In New Zealand, we’re lucky enough to have kicked coronavirus to the curb and emerged this month to all the freedoms we’d taken for granted. However, it’s also important that we don’t disregard some of the new health consciousness we’ve developed in the past three months.
We’ve had many of our clients check in with Dr Ajit, our resident Ayurvedic expert, during the lockdown with questions on how to strengthen their immune system. Now that the lockdown is over, we want to remind you that we’re now in the full peak of the cold and flu season! Vata season is characterised by coldness, brittleness, and airiness — all qualities that can wreak havoc on your health for weeks, if not months to come. By boosting your immune system year round through healthy lifestyle habits, you can ensure that you skip the worst of the winter blues every year. For this month, we’ve collated some new approaches to strengthening your immunity and increasing your body’s own resilience to cold and flu.
If you’re someone who dreads the sniffles, sneezes, and sore throats that arrive like clockwork every winter, then this is for you — you’ll be surprised how the littlest changes make the biggest difference!
Don't be salty
While salt — in particularly the unprocessed type, such as Himalayan pink salt — contains most if not all of the essential minerals that our bodies need everyday, recent research has shown that excessive salt intake is actually detrimental to your immune system! We’ve all heard the tales about salt being linked to heightened blood pressure, stroke, and heart issues, but this is the first time significant research has shown high salt intake changes your hormonal balance, making it harder for your immune system to fight off malignant bacteria. Hold on, you might say, I’m not using a crazy amount of salt on my food, so where’s this coming from? Unfortunately, you’re probably consuming double the recommended daily intake of 5 grams of salt because the easy packaged lunches and dinners that you reach for on lazy days. Hidden sodium content in processed foods will rocket your salt intake sky high, and is a contributing factor in overworked kidneys and spleens — two very important organs in the health of your immune system. To lower your daily salt intake, you should try to limit processed meals to once or twice a week, and avoid oversalting your food. In time, your immunity will thank you for it.
Warm it up
It’s no secret why Ayurveda recommends warm soups year-round, not just during the cold season. By cooking down meats, vegetables, grains and beans down into liquid form, you’re making the foods easier to digest, and avoiding overworking your digestive system in order to process the nutrients. In Ayurveda and modern science, your digestion is linked inextricably to your immune system: the better you absorb nutrients, the stronger your body will be in fighting off disease. Our modern foods, particularly in fad diets, place a high premium on raw, cold foods: salads, yoghurts with uncooked fruit, cold drinks, cold meats, cold cheese… however, the coolness of these foods require your body to heat it up from inside before it can begin the task of digestion, therefore expending more energy, and inviting the creation of more toxins. By cooking food into heartwarming stews and soups, you’re preserving all the nutrients without creating more work for your digestive — and therefore, immune — system. What’s not to love?
Kill the pain - naturally
One of the worst ways we damage our immune system in modern life is our habit of reaching for prescription or over-the-counter painkillers as soon as we feel a pang. Some of us have been doing this for years — ever since we started menstruating — to the point where we fail to recognise the difference between pain and discomfort. While there’s no risk of addiction or dependency on commonplace painkillers like ibuprofen and panadol, they do have a hidden cost — artificial painkillers don’t treat the cause of the pain, they just numb it for a few hours. Additionally, ibuprofen and similar NSAIDs wreak consistent damage on your gut health — one of the essential pillars of immunity. Natural pain relievers, such as ginger, garlic, and curcumin, actually work to address the root of your issues. Next time you feel painful cramps or lower abdominal discomfort, try a hot glass of spicy ginger tea before you reach for the panadol. Over time, you’ll find that the acuity will dull, as your body develops its own resilience.
Get some sun
We know — easier said than done in this weather! Which is all the more reason to get out into the light next time you notice it slanting through the window. While the dangerous tanning rage of the 90s has mostly eased off, many of us have over adjusted to staying inside, therefore suffering from hidden vitamin D deficiencies that can weaken our immune systems over time. Vitamin D from the sun has been proven to heighten immune response by increasing the production of antimicrobial agents in your body. Vitamin D is also a strong defence against lung and respiratory disease — perfect for the cold. You can get more of this vitamin simply by taking a ten minute stroll during your lunch break — not only will this strengthen your immune system, it can also promote better sleep during the night!
At Spa Ayurda, we’re all about taking time to smell the roses — not just for the sake of it, but for your health. This is one of the few mental exercises we can do to strengthen our immune system, but if you only take one thing away from this article, this would probably be the most important. Stress kills — literally. Heightened and chronic mental stress actually triggers the release of cortisol in our body — an immune suppressant that will make you susceptible to disease. Have you ever gotten sick right before a big presentation or event? Chances are it’s your heightened stress levels that lowers your body’s resilience to the office bug. Cortisol also wreaks direct damage on your gut health and respiratory tract, which are the first places that harmful pathogens strike. To counter the stress attacks, meditation is your friend. Studies have shown that even a short, daily course — no longer than ten minutes of focused meditation per day — can boost immune function and protect you from disease. Do this at bedtime, or before you get up of bed in the morning — simply focus. Simply breathe. Simply take a moment, think about nothing, and enjoy the silence. Put your mind and body into sync.