The sun is shining, it’s warm outside…so you don’t have to worry about your immunity, right?
While it’s true that chilly weather ushers in what we think of as the “cold and flu season,” you always need to support your immune system, even in summer. Here’s how.
How Heat Affects the Immune System
Cold weather does create conditions under which upper respiratory infections can more easily take hold. However, aninternational research team has found that prolonged overheating in people can compromise the body’s immune response.
That supports the results ofanimal studies, which “have shown that acute heat stress can impact the ability of the immune system to fight off infection and mount an effective response to vaccination,” according toMelio, a British health-testing company.
Ways to Support Your Immune System in the Summer
Want to improve your chances of feeling good and staying active all season long? Here are a few ways to support your immunity.
Eat Refreshing Fruits and Vegetables
One advantage summer offers is that it’s peak produce season. The following items should find a place in your immunity-support shopping cart:
- Cucumbers.This popular veggie offers magnesium, potassium and vitamin E. What’s more, cukes are 95% water, making them perfect hydrating agents in high heat.
- Grapes.Grapes containresveratrol, a health-enhancing phytonutrient, as well as vitamins C and K.
- Kiwis.These fuzzy little fruits are packed with a megadose of vitamin C along with key minerals.
- Lemons.Ditch the soda and go with naturally sweetened lemonade; as citrus fruits, lemons are famous for their vitamin C content.
- Mangos.These sweet, juicy treats are loaded with vitamins C and A as well as fiber and iron.
- Oranges.Like lemons, oranges offer vitamin C, along with the phytonutrients hesperetin and naringenin.
- Pineapples.Juicy and flavourful, pineapple supplies vitamin C and a healthful enzyme calledbromelain.
- Strawberries.This fruit is not just pretty but also powerful, full of antioxidants, vitamins C and K, and a number of minerals.
- Tomatoes.The most popular summer vegetable, tomatoes are known for containing an antioxidant calledlycopene; they also offer fiber, folate, potassium and vitamin C.
- Watermelons.Like cucumbers, watermelons are more than 90% water; they also supply vitamins B, C and E.
In addition, add fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut to your meal plans for their supply of beneficial probiotics—did you know that the digestive system contains approximately 70% of the body’s immune cells?
Wash your hands before and after eating or handling food, especially food that’s eaten raw. Wash them again after touching an animal or blowing your nose.
Decrease Sugar, Increase Water
One thing to cut down on in your diet is added sugar. “Over-consumption can substantially decrease the immune system’s ability to attack viruses and bacteria for up to eight hours after you enjoy that delicious piece of pie,” say the folks atSleigh Family Chiropractic in Arlington, Illinois.
Avoiding candy, sweet baked goods and sugary drinks is only part of the solution; sugar can also hide in such unlikely places as pasta sauce, instant oatmeal and salad dressing. Check the Nutrition Facts boxes on your planned purchases, especially the Added Sugars line.
More than half your body weight consists of water, which gives you an idea of how important it is to stay properly hydrated. Consider drinking filtered water, which contains significantly fewer impurities and pollutants. That’s especially important as you age, since your body may not always signal a need for hydration.
Scientists have long known that there’s a link between regular exercise and proper immune function. According toone study, “The practice of physical activities strengthens the immune system, suggesting a benefit in the response to viral communicable diseases.” Try for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day.
However, “if you exercise outdoors in hot weather you will want to take precautions to prevent heat-related illnesses,” warns theMayo Clinic, which offers the following advice:
- Certain disorders can become more problematic in hot weather. If you have a pre-existing condition, speak to your healthcare provider.
- It can take up to two weeks for your body to adapt when under high-heat conditions, so ease into exercise once summer hits full force. Be especially careful if you’re just beginning a fitness routine; start slow and take breaks as needed.
- Check weather forecasts and heat alerts so you know how hot it’s going to get; try to exercise early in the morning or late in the evening instead of midday. If it’s really unbearable, exercise at home (if you have an air-conditioned space) or in a gym.
- Dress in lightweight, loose-fitting clothes, including a wide-brimmed hat, and use sunscreen on exposed skin (see below).
