Many of us will enter the upcoming flu season better prepared because we have already been practicing COVID-prevention tools – careful handwashing, wearing a mask, and social distancing. While these precautions are important for flu prevention, we need to go deeper inside our bodies to learn that real flu virus-prevention is an "inside job." First, let's briefly look at how the immune system works.
Empower your Immune System Warriors (ISW)
Your NK cells (natural killer cells) are the rapid responders of your immune system. Consider NK cells as the soldiers of your immune system, an essential resource for flu prevention. NK cells are the trillions of troops—your white blood cells—that circulate throughout your body. NK cells are on a constant search-and-destroy mission for viruses that get through your body's two main checkpoints—the virus-trapping mucus lining of your respiratory tract and intestines. When NK cells find a virus, they are magnetically drawn to it, attach onto it, and shoot biochemical darts (virus-dissolving enzymes called perforins) into the virus and destroy it.
B-cells (from your bone marrow) and T-cells (from your thymus) are other warriors in your immune system that act as a back-up system. They are the memory cells of your immune system. They also search out the virus, biochemically barcodes the virus, and notifies the checkpoints in your immune system. If a similar virus tries to get into your body, your immune system recognizes it as a foreign virus. It releases other soldiers called antibodies to keep it out of your body. (This is similar to how vaccines work.)
With this brief explanation of how the immune system operates, let's look at 6 steps for flu prevention.
1. Practice Your Belief Effect
The better you believe your ISW will fight for you, the more likely they will during flu season and beyond. Believe in your ISW: "It's my ISW, I'm in control of it. I believe you will fight for me. Now go get those viruses!" Dr. William Sears quips that he has witnessed one simple immune-health fact in his over 50 years as a physician—positivity promotes immunity. And science agrees, optimists stay healthier and heal quicker than do pessimists for two main reasons: 1) they have higher levels of NK cells and other immune-system troops, and 2) they heal faster than do pessimists. Additionally, they don't stress out their ISW.
Let's go deeper. Your NK cells have "stress receptors," doors on their cell membranes that are easily opened (or bothered or weakened) by prolonged, unmanaged stress. If your ISW immune cells could talk (and they do, but we don't listen), they would shout: "Don't stress me out!" Practice resilience—the ability to bounce back quickly from life's setbacks, spend time doing arts and crafts, watching movies, and playing games together. Use Zoom and other virtual platforms for social interaction as extreme social isolation depresses both the mind and the immune system. Welcome good news! One of the main stress management tools we can use is: "You can't always control situations (virus epidemics), but you can control your reaction to them." Your brain is the commander-in-chief of your immune system warriors. The better your brain, the better your immune system.
2. Eat Immune-Boosting Foods for Flu Prevention
It makes sense that the better you feed your troops, the better they will fight for you. If your immune system could talk, it would tell you: "Feed me, Seymour! Feed me the real-food diet!" Processed food contributes to depressed ISW. Before eating, ask yourself, "will this food or drink help or harm my ISW?"
3. Movement Mobilizes Your Immune System
Your bloodstream is the main place in your body that you want to keep viruses out of. Many of your NK cells are stationed like troops along the lining of your blood vessels--your inner natural ISW pharmacy called your endothelium. When you exercise, blood flows faster over the lining of your endothelium. It sends biochemical text messages to the NK cells to join the flow—your bloodstream—and circulate throughout your body to search-and-destroy the virus invaders. Another perk is the blood vessels in your lungs is one of the largest ISWs of NK cells that can be mobilized by exercise.
Get outside. Fascinating studies from Nippon University in Tokyo, Japan, showed that persons who exercised outdoors, especially in a forest setting, had higher NK cell levels and lower levels of stress hormones (cortisol)—a double "like" for your immune system. This is why Harvard neurologist Dr. Eva Selhub, in her book Your Brain on Nature, calls movement outdoors "exercise squared."
Humor heals; fear harms. Laughter is the best medicine is especially true for your immune system when focusing on flu prevention. Also, enjoy funny movies with your family. During the COVID epidemic, enjoying more couples time may give us a minor baby boom in nine months! As a result, thirteen years from now, teenagers in the year 2033 will be dubbed "quaranteens."
5. Helping Others Heals
The more you help someone else heal, the better you are likely to heal. Now 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 the "helper's high," but viruses don't. Also, remember that social distancing does not mean social isolation. Again, the brain is the commander-in-chief of your immune system. The GRANT study, the most extensive study to date on the top contributors to dementia, showed that social isolation was the number one contributor and excessive alcohol (also more common during virus epidemics) was number two.
6. Get a Good Night's Sleep
During quality sleep, your immune system warriors report for nightshift duty, and better prepare for flu prevention. Melatonin, the natural sleep medicine you make, triggers the immune system to produce more NK cells. The better your sleep quality, the greater the quantity and quality of the NK cells you produce.
Excerpt from Dr. Sears Wellness Institute article https://www.drsearswellnessinstitute.org/blog/6-healthy-habits-you-may-be-missing-for-flu-prevention/