How to Boost your Immunity this Fall! Part Two- Vitamin C

We’ve all heard that vitamin C is good for our immune system, but many of us don’t realize just how important it really is in helping us prevent and fight off infections! 

Every time we get an infection, our white blood cells (our immune system soldiers) use up a lot of vitamin C to help fight off the infection.  Most animals can make more vitamin C in their livers to replenish supplies.  However, humans lack an important enzyme for vitamin C production.  Therefore, we can’t make our own vitamin C.  We must replenish supplies from our food or from supplementation.

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How it works:

Vitamin C stimulates the immune system by...

  • Enhancing production of lymphocytes
  • Enhancing movement of lymphocytes to the virus or bacteria, or whatever our immune system is trying to fight off
  • Increasing interferon levels, antibody responses, and antibody production
  • Mechanically inhibits spread of infections by occupying the space between cells in our cartilage, bone, and fibrous connective tissue
  • Protects our white blood cells from the enzymes they release to fight off the bad guys

Other amazing benefits of vitamin C:

  • Helps us synthesize collagen and certain neurotransmitters
  • Involved in protein metabolism
  • Plays a vital role in wound healing
  • Important physiological antioxidant
  • Improves absorption of nonheme iron (the type of iron we get from plant based foods)

Get it from your food!

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Foods that contain vitamin C should be a part of our daily diet.  If we eat an organic, plant based, whole foods diet, we’re going to get all the vitamins and minerals we need to support a healthy body and healthy immune system (I know, I know- a lot easier said than done).

I always recommend getting your nutrition from the food you eat for many reasons…

  • It is the most natural source of vitamins and minerals you can find.
  • Most foods that contain the vitamin you’re after will also contain the minerals and enzymes you need to digest it. 
  • Mainly, I believe strongly in the idea that the more “good stuff” you eat, the less room there is to eat the “bad stuff.”  I know that when I rely solely on supplementation for a certain vitamin or mineral, I’m a lot less likely to choose healthy, organic whole foods that contain that supplement, because in my mind- I’m already getting it.  So, I reach for what my emotions (not my body) are craving, like chocolate, sugar, and anything fried. ☹

Good Dietary Sources of Vitamin C

  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Kale
  • Peppers
  • Turnip greens
  • Beet greens
  • Watercress
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  • Spinach
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Papaya
  • Currants

The vitamin C content of food can be reduced by prolonged storage or cooking.  Most of these foods are delicious raw, but raw turnip greens sounds pretty gross... so steam these foods if you’re going to cook them. You lose less vitamin C with steaming than other cooking methods.

What about OJ?

Every time I get sick, I remember being a kid and my grandma giving me a big glass of orange juice and telling me to drink up.  While orange juice does have a lot of vitamin C, it also has a ton of sugar! There’s much better sources (listed above) to get a good dose of vitamin C, without all the sugar.

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What about supplements?

Now, I also know there are times when supplementation is necessary.  If you’re not getting it from your food, it’s a good idea to supplement for maintenance.  Any good quality multivitamin will have vitamin C in it.

I'm already sick! What now??

Research shows vitamin C can decrease the duration of the common cold, so I supplement with a little extra vitamin C when I feel a cold coming on, during the cold, and for a few days after. Everyone is different, how much you should take depends on your diet and other health factors.  Ask your chiropractor or other healthcare professional how much vitamin C is right for you on the daily, and when you’re sick.

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How to Boost your Immunity this Fall! Part 1- Elderberries

As we head full swing into Fall, I wanted to share some of my favorite immune system boosters!   

With the temperature changes, less sun, more stress, and less sleep- everyone’s immune system could use a little extra support this time of year.

Up first- one of my favorite immune system helpers that I discovered while in Chiropractic school, Elderberry Syrup!  I’ve even included my favorite recipe for making your own elderberry syrup at home- super easy and much cheaper than buying the syrup!

What are elderberries?

