Need another reason to back away from the cake, candy and donuts? How about the common cold? Turns out these treats taste good but they also make you more vulnerable to illness because sugar suppresses the immune system.
Our immune system is designed to fight bacteria. The process, called phagocytosis, sends white blood cells to rid the body of viruses and bacteria. Sugar inhibits this process, thus leaving the body vulnerable. Complex carbs are okay but the simple sugars found in your typical junk food are not.
The impact of sugar on the immune system
Ingesting a 30-ounce soda (think movie or fast food super-size) reduces the effectiveness of the immune system within 30 minutes. Negative effects may last as long as 5 hours. Some studies report that immune system function is reduced by 40 to 50 percent. That’s a big risk. During cold and flu season when more people stay indoors, which means increased exposure to cold causing germs, too much sugar is almost a sure path to the tissue box.
Keep your immune system stoked to avoid sickness
Sugar is likely just one piece of the puzzle. Other causes of reduced immune function include lack of exercise, too little or poor quality sleep and stress. To reduce your risk of illness during cold and flu season:
- Opt for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Complex carbohydrates provide energy without suppressing the immune system. Fruits and vegetables with vitamins C and E, as well as zinc and beta-carotene, can give your immune system an extra boost.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes 3 or 4 times a week. If that sounds like a lot all at once break your sweat session into 10 or 15 minute blocks. Exercise has been shown to increase immunity. Even if you can’t get in 30 minutes a day – do what you can. Try intervals (interspersing alternate periods of higher intensity e.g. run for 10 to 30 seconds for each minute of your walk) to make the most of the time you have.
- Get enough sleep. A recent study found that screen time reduces quality sleep time. You can sleep better with these simple steps. Count 7 to 8 hours from the time you plan to get up in the morning. That is the time you need to be in the bed. Allow at least one hour of screen free time before bed time. Try gentle stretching exercises, read a book or magazine (not on your phone or tablet), meditate or write. The goal is to begin relaxing before bed time so that you aren’t so pumped up when you hit the pillow that you can’t sleep.
- Practice the three steps above and you may also find that you are better able to manage stress.
Cold and flu season is upon us but that doesn’t mean we are destined for sickness. Wash your hands regularly, eat well, sleep regularly, reduce simple sugars and stress and you may stay ahead of the cold germs.