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The holidays are truly the most hectic times of the year, putting our immune systems at risk.
Most businesses have to meet end-of-year deadlines. Some of us are planning holiday shopping around travel plans. In fact, in 2018 it was predicted that a “record-breaking 112.5 million people – more than a third of all Americans – [were] expected to travel” for the entirety of the holiday season. And, then, of course, others are preparing their homes and daily routines to be upended by visiting family.
Yeah, a lot is going on in these cold and holiday-filled months.
While we all love to visit and be visited by our loved ones and spend the holidays enjoying their company, it’s also important to note that staying healthy and avoiding illness is an integral part of that enjoyment. Yet, everything about the holidays — from travel to holiday parties to new people in your home — makes staying healthy so much more difficult.
What can you do?
First off, nobody should let the potentiality of sickness stop them from enjoying the holidays with their loved ones. So, instead of focusing on what you may catch or how much stress you may be taking on in the next sixty days, look at how you can boost your body to Support you in these hectic times. Most importantly, it’s time to incorporate as many plant-based immune system-boosting agents into your daily menu as possible!
You and Your Immune System
There’s a lot to staying healthy. The food you eat, your physical lifestyle, the amount of stress in your life … on and on and on. Yet, when it comes to simply steering clear of the common cold or the flu, it all comes down to your immune system and how robust this essential weapon is.
So, how does it work?
The basics? The immune system is what keeps the bad stuff out. It’s a network of “organs, cells, and proteins” that protects your body “from outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins (chemicals produced by microbes).” Breaking it down even further, you’ll find the innate immune system — “which you are born with” — and the adaptive immune system — “which you develop when your body is exposed to microbes or chemicals released by microbes.” The one you come with and the one you build.
Common Health Concerns During the Holidays
If you’re stuck on a plane, a train, a bus, or any other highly human-congested compartment, then you’re most likely in the presence of one of the following (if not more) illnesses. A recent study discovered the terrifying reality that it’s “more than 100 percent more likely for someone to catch a cold on a plane than in daily life.”
Alright, so you know to expect the common cold, but what else is out there that you’re most likely to catch? Read further to find out the most common illnesses that are contracted during holiday travel.
The Common Cold and/or the Flu
I’ve lumped these two together because, while different in how they present, the reasons for their love of the holidays are similar.
To be fair, if you haven’t caught a cold or the flu from a coworker, the person sitting next to you at dinner last night, or even one of your family members, then let’s just call it lucky. But luck doesn’t run so far, and you just know the moment you step on that flight home, with at least a few passengers coughing and sniffling, that you’ll walk off the flight with more than you came with.
So, what are these illnesses, and why are they so prevalent during the holidays?
Let’s start with the common cold.
A cold — referred to as “common cold,” if you were wondering the difference, there isn’t one — “is a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract that primarily affects the nose [as well as] the throat, sinuses, and larynx.” Since it’s a virus, there’s little that you can do besides resting, eating nutritious meals, and hydrating. The problem? For some, generally those with preexisting health concerns, the common cold can develop into pneumonia, which is a very serious condition that can cause hospitalization and even death.
The flu — short for influenza — is a bit trickier and a lot less appealing than the common cold. The flu “is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs.” While the common cold generally remains benign, unless in those rare instances, the flu can oftentimes become a “severe illness, and, at times, can lead to death.”
It’s not necessarily that the holidays bring about an uptick in the common cold, but it’s a combination of cold weather — it’s believed “that the immune system is compromised by cold weather” — and more people out and about shopping, attending parties, and traveling. Plus, take a moment before turning up your thermostat. Central heating “can lower our defences by drying out the nasal mucous that prevents viruses from entering the body.”
This is a less common illness but a virulent, knock-you-off-your-feet variety.
The norovirus — affectionately referred to as the “winter vomiting bug” — “is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea.” Unfortunately, this virus is super easily transmitted via contact with an infected person, drinking contaminated water or consuming contaminated food, or even by “touching contaminated surfaces then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth.” It’s due to the ease of spreading, lowered immune system via the cold, and a huge increase of people comingling in public spaces that causes cases of norovirus to go up during the holidays.
The good news?
The norovirus generally clears up in only a couple of days, even though those few days are pretty unpleasant. Plus, you can enact some key habits to help avoid the bug, such as frequently washing your hands and avoiding sharing your personal items, especially things like clothing, bedding, and towels, with people who are or may be infected.
While there’s lots more health-related discomfort to choose from in regards to the holiday months — aches and pains, dry skin, Seasonal Affective Disorder, to name just a few — I think one of the most pertinent that many of us suffer from, but don’t talk about is stress-induced digestive upset.
We love our family, and we love our friends, yet maneuvering through social events, especially when they’re lapped one over the other can be stressful. On top of that, there’s the work-life stress as deadlines approach before the end of the year, holiday parties to prepare for, and, of course, amidst all of this, you’re most likely unable to attend to your healthy eating habits.
Simply put, you’re stressed out even if you’re happy during the holidays, and this can cause digestive issues, increased headaches, body aches, and an uptick in anxiety and even depression. This can manifest in a variety of ways, from bloating, constipation, diarrhea, cramps, and gas, to more serious digestive conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, to name just a few.
It’s important to listen to your body and take note of your mental state during the holidays. Try to find a quiet moment every day to honestly check in with yourself. Most likely, if your body is suddenly not feeling well, it may be an indicator of elevated stress.