Black Elderberries have been used for centuries to help reduce symptoms of the cold and flu.  They’re grown on a small, shrubby tree that’s native to most of Europe.  While it’s toxic to eat the berries raw, cooked elderberries can be made into a syrup that has been proven to not only boost the immune system, but can shorten the length of time you have a cold or flu. Who doesn’t want that?

 
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How does it work?

Recent studies have described that elderberries strengthen the immune system in 3 ways:

1)  Enhanced cytokine production

  • Cytokines are important communication proteins that our immune system uses to communicate with itself.  When an infection is present, they recruit the troops and tell other immune cells to come and fight it off.

2)  Source of antioxidants

  • Black elderberries contain antioxidant flavonoids that help fend off pathogens and allergens, and help prevent free radicals from damaging our cells.  Particularly, black elderberry’s flavonoids help protect the inner lining of our blood vessels!

3)  Anti-viral activity

  • Early stage experiments are showing that black elderberry can directly inhibit viral infection. Research is still being done on this, and so far, it’s only been observed in a petri dish- but it’s fascinating that this simple berry can block the virus and make it non-functional!

Now, before we get into the fun of how to make your own Elderberry Syrup- there’s a couple of things to consider..

When NOT to use Elderberries:

  • If you have an auto-immune disease like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or some other auto-immune condition, it is best to avoid elderberries.  They boost the immune system, which could increase symptoms of an auto-immune condition. 
  • If you’re pregnant or nursing, you should avoid elderberries as we just don’t have enough research yet to deem it safe.
  • If you’re taking any medications that decrease the immune system (immunosuppressants), do not use elderberry.  Because elderberries increase the immune system, they could cause your medication to be less effective.
  • Also, remember to never eat the raw berries- they can make you very, very sick.  They must be cooked thoroughly first.  Also, only cook the berry part.  Any stems, leaves, or other pieces of the plant can make you sick.

Where to Get It and How to Make It

Elderberry syrup is super easy and inexpensive to make on your own; however, if you’d rather just buy some, you can find it at Whole Foods or any other health food market.  I really like Gaia Herbs brand, and they have it in a capsule form as well, if you don’t like the taste of the syrup.

You can find dried Elderberries on Amazon, and sometimes you can find them in health food markets.  Just remember to not eat them until they are fully cooked.

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Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup dried black elderberries
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or 1 tsp dried cinnamon)
  • 4 cloves (or 1 tsp dried clove)
  • 1 cup raw honey (ideally, a local honey- which can help curb allergies)

Directions

  1. Bring berries, water, cinnamon, and cloves to a boil in a large pot.
  2. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, around 45 mins.
  3. Allow the liquid to cool.
  4. Smash berries to release any remaining juice and use a fine mesh strainer or a cheese cloth to drain.
  5. Stir in the raw honey.
  6. Store in an airtight glass container (like a Mason jar) for up to 2 months.

Hope you enjoyed and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.  Stay tuned for the next installment of our 4 part series on how to boost immunity this fall!

 

Tummy Time- it’s not just for babies!

Most people know tummy time is important for babies, but did you know it’s great for adults too?!  

Tummy time helps baby develop strong neck, shoulder, and back muscles and helps prevent the baby’s head from flattening.  Us adults don’t have to worry about the back of our heads flattening out; however, we should be concerned about the strength of our muscles in our neck, shoulders, and back.  

In today’s technological society, most of us spend much our days bent over our phones, computers, tablets, and TVs.  We are pretty much constantly glued to a screen- while waiting in line, laying in bed, sitting in a waiting room, lounging on the couch, etc.  Even when we’re not enamored by technology, our day to day tasks cause us to form a hunched, head forward posture.  For example, picture your own posture while working at your desk, driving in the car, cooking, reading, cuddling with you kiddo, etc.  I bet you pictured your shoulders rounded forward with your head tilted down and forward. 

We are not meant to be in this posture for extended periods of time.  In fact, every inch your head moves forward puts an extra 10 pounds of pressure on your neck muscles.  They have to work overtime to hold your head up.

