It’s the season for scrubbing, soaping and sanitizing. After all, no one exactly enjoys getting stuck at home miserable with the latest cold or flu strain making its way through all humankind. But is this obsession with absolute cleanliness really the best way to keep ourselves healthy?
We certainly wouldn’t argue with the positives of basic sanitation, and we even agree that washing your hands at strategic points of the day (following restroom use, please) isn’t a bad idea. The fact remains, however, that we live in a sea of germs throughout the year. Viruses, bacteria are everywhere, and they’re generally supposed to be. The chain of life didn’t evolve in a bucket of Lysol.
Our obsession with sanitization, we would argue, is another classic example of self-imposed paradox. The fact is, frequent washing and use of sanitizers end up stripping our skin of healthy oils that actually serve as an external barrier and defense against pathogens. In the most brutal weeks of winter, people often find themselves with rough, even cracked skin , which then becomes an open sewer for every germ it encounters.
On top of it all, experts have warned us literally for years that our society’s use of anti-bacterial soaps will come back to bite us with the advent of “super bugs,” bacterial strains that are immune to much of our pharmaceutical arsenal.
So, what’s the best way to stay free from illness, you ask. Step away from the Purell, and let’s talk.
As we often say on MDA, our current culture has lost faith in the human body’s logic, adaptability, and resilience. Your best defense is not the latest product being peddled; it’s the strength of a healthy immune system. That’s right: save yourself the trouble of stockpiling soap, and stay healthy by simply taking care of yourself.
Let’s review what feeds a happy, healthy immune system:
A Healthy, Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Oh, it’s our hobby horse, and we’re proud of it. Inflammation is the evil empire in our book for good reason. Not only does it cause heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other serious health conditions, it cuts your immune function off at the knees. If your body is constantly attending to inflammation related damage, it won’t be effective in combating everyday pathogens. All together now: lose the carbs and trans fats. And go for anti-oxidants that take on free radicals and related inflammation.
And wouldn’t you know it, protein deficiency figures into the picture. Those protein powerhouses are the building blocks for our immune system. Too little protein means fewer white blood cells  to send into battle.
Wait, there’s more. Turns out a low fat diet compromises your natural defenses as well. Who knew? (I see a few hands going up.) A study  from the University at Buffalo showed that athletes showed more signs of compromised immunity on very low fat diets than they did on moderate or high fat diets.
Also, make sure you’re incorporating probiotics into your diet. Not only do probiotics promote a healthy gastrointestinal system, they boost general immunity by aiding immune cell production.
Finally, optimum immune function depends on a constant adequate supply of essential vitamins and minerals. Make sure your diet feeds these needs, and consider a comprehensive supplement to ensure your body is getting what it requires to keep you healthy.
Moderate, Smart Exercise
We aren’t talking about running yourself into the ground here. Very high intensity exercise actually compromises your immune function. Elite athletes, as Mark will tell you himself, are at higher risk for chronic infection.
But research time and again (as we reported recently ) supports the benefits of moderate exercise for healthy immune function. In addition to reducing stress, moderate exercise reduces the risk for chronic inflammation, leaving your immune system free to fight off that head cold your coworker has been spreading around the office.
Of course, a good night of shut eye does the body a world of good, but an increasing number of research studies support the importance of the deep relaxation induced by regular meditation. A recent study  out of the University of Madison-Wisconsin showed that subjects who received eight weeks of training in mindfulness meditation exhibited significantly stronger immune response than the control group, as measured by antibody production following flu vaccination.
Given the role of chronic stress in inflammation, pairing meditation with healthy diet and exercise seems like a perfect prescription. Take all of the above and sleep in tomorrow morning!
Are you one of the people that has fallen for the Purell trap, carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer everywhere you go? What do you think about all this?
benchilada  Flickr Photo (CC)
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