How to avoid winter colds by boosting your Immune System with Vitamin D and Chiropractic
I went to my local GP surgery the other day and was shocked at the amount of adverts promoting the new flu shot. There were banners, flags, huge roller banners, leaflets etc. It appears the pharmaceutical company promoting/selling it has a bigger advertising budget than coca-cola! I’m not writing this blog to talk about the shaky benefit of this vaccination, or to express my opinions on the recommendation in the UK for every child aged 2-16 to have the nasal spray. I’m writing this blog to look at the alternatives to boosting your immune system to avoid the winter cold, influenza and more… There are many facets to a healthy immune system. I am going to write about 2, the function of your nervous system and vitamin D.
The role your nervous system plays in immunity
Chiropractic philosophy, which has been around since 1895, has long boasted that a better functioning nervous system equals a better functioning immune system. Anecdotally, its be know for years, however now research is catching up and proving that very thing.
Recently, a hospital in Toronto1 found that the nervous system played a role much larger than previously ‘known’. They found that nerves send information from an area of infection to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) so it can co-ordinate the body’s response. The information is hypothesised to be more in-depth than previously thought. The nerves are thought to send danger warnings of not only where the infection is but also whether the infection is caused by a virus or bacteria, the type of bacteria present or the nature of the auto-immune reaction.
Chiropractic and the immune system
Chiropractors work with the nervous system. We work on the joints of the spine to remove subluxations (joints that are not functioning and moving in the way they are designed to). These subluxations of the spine can affect the way the nerves exiting from the spine work. When the nerves are affected the messages they send to and from the body and brain become altered. One way to understand this is to relate the messages the nerves send to reception on your mobile phone. When everything is working well you can hear the other person at the end of the phone clearly. When there is a big building between you and the phone mast (a subluxation) your reception isn’t as good and what your friend is saying comes through garbled and incomplete. The message isn’t clear and sometimes completely missing. Most commonly associated with a trapped nerve is pain, the brain interprets the garbled message as a problem and alerts you to it with pain. However, if it is affecting the messages going to the brain from an area of infection the body cannot respond as well or at all because it only receives some, or none of the information.
So we know Chiropractors work with the nervous system and that has the potential to affect the nervous system, so lets look at research that’s compared the two. Dr. Pero, a professor of medicine at New York University, compared the immune systems of those under Chiropractic care, the general population, and those with cancer or other serious diseases over a 3 year period2. He found that the Chiropractic patients, who had received care for over 5 years, have a 200% greater immune competence than those who did not have Chiropractic, and 400% greater than those with cancer and other serious diseases. He also noted that the greater immune system response of those under Chiropractic care did not diminish with age.
It’s been known for years and the research is starting to back it up, Chiropractic has in it’s long list of benefits improved immune response. We see it all the time in our centre, patients come in feeling stuffy and coldy and after a Chiropractic adjustment they walk out feeling clearer, less heady and their cold clears up much quicker than it normally would. Most patients also note getting ill less often too when their stressed out nervous system starts to function better again.
How to give yourself a vitamin D boost
Vitamin D plays a vital, key role in your immune system. A deficiency can lead to fatigue, depression, for example seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and a weakened immune system. It’s the weakened immune system that exposes you to the common cold, but also to flu and other infections. On that note, vitamin D has been shown to decrease the severity of influenza, as well your chances of catching it. Vitamin D is also know to be responsible for regulating calcium absorption and therefore bone density; it’s also thought to positively effect many other diseases including colon and breast cancer, respiratory disease and type 1 diabetes.
So, where do we get vitamin D from?
Vitamin D is vital for human health and we get it through sunlight exposure and diet. Our main source is from the sun. In the winter we spend more time indoors and there is less sunshine when we are outside so our exposure level drops below what our bodies need. This decrease is linked to a weakened immune system and therefore one of the theories behind why most people get colds in the winter. Vitamin D levels also drop in pregnant and breast feeding women, young children and older people, darker-skinned people and those who wear full body coverings.
We can supplement our decreased production of vitamin D from sunlight with our diet. Mackerel, sardines and fish liver oil are good sources of natural vitamin D, you can also get supplements too. The only downside of vitamin D in our diet is that it is not as effective. When you ingest vitamin D, only 60% of it sticks to vitamin D-binding protein, but when you make vitamin D through sunlight hitting your skin, 100% of it binds to the protein. A study3 at Leiden University in Holland has been done on the difference of these two different methods. Three groups each received either daily supplements of vitamin D, a sunbed session three times a week or nothing. At the end of the trial, in the group that received nothing their vitamin D levels had fallen. In the group that took supplements, their levels had significantly increased, however the highest increase was in the group that used the sunbeds.
What is the best way to increase vitamin D levels in the winter?
In the northern hemisphere, between the months of September and March, there is insufficient sunlight to ensure optimum vitamin D synthesis. The best way to top up is to enjoy a winter holiday to the southern hemisphere, however this isn’t a realistic solution. Therefore it is essential to maintain a diet high in oily fish, like mackerel and sardines. This diet can be aided by supplementation as well.
On top of this sunbeds can be used to boost your skins synthesis of vitamin D, as they’re the next best thing to natural sun exposure. For a lot of people, the idea of a sunbed conjures up the thought of increased skin cancer risk. In this there is some truth, however a sunbed used properly has health benefits that far outweigh any risks. Sunbeds produce the same UV rays as the sun, and it is these rays that produce vitamin D synthesis. Over exposure to these rays is what causes sunburn. It is when your skin is over exposed that there is an increase in the chance of a melanoma (skin cancer). The important thing to realise is the amount of time sufficient to produce vitamin D (varies depending on several factors, including skin colour) is less than the amount of time for the skin to redden and burn. So careful use of a sunbed, following recommended exposure for your skin type, taking particular care not to burn and avoiding deliberately tanning can help to maximise your natural vitamin D levels, and therefore the subsequent benefits, with minimal risk. Professor Tim Oliver, a medical oncologist at Barts and the London Hospital, suggests a single five to ten minute sunbed session once every six weeks should be sufficient.
So, for a stronger immune system, a decreased risk of certain cancers, stronger bones, decreased mental impairment and so much more top up on your Chiropractic adjustments and vitamin D levels. You might need to look else where for booking a winter holiday or a sunbed, but we can certainly help you with the Chiropractic side of things. Visit our Clifton Chiropractors today.
- A super, healthy balanced diet
- Regular intensive exercise
- Plenty of sleep
- Keep stress levels low
- Don’t smoke or binge drink
- Echinacea can help if you do get ill
- E. G. Phimister, B. E. Steinberg, K. J. Tracey, A. S. Slutsky: Bacteria and the Neural Code. New England Journal of Medicine, 2014; 371 (22)
- R. Pero: Medical Researcher Excited by CBSRF Project Results. The Chiropractic Journal, 1989; 32
- F. R. de Gruijl, S. Pavel: The effects of a mid-winter 8-week course of sub-sunburn sunbed exposures on tanning, vitamin D status and colds. Photochemical Photobiological Science, 2012; 11 (1848)