A healthy immune system is a priority for many people this year. With the addition of the regular cold and flu season starting, looking after your body takes on even greater significance. On top of the preventative public health measures of wearing a mask and frequent hand washing, there are 3 additional aspects of health to consider in order to help support your immune system; nutrition, sleep and stress. To help avoid the common cold during this already difficult time, below are some tips for combining quality sleep and stress reduction with immune supportive nutrients.
Eat a well-balanced diet to ensure you are receiving the vitamins and minerals your body requires for supporting a healthy immune system. Health Canada states that the following vitamins and minerals help to support immune function including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc. Make sure you include foods from each of the nutrients below in your diet.
- Vitamin A comes in 2 different forms; preformed vitamin A also known as retinol, is found in animal sources such as dairy products and fish oils, while provitamin A carotenoids are found in fruit and vegetables such as orange and green vegetables like sweet potatoes and spinach. You may have heard of the term beta-carotene when taking about carrots, this is an example of a provitamin A carotenoid that is found in yellow and orange vegetables.
- Vitamin C Citrus tends to be the vitamin C rich food that first comes to mind, yet others such as red peppers, kale, broccoli, guavas, currants, and kiwi all have more vitamin C than oranges or lemons!
- Vitamin D is unique because our bodies can make it from the sun and the only foods it is naturally found in are fish, eggs and in very small amounts in mushrooms. Canadians are often deficient in this important nutrient, due to not only diet but also a lack of sun exposure.
- Zinc is an essential mineral which plays an important role in immune function,¹ and a zinc deficiency can diminishes the ability of the body to fight pathogens. Health Canada has stated that up to 41% of Canadians have inadequate dietary intakes of zinc. Good food sources of zinc include oysters, crab, and beef, while some vegetarian sources to consider are lentils, pecans, almonds, flaxseed and chia seeds.
According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal “Stress and poor sleep may increase the risk of the common cold among adults.”
Avoid Stress: These days that is easier said than done. An Angus Reid Poll asked Canadians about stress levels during the COVID pandemic, 39% of respondents stated they were stressed with another 23% saying they were very or extremely stressed. When 62% of the population is stressed out, we need to start looking at options to reduce and resist stress:
- Did you know some mushrooms have stress relieving properties? For instance, reishi and shiitake have health benefits beyond being sources of protein and vitamin D. They also provide antioxidants and are considered immune modulating. If you don’t like mushrooms or want to eat them every day, Jamieson’s Mushroom Complex includes a combination of 4 mushrooms which work “to help increase energy and resistance to stress in case of mental and physical fatigue related to stress.” It also contains garlic which not only helps to maintain heart health but is also traditionally used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve the symptoms associated with upper respiratory tract infections and nasal congestion.
- Being ‘mindful’ and breathing deeply can be helpful for stress release. Recent research found that yoga was associated with reduced blood pressure, resting heart rate, fasting blood glucose, and cholesterol” compared to those who didn’t practice yoga. These are not only important physical measures of stress, but also when looking at other health conditions such as heart health and diabetes!
- Stress is one of the most common causes of insomnia. At the end of the day find what calms you, whether it is meditating, listening to music, reading a book or having an epsom salt bath. Do whatever works for you in order to have the restful night that your body and mind need.
Sleep well: Research has shown adults sleeping six hours or less per night are at a greater risk of developing the common cold compared to those sleeping seven or more hours per night! Considering that even pre-pandemic, roughly 10% of Canadian adults had persistent insomnia while an additional 25% reported occasional insomnia symptoms, we know poor sleep is an issue.
- Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by our body which helps with our sleep and wake cycles. The pineal gland in our brain makes melatonin when it becomes darker in the evening, allowing us to feel sleepy at ‘nighttime’. However, with an increased amount of artificial light in our homes and the light from electronic devices, our body may not be making enough. Supplemental melatonin helps reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and increases total sleep time. Basically, it works to re-set the body's sleep-wake cycle.
- Other herbal options that may help with poor sleep include chamomile, skullcap & valerian which have traditionally been used in Herbal Medicine to help to promote sleep and to help relieve restlessness and/or nervousness.” Skullcap additionally “can be used as a sleep aid during times of mental stress.”
Don’t underestimate the importance of good sleep habits:
- Consistent bed and wake-up times
- A dark bedroom using either blackout blinds or a sleep mask
- Turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before bed
 Health Canada. Multi-Vitamin / Mineral Supplements Monograph. Accessed Oct 19, 2020 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=multi_vitmin_suppl&lang=eng
 Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center. Vitamin D. Accessed Oct 19, 2020 at: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-D
 Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Research Centre. Zinc. Accessed Oct 21, 2020 at: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc#impaired-immune-function
 Health Canada. Do Canadian Adults Meet Nutrient Requirements Through Food Alone? Accessed Oct 20, 2020 at: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-nutrition-surveillance/health-nutrition-surveys/canadian-community-health-survey-cchs/canadian-adults-meet-their-nutrient-requirements-through-food-intake-alone-health-canada-2012.html
 Allan GM, Arroll B (2014). Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidence. CMAJ. Feb 18;186(3):190-9.
 Angus Reid. COVID-19 Ongoing Monitoring of Canadian Perceptions & Behaviour Wave 20. August 26, 2020
 Health Canada. Mushrooms Monograph. Accessed Oct 21, 2020 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=mushrooms.champignons&lang=eng
 Health Canada. Product Information Natural Product Number 80087030. Accessed Oct 21, 2020: https://health-products.canada.ca/lnhpd-bdpsnh/info.do?licence=80087030
 Pascoe MC Thompson DR Ski CF. (2017). Yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction and stress-related physiological measures: A meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Dec;86: 152-168.
 Prather AA, et al. (2015). Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep. Sep 1;38(9):1353-9.
 Canadian Sleep Society. Insomnia Patient Information Brochure. Accessed Oct 22, 2020 at: https://css-scs.ca/resources/brochures/insomnia
 Health Canada. Melatonin -Oral. Accessed Oct 19, 2020 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=melatonin.oral&lang=eng
 Health Canada. German Chamomile – Matricaria Chamomile. Accessed Oct 19, 2020 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=cham.germ.oral.orale&lang=eng
 Health Canada. Skullcap – Scutellaria Lateriflora. Accessed Oct 19, 2020 at: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=skullcap.scutellaire&lang=eng#cont