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate—it can’t be stressed enough. (Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, either; drink at regular intervals.) For intense exercise, add in a sports drink to replace minerals lost through perspiration. On the other hand, excessively sugary drinks can actually promote fluid loss.
“If you are exercising outdoors, pay attention to your body temperature to reduce the risk of serious heat-related conditions including heatstroke,” adds the Mayo. “Signs and symptoms of heat-related illness are varied but may include muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, fainting, dizziness or headache, excessive sweating, low blood pressure and vision problems.”
If you feel yourself overheating,stopexercising right away and go somewhere cool. Drink cold fluids and use ice packs to lower your body temperature; if you don't feel better in about 20 minutes, seek immediate emergency aid.
Use Sunscreen Wisely…But Still Get Your Vitamin D
We now know that vitamin D plays a key role in immune support. “It is essential for our immune function, and low vitamin D levels can increase the risk of infection,” says Melio.*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Your body makes its own vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight, but modern lifestyles—which involve lots of time spent indoors—means that “vitamin D deficiency is very common even in sunny countries,” Melio notes.
The company adds that while using sunscreen with a very high SPF (sun protection factor) can block vitamin D production in the skin, some studies “have found that the use of sunscreen doesn’t decrease the values of vitamin D in your blood,” probably because of a lack of total skin coverage.
As a result, Melio encourages you to slap on that sunscreen, saying, “You shouldn’t endanger your skin to obtain the optimal dose of vitamin D.”
To ensure adequate D production, you can expose your unprotected forearms, hands and legs for up to 10 minutes at midday or 30 minutes in the morning or evening. Taking supplemental vitamin D can help cover you nutritionally.*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Make Sleeping Easier in Hot Weather
Another way to protect your immune system is by sleeping soundly. “Studies show that people who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus,” says Melio.
Unfortunately, hot weather can make sleeping difficult.
Your temperature normally drops at night when the body releasesmelatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in controlling your body’s internal clock, and rises again in the morning. However, an overly warm bedroom can interfere with this process, which can increase body temperature and disturb sleep.
Obviously, having air conditioning really helps. If you don’t have central air, the one room you should absolutely outfit with a window model is the bedroom. Running a fan at night, even if you have AC, can improve airflow.
Other ways to make sleeping easier in warm weather include:
- Avoiding mattresses and pillows with thick foams, which can trap heat, and using sheets and pillowcases made of natural fibers instead of synthetics. Also, avoid thick coverings—a light blanket or coverlet should be all you’ll need.
- Keeping your pillowcase in the freezer during the day and putting it on the pillow just before bedtime.
- Keeping curtains drawn in your bedroom during the day; blackout curtains have been found to be more effective at keeping bedrooms cool.
- Not exercising too close to bedtime, which can raise your body temperature.
- Keeping a cool glass of water on your nightstand.
In addition, you may want to find a way to relax and unwind before bedtime, especially since stress is a real buzzkill for your immunity. Yoga, deep-breathing exercises and mediation can all help.
The information in this blog is provided for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for consultation with a doctor or qualified healthcare professional. Consultation with a doctor or qualified healthcare practitioner is strongly advised, before starting any regimen of supplementation, a change in diet or any exercise routine. Individuals who engage in supplementation to promote health, address conditions or support any structure or function of the body assume all risks. Women who are pregnant, especially, should seek the advice of a medical doctor before taking any dietary supplement and before starting any change in diet or lifestyle. Descriptions of herbs, vitamins, nutrients or any ingredients are not recommendations to take our products or those of any other company. We are not doctors or primary-source science researchers. Instead, we defer to the findings of scientific experts who conduct studies, as well as those who compile and publish scientific literature on the potential health benefits of nutrients, herbs, spices, vitamins or minerals. We cannot guarantee that any individual will experience any of the health benefits associated with the nutrients described. Natural Organics will not be held liable for any injuries, damages, hinderances or negative effects resulting from any reliance on the information presented, nor will Natural Organics be held accountable for any inaccuracy, miscalculation or error in the scientific literature upon which the information provided is based.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.