By megfiddler

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It’s that time of year

It’s that time of year again. Kids have returned to school, holiday parties, starting with Halloween will be filling up calendars and more and more of us will be finding activities located indoors as colder temperatures descend. Those indoor gatherings often are the precursor to what is known as “the cold and flu season”. We are encouraged to get our flu and pneumonia shots early as the first line of defense against illness. The truth though is that we each need to nurture our immune and lymphatic system year round as that is truly the first line of defense. There is a multitude of ways to do this.

What is the lymphatic system anyway?
The lymphatic system is tied to the circulatory systems and is a major part of our immune system. It consists of tissues, organs, lymph vessels, lymph nodes and lymph. The spleen is the largest lymphatic organ, sitting on the upper left side under the ribcage. It filters the blood, removing old and abnormal blood cells. There are white blood cells that are manufactured in the spleen that help fight bacteria, dead tissue and other foreign matter. The spleen also helps maintain red and white blood cells and platelets that help clot blood. The thymus is located behind the sternum. This gland is most active at birth and pre-puberty. It manufactures and stores a specific white blood cell known as T-cells, which help fight bacteria, viruses, abnormal cell growth and foreign material. The tonsils and the adenoids are part of the system as well. Lymph itself is a clear fluid containing white blood cells. It can only move in an upward direction due to one-way valves that keep it from moving backwards. The lymph is transported to the lymph nodes via lymph vessels. There are approximately 600-700 nodes in the body with a large portion in both the abdomen and neck. They can be as small as a pinhead or as large as an olive and are often in clusters or strings. Lymph nodes help to purify and filter the lymph of viruses, bacteria, and cancer. The purified lymph is returned to the circulatory system. This of course is a very simplified version of the lymphatic system, but you get an idea of why you want to support it anyway you can.

No one loves your germs
The first thing to remember is that germs love crowds and while you might love your own germs, no one else does. If you are symptomatic with fever, cough, sneezing, runny nose or nausea then stay home. That means no work, no school. One should also keep their distance from parties, bars, the grocery store, the movie theater, church (God will understand) and sporting events or anywhere for that matter that groups of humans congregate indoors. There is no reason to gift a total stranger, friend or co-worker with your germs. Don’t share the gift that keeps on giving.

Hand washing is good and should be done frequently, but stay away from the antibacterial soaps. We don’t always need to reinvent the wheel and generations have done very well using plain old soap and water. In fact the FDA is investigating the germ-killing ingredient triclosan to see if it really does what is claimed, but more importantly that it not pose any health risks. Something else to consider is that the common cold is a virus; antibacterial soaps will do nothing to prevent those types of illnesses.

Keep moving
We all know that exercise is a great way to stay in shape, burn calories, stimulate our cardiovascular system and release endorphins that help us feel good. It is also a good way to stimulate our lymphatic system and help circulate the lymph through the body. If you enjoy walking (pump those arms), running, swimming, playing tennis, dancing (even if it’s just in your own living room) then you are stimulating your lymphatic system. Hey even running up and down the stairs will contribute to the movement of lymph. The re-bounder, also known as a mini-trampoline is a method used by some to stimulate the lymphatic system, but exercise caution if you have any balance issues (use a stabilizer bar), a weak bladder or suffer from sciatica, pinched nerves, osteoporosis, or degenerative disk disease as the re-bounder could aggravate those conditions. Also make sure your ceilings are high and there are no light fixtures or ceiling fans in the way.

Eat those fruits and veggies
Mom knew what she was talking about when she mandated we eat our fruits and veggies, of course fresh not canned (store bought canned that is) would be the most beneficial and organic if possible. There are numerous fruits and vegetables that help bolster our immune system so just a few will be covered. Watermelon might not be as attractive in the winter, but eat lots during the heat of summer, as this fruit has wonderful hydration power and it’s packed with the antioxidant glutathione, which helps strengthen the immune system. In the cold months, cabbage (not one of my favorites) can be added to soups and stews or eaten as a stand alone side dish. It also contains glutathione. Need a snack? Grab some raw unsalted almonds for a powerful punch of vitamin E, riboflavin, niacin and B vitamins. Flavonoids and Vitamin C boost the power of grapefruit in the health department, but be cautious, as grapefruit does not mix well with some medications so check with your pharmacists to be on the safe side. Popeye loved his spinach and eaten raw or lightly cooked the folate it contains will help the body produce new cells and repair DNA. How sweet they are. Those sweet potatoes aren’t just for Thanksgiving. They contain beta-carotene, which mops up free radicals and the Vitamin A might help slow the aging process and reduce some cancer risks. We can’t forget the old standby broccoli and its vitamin A, C and glutathione. Salmon might not be everyone’s favorite, but it’s rich in Omega 3 fats which helps reduce inflammation. Not just for the soul: chicken soup. There is some research that indicates the amino acid cysteine is released from chicken during cooking. It chemically resembles the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine, which might be the reason we feel soothed eating it, plus the thin broth helps with mucous. If making your own soup be sure to buy hormone and antibiotic free chicken. I like to add lots fresh grated ginger, black pepper, onion and garlic to my soup.
When you do eat that healthy meal, turn off the TV, the cell phone and tablet and sit down at the dinner table and savor the food you have prepared; maybe even share a conversation with those people you call family.

Tea for two
Whether your preference is green or black they both contain flavonoids, polyphenoids and L-theanine, great stuff to fight free radicals. For some extra oomph add some raw organic honey to your tea. Honey has antimicrobial agents that prohibit certain types of bacterial growth. It is important to stay hydrated year round. One can become hydrated even indoors sitting at a desk. Fluids help to keep mucous thin, so keep water readily available and supplement with tea if you wish.

Be proactive with probiotics
Many believe that a healthy digestive system is a key factor to maintaining good health. There are as many as 500 different types of bacteria in the digestive system. When the good bacteria are thrown out of balance by infection, diets high in sugar or antibiotics then problems can occur. Probiotics are bacteria and organisms that can be found in Greek yogurt, kefir and supplements. There are studies that indicate probiotics can support the immune system, and support intestinal function. They may also be beneficial in cases of childhood diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea and infectious diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. A study published in 2010 suggests that probiotics may lower the risk of common childhood illnesses such as ear infections, strep throat, and colds.

Breathe deep
Most of us tend to be shallow chest breathers, but slow deep belly breaths can help move lymph. This is not a breathing technique that can be sustained for long periods, but if done just 5 or 10 minutes once or twice a day one can benefit. Take a deep breath in allowing the belly to extend out and then slowly exhale fully, repeat for a couple of cycles and then breath normally, then repeat the deeper breathing for a few more cycles.

Rest and Digest
The parasympathetic nervous system is also known as our rest and digest nervous system, just as the sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as our fight or flight system. Stress, if chronic can weaken the immune system, so finding ways to de-stress is very important. Make time for hobbies you enjoy, meditation, and yoga, tai chi are gentle and relaxing ways to unwind. Swedish or lymphatic drainage are two forms of massage that help the body in many ways including activating the parasympathetic nervous system, don’t underestimate their value just because they are gentle. Make sure you get lots of beneficial sleep; yes that ole 7-8 hours is best, even if you think you can get by on 4 or 5 hours. Children need even more sleep and we want to nurture their systems as well. It’s never too early to form healthy habits.

It all matters
As you can see it all matters, diet, exercise, hydration, sleep, probiotics and breath techniques all work together to support a healthy body. So that “time of year again”, is really all year.

Be healthy!