You got sneezed on in the subway. Coughed on in the coffee shop. Your colleagues keep coming to work when they should be calling in sick. And your kids are bringing home illnesses you never even heard of. How the heck are you supposed to stay healthy?
It might seem like seasonal illness is out of your control. And, yeah, sometimes, sick happens. But you have more power than you think.
Here’s how to build a strong immune system and help your body fight off the bad guys.
Here’s how the immune system works: Our body’s battle for immunity begins in the mouth. Bet you didn’t know that your saliva contains powerful antimicrobials like lysozyme, alpha-amylase and lactoferrin.
Any germs that sneak past those will confront our stomach’s hydrochloric acid.
Then, should they survive, they’ll go up against the proteins and chemical compounds in our digestive system that break down bad bacteria.
Finally, our own personal good bacterial population goes to work. They prevent bad bacteria from entering our bloodstream or taking root in our small intestine and colon. Those good bacteria are called probiotics. Think of them as an army against illness.
Feed your bacteria army.
Prebiotics and probiotics.
Want a ready-to-roll squadron of healthy bacteria? Here’s how to keep the soldiers well fed.
Prebiotics (aka bacteria food) help nourish our good microbial friends. Essentially, prebiotics are a form of semi-digestible fiber. You should get at least two to three servings of prebiotic-rich foods each day (more if you’re unhealthy and need extra support from your gut flora).
Some of the best whole-food sources of prebiotics are:
* Vegetables: asparagus, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and onions
* Carbs: barley, beans, oats, quinoa, rye, wheat, potatoes and yams
* Fruits: apples, bananas, berries, citrus fruits, kiwifruit
* Fats: flaxseed and chia seeds
You can also take a prebiotic supplement. Just remember, supplements are exactly that — an addition to the real foods you’re eating, not a replacement for them.
Meanwhile, probiotics (the bacteria themselves) help us stay healthy and recover faster once we get sick.
If you’re healthy, aim for one to two servings of probiotic-rich foods each day (more if you are trying to prevent or alleviate a medical problem).
Some of the best whole-food sources of probiotics are:
* Dairy: yogurt, cheese and kefir with live and active cultures
* Fermented vegetables: pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi
* Fermented soy: miso, tempeh
* Miscellaneous: soy sauce, wine, kombucha
You can also take a probiotic supplement to give your healthy gut bacteria an extra helping hand — just check with your doctor first. Eating lots of prebiotics and probiotics will help you fight off viruses and bacterial infections. But even the healthiest diet can’t protect you from every invader. Sometimes we just get sick.
How to get un-sick.
We’ve been told a million times there’s no cure for the common cold. But is there a way to at least speed up recovery when we’re sick? As a matter of fact, there is. Certain foods can help you kick that crummy feeling quicker. For example:
* Garlic: It acts as an antibiotic and lessens the severity of colds and other infections.
* Chicken soup: Yep, chicken soup actually works. It provides fluids and electrolytes and may contain anti-inflammatory properties that decrease cold symptoms. You have to eat real chicken soup though — the kind you make from simmering a chicken carcass — not the kind from a can.
* Green tea: It boosts the production of B cell antibodies, helping us rid ourselves of invading pathogens.
* Honey: It has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and helps suppress coughs. A few teaspoons in a cup of green tea are all you need.
* Elderberries: These have antiviral properties and are loaded with phytonutrients. Elderberry extract may reduce the duration of colds and other upper respiratory tract infections.