Pregnancy Week 25/26: Supporting my Immune System

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Cold Season.

Two of my least favorite words now that I house a toddler. A toddler who goes to preschool, museums, parks, and the zoo on a regular basis. Places with germs. Germs on top of germs. Germs that he brings home and shares with the immunocompromised parent who is the subject of these posts. Namely me, the pregnant one.

In my last recipe post, I enumerated some tips for staying well during the cold season. I thought I would expand on those tips and offer some research behind some recommendations. Be aware that these aren’t cures or guaranteed to prevent sickness, but I have successfully avoided a full-blown cold and experienced abbreviated sick days due to the following interventions.

Sleep

“Prolonged sleep curtailment and the accompanying stress response invoke a persistent unspecific production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, best described as chronic low-grade inflammation, and also produce immunodeficiency, which both have detrimental effects on health.”

This is a fancy way of saying that too little sleep makes for a poor immune system. According to this study the inverse is also true. Adequate sleep bolsters immunity and our ability to withstand daily stressors, emotional and pathological.

The best way to get more sleep is to go to bed early. Sure, you can tell yourself that you’ll sleep in, but there’s no way to guarantee that someone’s motorcycle, a phone call, or the sunlight streaming in your room won’t blow that dream out of the water. Not to mention, the earlier we go to bed before midnight, the more restorative the sleep. Other tips for getting that good night of sleep; turn off electronics two hours before bedtime, cover any electronic lights in your bedroom, read a dense book, use a little lavender oil on your pillow, or take a calming magnesium supplement like “Natural Calm”.

Digestion

Drink some hot lemon water in the morning and some peppermint tea at night to help your digestion before and after a day of eating. Anything that helps digestion will help your immune system stay on point. If we are asking a lot of our digestion, we are steering resources away from our immune function to work hard defending against all the microscopic invaders. Supporting digestion goes a long way in helping us stay healthy and assimilating nutrients into the body’s cells.

Nutrients

Speaking of nutrients, eat well during the cold season. That means avoiding the sugary, processed, alcoholic, and caffeinated items de jour. This can be tough during the holidays but keep in mind that the body can only handle so much stress before it breaks. The holiday/cold season offers up plentiful environmental, emotional, and nutritional stressors. Travel, late night parties, extra sweets and drinks all around, interfacing with challenging familial relationships, dry weather, more time indoors, and coworkers coming in sick are all assaulting your immune system. By themselves these stressors are positive because exposure to stress is a challenge for our bodies to adapt and grow stronger. However, the holiday season or the season for rampant viral and cold infections is not the time to test those waters. It’s the time support what is within your control. By and large, the food and drink we put in our mouth is within our control. Opting for more healing and clean foods during this season is a great way to support your immune function when nothing else is.

If you wanna fight me on the point on resisting alcohol, I’m just gonna leave this right here:

“…alcohol alters the numbers and relative abundances of microbes in the gut microbiome, an extensive community of microorganisms in the intestine that aid in normal gut function. These organisms affect the maturation and function of the immune system. Alcohol disrupts communication between these organisms and the intestinal immune system. Alcohol consumption also damages epithelial cells, T cells, and neutrophils in the GI system, disrupting gut barrier function and facilitating leakage of microbes into the circulation.”

Supplements

In general, I like occasional smart supplementation to fill in some gaps where I know I’m not getting the real deal most days. It’s why I typically take vitamin D, fish oil, and magnesium. I know my body works better with the boost. When cold season hits, I reinforce my supplement regimen with zinc, lysine, and vitamin C. I’ll also add in some elderberry (immune support), ginger (digestion and immune support), turmeric (anti-inflammatory), collagen and bone broths (gut healing), and adaptogenic mushrooms (modulating stress response).

Hydration

Here’s a point where most everyone agrees. Fluids, lots of fluids. Soups, water, broths, herbal tea — all good to incorporate during this time. Other great choices include coconut water (unsweetened), some sparkling mineral water with a tiny pinch of sea salt (if bubbles sound appealing), and warm lemon water. Hydration tablets can also be great as long as there’s not a ton of sweetener. Try the Nuun and Amazing Grass brands.

Once a sore throat hits I like to make a tea using an inch of fresh ginger (sliced), 1/2 lemon (squeezed), and one crushed garlic clove. Sounds gross, but you really don’t taste much garlic and it helps stop the cold from starting.

There does seem to be a disconnect between the kind of fluids recommended among medical professionals and others. Soda (even ginger ale), Sports Drinks, and Pedialyte are not ideal ways to hydrate during cold season (or most anytime, barring specific emergency situations in which when medical help is ideal.)

Environment

If you’re in a dry cold environment or have the heater going all day, consider getting a humidifier for when you are sleeping to moisten the nasal and throat passages. Think of this as a way to hydrate your mucous membranes when you’re not awake. I use a cool air humidifier because it’s also safe for me to use with my kid, but shop around and find the right one for your space.

When you are awake, look into using nasal irrigation to help clear out and hydrate your sinus passages. MAJOR DISCLAIMER: this can be dangerous if you use the wrong water, salt or container. Do your research, use distilled water, sanitize everything, and be diligent about it. Being a San Diegan, I’m no stranger to nasal irrigation because it happens pretty naturally when you’re out surfing or swimming in the ocean. Getting tossed around in the waves moves the salt water up into the nasal cavity and it can be incredibly helpful for clearing out the junk. However, if you’re getting sketchy water up your nose… it may make the problem worse. So be warned and do your homework first. Oh, and don’t go surf after a rainstorm, just don’t.

Another recent lifestyle intervention for me has been regular, aggressive chiropractic care. I’ve been experiencing horrible migraines this pregnancy so I finally reached out to a pregnancy-specific chiropractor in hopes I could find some relief. So far so good. I also feel like a side effect from the care has been improvement in my overall immunity. I’m still new to it so I can’t say for sure, but if you’re up for trying ALL THE THINGS, I say find a solid referral and give it a try!

One final tip; on occasion I enjoy using essential oils in my shower or diffuser to help with any achy muscles or shortened breathing due to cough or congestion. Eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary, and lavender all seem to be very soothing during these times. I’m not 100% convinced of all the claims touted by essential oil enthusiasts, but there are a handful of uses where I see some benefit and very little to no drawbacks. So, why not?!

Alright people, that’s what I’ve got for today. These recommendations are really helpful for us pregnant folk who can’t take the usual over the counter meds but they apply to anyone who wants to find more ways to improve your immune function or relieve symptoms in a more natural way. Now get out there and stay healthy!

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