Yes, ‘tis the season to be jolly! And, it’s the season many get sick. Over my fifty years as a pediatrician and parent I’ve collected top health habits for staying healthy during the months when flu season is at its peak and illness often keeps us from enjoying the holidays.
PRELOAD YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM FOR HOLIDAY HEALTH
One of the top illness-preventing concepts I teach my patient is what I call preloading – doing whatever you can to keep your immune system healthy, especially during a season when there are often more germs to attack the immune system. Preloading also prepares your immune system to handle the deserved indulgences of the holidays. When your immune system is preloaded it is as if it is saying to you: “Okay, body, you have fed and cared for us wisely, so we are armed to fight for you against any germ that may come our way.” A simple way that we teach preloading in our medical practice, even to children as young as seven, is by teaching them about their natural germ-fighting army inside. I show them pictures of their natural killer (NK) cells, a pacman-looking cell with a helmet that says “NK” on it. These trillions of NK cells are constantly on high alert and police your body for search-and-destroy missions for germs, and even cancer cells, that don’t belong in your body and may threaten its health. Like a magnet, they attach themselves to the foreign germ and literally shoot biochemical bullets into it and blow it up. If the general of your NK army could tell you three things to help your army fight better it would be: 1) believe that we will fight for you; 2) feed us healthy foods, such as fruits vegetables, and seafood; and science-based supplements 3) move more, sit less – or, as Dr. Mom wisely advised, “Go outside and play!”
POSITIVITY PROMOTES IMMUNITY
The more positive you can stay, especially during these challenging times, the healthier your immune system is likely to be. One of the mysteries of medicine is what we doctor’s call the belief effect. Imagine you have inside of you, mainly in the lining of your intestines, your own immune-system pharmacy. The better you believe in the ability of your immune system to keep you healthy, the better it will. The underlying mechanism seems to be that lessening the “fear factors” that are now common and increasing your belief effect of “I can handle this” positive attitude dials down the stress centers in your brain. Prolonged, high levels of stress hormones suppress immunity. If your immune system army inside could prompt – it does but we don’t listen – it would shout: “Believe in me, feed me more immune-supporting foods, move your body more, and don’t stress me out.”
MOVE MORE, SIT LESS
Holidays are often a time of the year that most people suffer from what we doctor’s call the “sitting disease,” oftentimes because it’s too cold to go outside. My favorite movement for holiday health is dancing. Put on your favorite holiday tunes and dance to your immune system’s delight! Movement mobilizes your immune system. Interesting research has shown that exercise increases the fighting ability of your NK cells. And, movement outdoors is even better for your immune system. Movement in nature nurtures your immune system. So, as much as weather permits, follow Dr. Mom’s prescription to mellow your moods: “Go outside and play!”
EAT SMARTER FOR BETTER HOLIDAY HEALTH
Back to your immune system army. The better you feed your troops, the better they fight for you. My top four immune-boosting foods are: 1) safe seafood, especially wild Pacific salmon; 2) salads with spices, especially turmeric and black pepper; 3) a big green smoothie with a couple handfuls of greens, as well as a dose of spirulina. This nutrient-packed green algae not only gives your smoothie a green-color boost, but also supports your immune system. (For delicious immune-supporting smoothie recipes, see AskDrSears.com/smoothie recipes); and 4) science-based supplements. Also, learn to graze, or what we call the “rule of twos” – eat twice as often, half as much, chew twice as long, and take twice the time to dine. Your immune system likes this way of eating, mainly because of the good gut feelings and lower blood sugar spikes.
Since holidays are the time when we often indulge in leisure and eating habits that may not be so healthy for the immune system, that’s just the time when we need to even more support our immune system with science-based supplements. Besides eating big salads with spices and a big green smoothie (greens are great for the immune system), for additional immune-system insurance you may use immune-building supplements.
