It’s no secret that taking care of ourselves helps us stay healthy. Adequate rest and fluids, healthful meals, and reducing our exposure to bacteria and viruses is the best way to keep healthy during the coming school year.
To be rested, well fed, and relaxed is very idyllic, isn’t it? But unfortunately it’s not the reality for many people in today’s fast paced world. In fact, I’m not sure it has ever been the reality since sin entered the world.
The beginning of the school year seems like an appropriate time to talk about our immune systems. Whether you are sending your students off to public school or not, there is plenty of exposure to viruses and bacteria in your home, at the grocery store, at church, and any place where humans gather.
In addition to germ exposure, school can be stressful, even when school is at home. Our bodies don’t only react to negative stress, they react to positive stress as well. There’s new curriculum, new classes, new kids, travel, and it all can weigh on someone.
Before we take a look at how we can prevent illness this coming school year, let’s look at the difference between bacteria and viruses and the way our immune systems work.
Bacteria vs Virus
More than once, I’ve heard of sick children being turned away at the doctor’s office. “It’s a virus. There’s nothing we can do. Go home, drink plenty of water, and get lots of rest.” Nice, huh? So why do antibiotics work for bacterial infections, but not viral ones?
Our cells are protected by a cell membrane. It keeps all the cell’s structures together and it protects the cell. A bacterium (single bacteria) cannot penetrate the cell membrane and remains outside of the cell, in the bloodstream. A virus, on the other hand, is not a cell itself. It doesn’t have all the structures necessary for life (and therefore infection) on it’s own. Virus particles instead enter a healthy cell and take over.
Antibiotics tend to work in two ways. Either they stop a bacterium from reproducing, or they kill the bacteria cells. They remain in the bloodstream. Antiviral medications can protect cells from further viral infection by blocking the viruses from entering new cells and thwarting reproduction, but they tend to do little aid the already infected cells since the virus is inside, where the medication isn’t.
Thus, the case of “wait it out”.
While exposure to bacteria and viruses is inevitable, major sickness isn’t. How can we be proactive, boost our immune systems, and avoid getting sick?
There are several things we can do to proactively keep our bodies and immune systems strong. They probably aren’t new to you, but they are worth mentioning anyway.
Our bodies do the bulk of repair work while we’re sleeping. Liken your body onto a vehicle. Let’s say your car is acting up so you bring it in to the mechanic. He finds the problem and begins to repair it. But it’s your turn to pick kids up for an activity so you get a ride to the shop and pick your car up before it’s finished. You bring the car back for the mechanic to work on finishing the repairs, but you need to leave for a party so you take your car back again before repairs are complete.
Eventually, your car is going to break for good. It’s the same with our bodies. If we aren’t giving our bodies the chance to rest and repair, we’re taking them and using them when they aren’t at their full capacity. And eventually a night’s rest won’t be enough to repair the damage time has caused.
It’s no surprise that high stress can mean a higher susceptibility to illness. Cortisol is a stress hormone, and it has been all over the media in regard to weight loss. When we are in a stressful situation, cortisol is excreted into our bodies giving us heightened awareness, increased problem solving skills, and the ability to do more with our bodies than we normally could.
Good old “fight or flight”.
The problem is, we spend too much time living in “fight or flight” mode. Our food isn’t digested properly, and our immune systems aren’t functioning at peak performance. If you think about cortisol being critical for true life and death situations, you can see that having digested food or an active immune system aren’t important in the short term. The problem is when heightened cortisol levels become semi-permanent.
An interesting study was published in 2008 discussing the effect of cortisol on the immune system. Researchers found that extended exposure to cortisol shortened cells’ telomeres. Telomeres are kind of like the plastic ends on shoelaces; they are found on the ends of chromosomes and are protective. They keep cells from deteriorating and fusing as they divide.
This study showed,
UCLA scientists found that the stress hormone cortisol suppresses immune cells’ ability to activate their telomerase. This may explain why the cells of persons under chronic stress have shorter telomeres.
The study reveals how stress makes people more susceptible to illness.
Especially persons who are under long-term stress, like caregivers to chronically ill family members, soldiers, and even people who drive long daily commutes.
