start changing your brain!
We’ve already covered the main point about the holiday diet when we talked about sugar above, but there are other factors to include when preventing illness that needs to be discussed, and I’m sure you probably already know what they are.
It’s a good idea to bump up your serving of raw vegetables this holiday, as they are packed full of disease fighting vitamin C. If on the off chance you do get sick and can’t stomach chewing or eating anything, a good idea would be to take a safe vitamin C supplement. Or, if you can drink fluids (which we should be doing when we get sick), then the Green Smoothie is the best way to go, as it provides more nutrition than any vitamin C supplement.
Omega-3 fats are important for immune health, so increase flax and chia seeds, as well as safe sources of fish or fish oil supplements (think Krill) is a great way to stave off illness this winter, and throughout the entire year. Probiotics, as those found in raw milk and yogurt, or probiotic supplements, are incredibly important for the immune system. One study published in Postgraduate Medicine showed that probiotics stimulate a healthy immune system response when exposed to flu viruses.
You can still enjoy your holiday treats, especially if you are exercising, getting plenty of sunlight or vitamin D and are already eating healthy. The best way to go, at least in my opinion, is to find alternative recipes for the holiday treats you enjoy that won’t increase ill health. There are a lot of those recipes in my library, and I will be posting them soon. I’m quite surprised as to the recipes I’ve come up with so far. If anyone has any suggestions or ideas of the types of holiday foods you use to enjoy and miss, give me a line and I will do my best to replicate it!
Keep warm, keep moving, stay safe and stay healthy!
Until next time, this is The Healthy Advocate.
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