In recommending immune-support supplements I go to two sources: 1) show me it makes sense; and 2) show me the science. Follow this process: the healthiest food you can eat for the immune-system support you want is a fillet of wild Pacific salmon. The top immune-supporting nutrients in wild salmon are omega-3 fats, vitamin D, and astaxanthin (the powerful immune-support nutrient that makes salmon pink). Yet, most people are not going to eat twenty ounces of wild salmon a week; they may be vegan; or it may be difficult to find during the winter months. Enters Hawaiian Astaxanthin for immune support.
Years ago I became increasingly interested in giving my patients science-based practical advice for holiday health. So, I became fascinated with a nutrient I knew little about, but was supported by a lot of science. If astaxanthin is fabulous for fish, could it also be fabulous for humans? Yes! This powerful pink nutrient acts like an internal bodyguard to protect the body of uphill-swimming salmon to keep their muscles and immune systems strong during their final marathon.
In fishing through medical journals, I kept seeing the term “astaxanthin.” And, I read about professional athletes in Hawaii taking the Hawaiian Astaxanthin supplement to protect their immune systems. So, I headed off to the Big Island of Hawaii to see the world’s largest astaxanthin farm. It was there I learned what Dr. Oz said on his show: “The number one supplement you’ve never heard of that you should be taking.”
This fascination with nature’s most powerful pink antioxidant led to the arrival of a short booklet that you and your immune system will enjoy: Natural Astaxanthin: Hawaii’s Supernutrient. In this fun and informative read you will learn the scientific research on how Hawaiian astaxanthin supports a healthy immune system. (See resources for the dosage that is right for you.)
ENJOY HUMOR FOR HOLIDAY HEALTH
Humor balances your immune system, mainly by lowering the excess stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. It also makes your immune system army inside fight better for you. Enjoy funny home movies and holiday movies with your family. Laughter is the best medicine.
MAKE HOLIDAYS A FAMILY HISTORY MEMORY
December is one of the most vivid “show and tell” months for creating family holiday photo albums and sharing funny photos and texts with your cellphone family. One of my fondest memories is seeing the family photos and replaying the scenes of me dressed up as fat Santa during present distribution time, and the kids and grandkids still remembering: “Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas to…”
GET, AND GIVE
Feel the joy of giving to your friends and family, especially those in need. We doctors call this the “helper’s high,” that internal feeling of bliss and peace you get when someone thanks you for helping them. Especially during the holidays, “give more, get less” is a mantra your immune system “likes!” This is a perfect time to think about how you can brighten someone else’s day through a kind or funny text, even a phone call. The immune system “likes” what I call the “helper’s high,” but viruses don’t.
For more information on these holiday tips, see my two books: The Dr. Sears T5 Wellness Plan: Five Changes in Five Weeks and Natural Astaxanthin: Hawaii’s Supernutrient. Also, for more about nature’s green superfood, spirulina, read Hawaiian Spirulina: Superfood for Super Health by Gerald R. Cysewski, PhD.
*Consult your personal health care provider before undertaking any new diet, exercise or health plan. Always seek medical advice if you believe you are sick or are experiencing a medical condition.
Dr. Bill Sears has been practicing medicine for over 40 years. He received his medical degree from St. Louis University and medical training at Harvard University, the University of Toronto and the National Institute of Health. Dr. Sears has been a clinical professor at the University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine and University of Irvine School of Medicine.
Dr. Sears is the author of 45 books including nutrition and wellness titles, including The T5 Wellness Plan, Prime-Time Health, The Family Nutrition Book, The Omega-3 Effect, The Inflammation Solution, The Healthy Pregnancy Book, The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood, L.E.A.N. Kids, among others. He has spoken at numerous scientific conferences all over the world and has successfully motivated others to make positive health behavior changes through practical applications of simple and science-based strategies. Dr. Sears has been featured on 20/20, Dateline, Good Morning America, The Today Show, The View, PBS, CNN, Dr. Phil, The Doctors, and Oprah.