If we spend a lot of time in this posture, our muscles get used to it.  So even while we’re standing or walking around, our shoulders roll forward and in and our head goes forward.  This puts a LOT of strain on your neck, shoulders, and back which leads to tension and pain.  It also can cause headaches and even causes your breathing to be less efficient because there’s less room for your lungs to expand.  There’s even an unofficial diagnosis for it- text neck!

While most of these activities are impossible to avoid or no fun to avoid, there are some things you can do to lessen the effect they have on your body...  

5 tips for better posture and less pain!

1. Hold your phone/tablet/book up to your eye-level instead of tilting your head down to look at it.
2. When lounging on the couch at the end of a long day or reading in bed, don’t put a pillow directly behind your head, as this usually causes your head to jut forward.  Arrange the pillows so they support your upper and lower back, so you’re comfortable, but in a better posture.
3. Use speakerphone, a headset, or bluetooth when talking on the phone. 
4. If you have to bend over a screen for an extended period of time, don’t forget to stop every 20 minutes to stand up, stretch, and move around a bit, even if it’s just for a few seconds.
5. TUMMY TIME!!!

Counteract the hours we spend hunched over, by doing some tummy time to help strengthen your extensor muscles in your neck, back, and shoulders.  Try doing this exercise while watching TV, while playing with your kids, or if you get a short break at the office.  It only takes 30-60 seconds!  We do this during commercial breaks while we’re watching TV or during time in between seeing patients.  It’s also known as baby cobra for all you yogis out there.  Ok, now for the how to...

Lay flat on your tummy with your palms on the floor directly under or right beside your shoulders, like you're about to do a push-up.  Hug your elbows to your sides.

Now, squeeze your gluts, press your hands firmly into the floor and lift your upper body from your shoulders, just a couple of inches, keeping your head in alignment with your shoulders.  Make sure you’re lifting from your shoulders and not from your neck.  Your shoulders should rise gently off the ground. 

Gently glide your shoulders down until your neck feels long and your arms stable and grounded. Don’t forget to breathe!  Hold this for 5-10 seconds, then rest and repeat.  Even doing this just a few times every day can provide tremendous relief from neck and back pain.  Disclaimer- this should not cause any pain, but should feel like a great stretch while strengthening your back.  If it causes any pain, stop immediately. 

Once you have this down, there’s some more advanced adult tummy time exercises we would love to share!  Let us know how your tummy time goes!

But it feels SO good! Why should I stop cracking my own neck?

I know it feels good.  You’re sitting at your desk, waiting in traffic, or standing in line at the grocery store, and you start to feel the tension building in your neck, and you know relief is only a head twist away.  Unfortunately, this is one of the worst things you can do to your neck.  You’re perpetuating the problem, setting yourself up for lots more tension, stress, spasms, and degeneration down the line. 

When a joint is misaligned, it becomes hypomobile, meaning it doesn’t have the proper range of motion.  However, you still have to move your neck to live your life, so the body tries to correct the problem.  The joints above and below the misaligned segment become hypermobile (move too much); they compensate for the hypomobile joint.   Because of this, you can move your head and neck around without noticing the problem.  However, over time you may feel stiffness and tension in your neck and shoulders because your muscles and the rest of your joints are working overtime to make up for the slacker segment that’s not doing its job.

A chiropractor is specially trained to identify the misaligned hypomobile joint and carefully correct it.  However, when you crack your own neck, you are moving the joints that are already hypermobile, making them even more mobile which only perpetuates the problem and leads to degeneration.  Also, when you crack your neck excessively, it stretches the ligaments that support the spine which can lead to instability.  

If it’s so bad for you, why does it feel so good?  Well, when you crack your own neck, you’re still releasing some built up gas within the joints, relieving some pressure.  Also, you’re creating lots of movement (just in the wrong places) which blocks the pain signals to your brain temporarily, but the original culprit, the hypomobile joint is still there.

So what do you do?  Get adjusted of course! 

Although, if you can’t get to the chiropractor in time, try gently stretching your neck through its normal range of motion.  It will help relieve some of the tension without causing additional damage.