We need to find ways to protect our stress levels. Make it a priority.
When the school year gets rolling and extracurricular activities pick up, it’s sometimes difficult to make the time to make healthful meals for our families. I’m with ya!
If you’re consistently having a hard time getting a healthful dinner on the table, here are a few suggestions:Freezer cooking. Choose one night and make a bunch of meals at once. Make 4 lasagnas and put 3 in the freezer. Check out my Pinterest board for more freezer cooking ideas.
Meal plan. For some people meal planning doesn’t work, but for many it’s a lifesaver. You can make grocery lists based on your meal plan and you know every night that the ingredients you need for tonight’s meal are on hand. No improvising necessary. Find out how I meal plan, and get some free meal planning calendars.
Keep it simple. Don’t try to make gourmet meals and fancy desserts. Just feed your family whole, nourishing food. A simple favorite in our home is Ricey Beef and Broccoli. Or try a Dump-erole, or Taco Skillet Hotdish, both one dish meals. The key is simplicity.
Rather than relying on pharmaceuticals to save us in the event of a viral infection, it is often more effective to help the body fight the infection itself. Our immune systems are designed to fight infection, both bacterial and viral, if we are caring for them properly.
If you do get sick this year, here are a few things you can try.
There are plenty of foods we can eat that will boost our immune systems in case of infection. These foods should be eaten to avoid infection as well.Garlic. Lots of garlic. Garlic is anti inflammatory and antibacterial. It fights infection when used topically, like for treating ear infections, and it also boosts your body’s ability to fight infection. Garlic is always a good choice.
Bone broth. There is truth to the old “chicken soup” story. Bone broth is packed with minerals, and also contains gelatin which is healing to an upset tummy. Plus, it’s super cheap. Don’t be intimidated, try it!
When you’re down for the count with a virus, there are several herbs that can help your body nurse itself back to health. Here are a few.
- Olive leaf extract. Olive leaf extract is an incredible antiviral. It does what medications cannot do and interferes with the virus’ ability to produce the proteins it needs to thrive, and inactivates viruses. Pretty cool.
- Mullein. Are you familiar with those fuzzy green plants that grow on roadsides? In late summer they will grow a tall stalk with small yellow flowers on it. That’s mullein. Mullein leaves can be dried and made into tea when you are ill. Mullein is an expectorant and helps with many respiratory complaints. The flowers can also be soaked in olive oil for several weeks. The resulting oil can be used inside ears for ear infections.
- Echinacea. Echinacea is one of the most well-known herbal remedies in time of illness. Typically the root of the plant is used to boost the immune system and support the sinuses and respiratory system.
Essential oils are another great way to support your health. Essential oils are basically the immune system of the plant. They often protect the plant from predators, aid in healing when damage occurs, and protect against disease. We are carbon based just as plants are, and they can often help support our bodies in similar ways.
What’s astounding, is that essential can pass through the cell membrane very quickly. Because they are so potent, it only takes a drop of essential oil to support every cell in your body.
Using Essential Oils for Wellness
Oils like oregano, clove, peppermint, and tea tree or melaleuca are great for immune health. They can be applied in a carrier oil to the soles of the feet. They can also be used aromatically to support a clear airway and support respiratory health.
Essential oils should only be ingested if they are of high quality, so choose your oils wisely. Of course, every oil you use should be a high quality oil to get the best therapeutic benefits, whether you intend to use them internally or not. (Find out which oils I like by using the contact form here.)
Using Essential Oils for Cleaning
Essential oils can also be used in cleaning. If someone in your family is ill, you may be tempted to douse your home in antibacterial sprays. Please, don’t! Simply take a spray bottle, fill it half with water and half with vinegar, and add a few drops of melaleuca (tea tree) or a Protective Blend. Use these sprays for disinfecting your home.
You can also make an air freshener spray with water and rosemary essential oil or Protective Blend to disinfect and freshen the air. Rather than covering up smells, it’ll eliminate them both in the air and on the surfaces where it lands.
Be smart this year. Take care of your body, and know that if illness does strike you don’t have to sit back and take it. Fight back!