With winter in full swing, the peak season for colds and flu has arrived in Hong Kong. The population density of this city puts us at extra risk of exposure to viruses and bacteria, as we come in close proximity to so many other people as we go about our business everyday.
The air pollution in Hong Kong compounds the problem posed by Hong Kong's population density, taking a toll on our immune systems and making our bodies more susceptible to infections and disease, and lengthening recovery times.
Luckily, if you would like to avoid battling through a plethora of coughs and runny noses, IMI naturopath and homeopath Graeme Bradshaw says there are simple steps you can take to give your immune system a boost and minimize your risks of catching a bug.
A Good Night's Sleep
Apart from washing your hands often, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important steps you can take to strengthen your immunity.
“Studies have shown that adults who sleep less than 7 hours per day are 3 times more likely to get sick,” says Graeme. “A good night's rest can help your body recharge and direct energy towards recuperation.”
Reduce Stress Levels
High levels of stress elevate two hormones – adrenaline and cortisol - that suppress your immune function and lower your body’s ability to fight an infection.
“Activities like meditation, keeping a journal or yoga can help to decrease stress levels, regulate your stress hormones and keep you from being bed-ridden,” Graeme advises.
The Importance of Diet
A healthy diet with an big portions of fresh fruits and vegetables help to strengthen immune systems weakened by Hong Kong's polluted air. There are question marks over just how fresh imported foods really are, so Graeme advises clients to buy organic foods as much as possible as they have been found to have as much as twice the amount of antioxidants as non-organic produce.
Immunity Starts in the Gut
A healthy immune system starts with a healthy gut. About 66% of your body’s immune cells reside in the digestive tract, making a healthy gut a major focal point of your overall health.
We usually think of bacteria as germs or things that makes us sick but our bodies are full of bacteria, both good and bad.
“Probiotics are good, beneficial bacteria that keep us healthy in a myriad of ways,” explains Graeme. “A healthy bacterial flora can reduce the risk of getting ill significantly.”
Research has shown that probiotics can reduce the number of upper respiratory tract infections by 47%!
Although probiotics can be obtained through our diet, modern diet and lifestyle habits have a negative impact on the microflora in our gut.
“A good daily probiotic supplement will replenish the good bacteria and is the best form of prevention for the entire family,” says Graeme.
It is particularly important to take probiotics during or after a course of antibiotics, as these drugs often destroy the friendly bacteria in our body along with the bad organisms they are meant to eradicate. This leads to a weakening of our immune systems and makes our bodies more susceptible to disease and infections in the long run, creating a vicious cycle that in turn often leads to more antibiotic prescriptions.
Taking probiotics can help replace the good bacteria killed by antibiotics and restore gut health and immunity. Graeme recommends taking probiotic supplements that contain Lactobacillus Reuteri, as studies have found that school children given this probiotic had half the number of days off school sick as children who did not receive the supplement. Other studies suggest this supplement can reduce the incidence of fever in children by a staggering 74%.
The Sunshine Vitamin
New research suggests that one of the most common causes of a weakened immune system is a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies synthesize it through the exposure to sunlight. Studies suggest that people with lower levels of vitamin D in their blood have 40% more colds a year.
“In the winter months, we need approximately 45 minutes of sun exposure to the arms, legs, face, and hands every other day in order for the body to produce adequate levels of vitamin D,” says Graeme. “February is the month where the lowest levels of vitamin D are found across all ages, owing to the lack of time spent in the sun.”
Research shows more than 60% of the people in Hong Kong are Vitamin D deficient. Working indoors, tinted windows and avoiding sun exposure are the main reasons. “Although it is not possible to get enough vitamin D through our diet, you can increase your intake—especially in the winter months—from a good quality vitamin D supplement,” he says.
The IMI Dispensary carries a wide range of clinical-grade supplements by respectable brands in North America and Australia, including multivitamins made from whole foods, high-potency probiotics for adults and children, as well as vitamin D supplements in spray or drop forms. Talk to IMI’s Dispensary Advisor who can recommend the right products for you and your family based on your needs.