Plant-Based Foods to Boost Your Immune System
One of the many benefits of eating plant-based foods is the increased consumption of protective qualities. Most plant-based foods are naturally rich in immune system-boosting nutrients. While a well-rounded diet is a great key to overall health, certain nutrients offer a bit more of a leg up when looking to kick the common cold or the flu. Plus, many of these foods can be properly packed into travel-friendly recipes. Infuse your body with protection while you’re on the plane, bus, or train!
Get Your Vitamin C
You may be sick of hearing about getting your vitamin C, yet during the holidays, it’s as important as ever to make sure you’re getting enough of this vital nutrient. This water-soluble vitamin is found in many “fruits and vegetables, including oranges, strawberries, kiwi fruit, bell peppers, broccoli, kale, and spinach.” Along with battling high blood pressure, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease, improving the absorption of iron, and protecting your brain, vitamin C is also well known for its ability to boost your immune system. How so? Vitamin C has been shown to help your white blood cells function at their optimal ability, thereby providing better defenses against foreign invaders.
Looking for the best fruits and veggies for vitamin C? While you may go directly for that navel orange, try a few of these alternative foods that are even higher in vitamin C content: acerola cherries, chili peppers, guavas, thyme, mustard spinach, kale, kiwis, Brussels sprouts, and strawberries, to name just a few.
Now you know what to buy, now what do you cook? Here are some creative vitamin-C recipes to get you started!
Antioxidants. You hear about them everywhere. You know they’re good for your body. So, what’s up with these plant-based white knight agents?
Turns out antioxidants “prevent damage to immune cells by neutralizing free radicals — agents in the environment that may damage your cells and reduce your immunity.” Hold up, what are free radicals? These compounds “can cause harm if their levels become too high in your body” and they’re linked to “multiple illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.” Since plants use antioxidants in their “own defenses against free radicals and oxidative damage,” that means when you consume plant-based foods, you’re also consuming that plants’ antioxidants. While your body requires certain antioxidants to live — such as “vitamins C and E” — there are other “non-essential antioxidants [which] occur in food” that “play an important role in general health.”
Where do you get antioxidants? To be honest, antioxidants are pretty much spread across the board in a plant-based diet. With that said, there are a few standouts in the crowd including berries, green tea, coffee, and dark chocolate.
It doesn’t sound too hard to get to consuming these antioxidant powerhouses, does it? Here are a few holiday festive recipes to get you started amping up your immune system for your travels: Nut-Free Strawberry Vanilla Crumble Bars, Raspberry Breakfast Muffins, Blueberry-Almond Dark Chocolate Bark, 6-Ingredient Matcha Cookies, Matcha Latte, No-Bake Mocha Doughnuts With Chocolate Frosting, or this Coffee Cake Banana Bread.
Hand-in-hand with antioxidants is inflammation. Antioxidants are a wonderful component to help fight bodily inflammation. Alright, but what’s up with inflammation? You’ve most likely heard about inflammation being linked to health. Harvard Health published an article entitled Inflammation: A unifying theory of disease in which they lay out the case for the linkage between chronic bodily inflammation and a vast array of diseases.
Inflammation in a nutshell … in short, inflammation is part of a “process that depends both on the physical actions of white blood cells and the chemicals that they produce: antibodies, cytokines, and the like.” Inflammation is a natural and necessary part of the immune response, yet, it’s been discovered that certain aggravators may cause the body to be in a state of chronic inflammation, which leads down unruly paths into disease.
Luckily, just like antioxidants, plant-based foods are also rich in anti-inflammatory agents as well! In particular, tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy veggies, nuts, and lots of fruits. Plus, there are certain spices, such as turmeric and Ceylon cinnamon, which are known to help decrease inflammation as well.
Get your anti-inflammation on this holiday season with these delightful recipes: Homemade Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Pepper and Almond Spread, No Bake Choc Squares, Almond & Date Shortbread, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Olive Oil and Orange Cookies, Savory Citrus Arugula Steel Cut Oatmeal, Golden Milk Frapuccino, or these Baked Kale Chips.
If you’re like me, then most medications upset the normal rhythm of your body including inducing nausea, causing constipation, and even aggravating heartburn. When it comes to holiday illness, in particular, the common cold, try seeking some herbal remedies instead. Herbs are an ancient source of medicines dating back to Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicinal practices.
When it comes to kicking your ailments, while traveling, look to some of the powerhouses such as ginger, garlic, and echinacea. Ginger is great for soothing a sore throat or cough and is a powerhouse when treating nausea. Garlic has a compound called “allicin, which may have antimicrobial properties,” and may alleviate the severity of your symptoms. Echinacea has been used for centuries and is believed to have therapeutic effects on the body due to its high levels of flavonoids.
You don’t have to down bitter tinctures to enjoy an herbal remedy. When it comes to ginger and garlic, add these aromatic delights to your favorite holiday (or non-holiday) recipes such as this Spicy Carrot Clementine Juice, these Ginger-Beet Moscow Mules, these Sweet Potato Fries With Maple-Tahini Garlic Dip, or this soothing Italian Minestrone.
Echinacea, on the other hand, can be used in a variety of ways, yet the most popular and effective are in supplemental form — Vegan Echinacea Goldenseal Capsules — or as a tincture — Immune Booster with Echinacea Goldenseal.
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