If you have little ones (or big ones) in school this time of year, you know that this is immune season. It seems like every week you hear about another version of the common cold going around, or worse–the flu. You then go on the defense to prevent your child from getting sick at school, and bringing the germs home to share. The fan fair of the holidays has passed, and we’re on the downward slope into spring, but not before we navigate another several weeks of sporadic weather and weakened immune systems.
So how do we know if our immune system is struggling? And how do we identify problems early to prevent missing days of school or work?
You might find yourself unsure whether or not to call your doctor, but keeping an eye on the following will help you know when it’s time to give your integrative physician a call so we can give you holistic and 360-degree support for your health.
Am I Coming Down with Something?
Sometimes getting sick happens very quickly, and there’s not much time to react to be preventative. Other times, we linger for a few days–not feeling quite 100%–but ignoring a few key signals our body is trying to give us. If we identify these signals when they happen, we have a better chance of a speedy recovery.
How to Know if You or your kids are Getting Sick
Fatigue is perhaps most significant signal our body sends in times of compromised immune function. This feeling is different than a mid-afternoon slump, or feeling tired after a long day. There are different theories as to why this happens. One is that our body is trying to conserve resources to fight the infection or bacteria. Another is that our cells are under stress, and during that stress they release a chemical that reduces activity in our nervous system that usually keeps us awake (1).
Dark Circles occur as a response to sinus troubles, and they can be very minor, or quite noticeable. As a response to inflammation or infection, the tissues and blood vessels near the eye become swollen with fluid, and the small blood vessels darken. This is especially common for kids and young adults (2).
Change in color or pallor. When we first get sick, our body tries to maintain homeostasis and a normal blood pressure by using our “fight-or-flight” hormones to constrict blood vessels in our peripheral arteries (our face, fingers, and toes). This accounts for a paleness or a cool temperature in our hands, feet, and face. As with the visibility of dark circles, this may be the first thing we notice in our kids or spouse (even before they see it themselves).
Scratchy throat. A little more difficult to miss than a change in color, the lining of our throat can become irritated as a response to inflammatory cytokines produced by our immune system. Another sign are swollen lymph nodes on the underside of the jaw and neck. Lymph nodes fill with fluid that will then be sent to sites throughout the body to fight sickness, but while that’s happening, we feel tenderness around the neck and throat (3).
Runny noses can occur as a response to allergies, cold temperatures, or getting sick. When we’re sick the mucous membranes of the nasal passages are trying to flush out whatever pathogen was able to make it past. Or, they’re producing more mucus as a response to inflammation.
Loss of appetite. Our “rest and digest” hormones are a little less active in time of sickness. Energy is prioritized toward immune function and conserving energy, rather than appetite.
Digestive discomfort can be a very broad symptom, but our gut is very good at communicating with us. More than 70% of our immune system is located in our digestive system, and it’s our first line of defense to keeping us healthy. Nourishing gut bacteria with a probiotic can help, but if you have chronic loose stools, painful gas, or other troubles, it might be time to take matters more seriously.
Mood changes. Being extra grumpy while sick isn’t just a coincidence, and you’re not imagining that your toddler is throwing more tantrums than usual. Not only do we not feel our best, but viruses can actually interfere with neurotransmitter production–namely, serotonin and dopamine, which are our feel-good chemicals (4).
The early signs and symptoms of getting sick are usually not caused by the virus itself, but by your immune system’s response to the unwanted intruders. So if you have to ask yourself, “Am I getting sick?” it’s the best idea to err on the side of caution.
How to Prevent Getting Sick Naturally
Our immune systems encounter more pathogens on a daily basis than we can count, and a healthy immune system will be able to identify friend from foe quickly, and mount the appropriate response. But there are some aspects of modern life that depress our immune function, and that allows invading bacteria and viruses past our defense systems.
For example, when the demands on our life surpass the ability to cope–whether physically, socially, or emotionally–we experience a stress response. In short spurts, the stress hormone cortisol can actually support immune function, but over time our bodies become accustomed to higher amounts of cortisol in our blood, and that can increase systemic inflammation while decreasing immune function. Stress, and a prolonged increase in cortisol can reduce our production of white blood cells, making us susceptible to viruses as well (5). Stress management techniques are not only important for daily life, but for staying well.
The foundation of overall health, and therefore immune function as well, begins with food. The Standard American Diet is not supportive of health or immune function. Processed, packaged, and convenience foods lead to various nutrient deficiencies, especially Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and B Vitamins.
Without adequate levels of key nutrients, we’re more susceptible to infection and other pathogens we encounter in our environment. All immune cells contain receptors for Vitamin D, and they need it to properly differentiate our own cells from potential attackers (8). Vitamin B6 helps the body make new red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout our body, and Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that promotes healthy cellular function.
6 Tips and Tricks to Boost Your Family’s Immune System
- Remove sugar. Processed foods and takeout are often high in added sugar and carbohydrates, which contribute significantly to inflammation. Further, excess sugar can hinder your white blood cells’ ability to fight infection for several hours (6).
- Take immune-boosting supplements. Vitamin C, Zinc, and Elderberry are a great start. Astragalus, Echinacea and Umcka also strengthen the immune system. (Our Cold & Flu Busting Bundle and Dr. Taz’s Cold Fighting Combo are 15% off right now to help you stay ahead of cold and flu season!)
- Sleep! When we get poor sleep, our production of infection-fighting antibodies is reduced, and our immune function suffers (7). Remove unnecessary activities and get your family to bed early. Children need 10 hours of sleep on average, and adults need about 8 hours. And if a nap is in order, extra rest can be helpful as long as it’s not interfering with the rest of our sleep cycle.
- Stress less. Gauge your family’s energy when scheduling activities, and don’t forget to make time to recover after an especially busy day. This goes for your kids, too. With school, sports, and other extracurriculars, kids are feeling the pressure.
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet. Your family’s diet is the root of immune function and balance. Processed, packaged, and convenience foods lead to a depletion of immune-supportive nutrients, including vitamins A, B, C, and D. Dark, colorful vegetables are the best things to incorporate, in addition to naturally-raised animal products and healthy fats.
- Dial into D3. If you live in a year-round sunny climate, make sure you get an adequate amount of sun-to-skin exposure. Vitamin D3 plays a significant role in immune function, and low levels can compromise several other systems (8).
Looking for a way to quickly increase nutrient levels and deliver them directly to the cells that need them? CentrespringMD recommends IV therapy, including Myers’ Cocktail, IV Vitamin C, IV Vitamin D, and B Boosters, which all help to reduce viral and bacterial load, and help you to recover quickly and more comfortably.
Stay Healthy Together
Keeping your family healthy doesn’t have to be difficult, and hearing about the latest cold or flu going around at school or work doesn’t have to send you into a frenzy. Make sure you have a healthy foundation at home, practice stress management, and schedule an appointment with your CentrespringMD team!
Remember, if your sickness worsens after two days, it’s important that you make an appointment with CenterspringMD so we can make sure your condition doesn’t progress to worse. A cough can easily turn into inflammation in the lungs, so being proactive about care is the first priority!
Make your appointment now at (404) 814-9808.