Flu season is right around the corner and those who have abused drugs and alcohol should pay extra attention to their health. Substances are known to weaken the immune system and alcohol abuse on its own can cause malnutrition by blocking the liver’s ability to store important vitamins. A person’s white blood cells can also drop from using or drinking, making it harder for the body to fight off illnesses. All of this puts those in active addiction at a higher risk of contracting the common cold, pneumonia or other respiratory infections.
If your body’s been broken down by alcohol or substances, here are 7 things that can improve or maintain your immune system before the winter season strikes and you’re stuck in bed with the sniffles.
1. Adequate Sleep
It should come as no surprise that sleep is vital to overall well-being. Sleep deprivation not only makes the body more susceptible to catching colds and the flu, it is also a big influencer on a person’s mood, an area that is particularly fragile for those in early recovery. Sleepiness is also a reason many people turn to drugs or alcohol so getting the suggested amount of 7 to 8 hours will help you protect both your body and mind from danger.
2. Healthy Food Choices
Consistent, good nourishment is important for daily health. Making beneficial food choices on a regular basis is one of the best ways to maintain immune system health. A nutritious diet should be high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in saturated fat. For example, citrus fruits (oranges, tangerines, tomatoes, etc.) contain Vitamin C, which assists in boosting the body’s natural defense mechanisms.
3. Regular Exercise
A steady exercise regimen contributes to overall good health. Even more directly, exercise contributes to a strong immune system by supporting good circulation, which allows white blood cells to move through the body more freely and do their job more efficiently.
4. Good Hygiene
During your recovery, take as many precautions as possible. One of the easiest ways is to wash your hands frequently to help prevent the onset and spread of diseases. Cleaning your hands regularly with soap and water eliminates dirt, germs and bacteria you may pick up throughout the day.
5. Refraining from Smoking
It is not unusual for a former addict to replace their substance of choice with cigarette smoking. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and damages the immune system. It exposes the body to carcinogenic chemicals, which results in an increase in infections as your immune system does everything it can to fight these disease-causing compounds. Take preventative measures and avoid trading one negative behavior for another.
6. Decrease Stress
A person’s state of mind also affects his or her state of health. Studies show that chronic stress can age the immune system, making you more susceptible to getting a cold or the flu. Stress overload also increases the hormone cortisol, which suppresses immune function.
Everyone experiences stress, but the way we handle it can make a big difference. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and exercise. Even simple deep breathing exercises can reduce stress levels. If you would like to discuss the cause of your stress, counseling can also do wonders.
Since most Americans do not consume the adequate levels of nutrients in their everyday diet to support year-round wellness, supplementation can help maintain the body’s natural defense mechanisms. Consider taking the following nutritional supplements for more ammo to your body:
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is considered to be a natural health shield. It supports the body’s natural defenses as well as maintains a healthy functioning immune system. It can also help regulate the immune system and keep those nasty colds away.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C supports the body's natural defenses. As an antioxidant, it helps protect against immune system deficiencies.
Probiotics: Probiotics are important for immune and respiratory health. They may help reduce the duration of infections in certain populations.
Zinc: Zinc is a principal component of white blood cells, meaning its deficiency can result in a weaker immune system. Various studies demonstrate that this essential nutrient decreases the duration of the common cold and supports healthy immune function.
There are many other nutritional supplements available to strengthen the body’s resistance. Talk to your health care professional before taking any dietary supplement to ensure they coincide with your recovery goals.