Would you like to feel yucky for a few days, or even a few weeks? Would you like to miss out on summer fun and be stuck indoors hugging a box of tissues instead?
Well, a naturopathic medicine expert at National University of Health Sciences has compiled a list of seven tips that, while not guaranteed, will greatly increase your chances of catching a cold or flu virus.
"The following actions on your part will put you in the best position to catch a cold or other nasty virus," says Kristina Conner, ND:
1.) Drink up that sugary soda pop!
Did you know that by drinking just two cans of soda pop, you can decrease your immune function for up to five hours? "This is true of all sugars," says Dr. Conner, "including excess fruit juices, processed grains and junk foods." If you want to keep your immune system in tip-top shape, it's better to stick with healthier beverage choices such as water, green or herbal teas, and eat whole fresh fruit instead of drinking juice beverages.
2.) Burn the midnight oil
Who needs sleep? You do. But if you want to catch a virus, you should know that sleep deprivation lowers your immune function. You need at least six hours of sleep per night to keep adequate function, and seven or eight is even better.
3.) Heap on the stress
Stress, especially chronic stress, increases cortisol secretion and suppresses the immune system. "When you are stressed you're also more likely to make poor lifestyle choices and poor health choices," says Dr. Conner.
4.) Stay on the couch
If you are trying to catch a virus, be warned that exercise directly stimulates immune activation. Healthy exercise also promotes better sleep and stress management. Exercise is especially effective when done on a regular basis at moderate levels of activity. Keep that couch warm, however, if you want to catch a cold.
5.) Ignore Your Surroundings
Many factors in our immediate environment, such as allergens or foods we may be sensitive to, as well as environmental toxins, decrease the body's ability to deal with immune stressors - like exposure to a virus. To help your immune system stave off new viral infections, it helps to reduce outside stressors such as allergens or toxic chemicals in our food, personal or household products. Outside factors can also include germs you pick up from everyday activities, so if you never wash your hands, you'll do better at catching colds!
6.) Skip the Yogurt
A large percentage of our immune activity occurs in our gastro-intestinal tract. To keep it healthy, we need the right balance of good flora, or beneficial bacteria, in our digestive system. Eating naturally fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchee, or natural sauerkraut, can restore balance in our gut. You can also take a high quality probiotic to restore good digestive bacteria.
7.) Overlook Fruits and Vegetables
A diet high in bioflavonoids, vitamin C, zinc, all support healthy immune function. Coincidentally, the best source of these nutrients is a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables. Seeds, beans and whole grains are also part of a healthy diet and important sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
While the above tips are written tongue-in-cheek, knowing what helps and hurts your immune system can help you stave off routine viral infections. If you seem to catch every bug that goes around, you can use the above checklist to see what you may be doing in your life to make it easy for those germs to overwhelm your immune defenses.
If you'd like help learning how to incorporate healthier lifestyle habits, or learn how nutritional or natural botanical supplements can help strengthen your immune response, you can make an appointment with an expert in naturopathic medicine at an NUHS Whole Health Center.