By Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS
Flu and cold season is upon us, and 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 by how an autoimmune disease works: The confused autoimmune system feels the need to attack its host body, rather than just the foreign virus that arrives uninvited.
Since individuals with an autoimmune disease already have a compromised immune system, flu season can be even more challenging for them than otherwise healthy individuals to get through in the following ways:
- Higher susceptibility to catching a virus
- Prolonged recovery periods
- Extended treatment protocols
- Major setbacks to autoimmune progress
Following are a few prevention, treatment and recovery tips to help those who suffer from autoimmune issues navigate flu and cold season.
Get plenty of sleep. Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night to keep the immune system strong. T cells, which fight virus and infection, go down when individuals are sleep-deprived, while inflammatory cytokines go up.
Exercise. Of course, exercise is important for overall health and well-being. However, it is believed that exercise contributes directly to a healthy immune system because 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 those with autoimmune diseases, this can be extremely tricky. Many foods such as gluten-containing grains and dairy can cause an inflammatory response, thus weakening the immune system. The best bet is to eat whole foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins such as fruits and vegetables, organic meats, fish oils, nuts and seeds. Testing for food sensitivities is a great way to rule out any and all foods for which individuals might have an intolerance - and may in turn trigger a negative autoimmune response.
A 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 those suffering from an autoimmune disease, as it can aggravate an already overactive system! Instead, adding key vitamins and minerals to the diet such as fat-soluble vitamins A and D, probiotics, zinc and selenium can help strengthen and modulate the immune system. Also good to consume are extra high-inflammation fighters such as turmeric, onion, ginger and cucumber. In addition, drinking green juices that detox can help to eliminate viral and other toxins in the body.
Get extra rest and sleep. The immune system loses functionality when it is on the go, nonstop. Resting and relaxing the mind from stress will help a body recover without resistance.
Perform nonstrenuous movement. Though it is important to eliminate strenuous activity and exercise during any recovery, some movement is important to keep circulation going. Taking a short, easy walk outside for some fresh air and vitamin D, or doing some simple stretches, can keep blood flowing and T cells circulating.
Staying a Step Ahead of Illness
Health is greatly impacted by stress, sleep, exercise and what is put into the body. It is important for those suffering from autoimmune-related symptoms to take preventive measures and follow a treatment and recovery protocol that is autoimmune-specific, but also tailored to a body’s individual needs and reactive nature.
First and foremost, the best thing individuals with autoimmune conditions can do is to communicate with their healthcare providers. Self-awareness, a healthy lifestyle and proactive testing can keep them one step ahead in the prevention of any illness.
Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, holds a doctor of naturopathic medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a doctor of chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a certified clinical nutritionist and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He particularly pursues advanced developments in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine and environmentally induced chronic disease.