Woman getting flu shot

Building the Body’s Flu Immunity

By: Shanthi Appelö, health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

Flu season is here and while seasonal strains of the virus are detected year-round in Michigan, infection is most common during the fall and winter months, usually peaking in February. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22,000 people died from the flu during the 2019-2020 season. With COVID-19 cases on the rise, the fear and anxiety of getting sick is high among Americans. However, there are some steps people can take to build their body’s flu immunity and decrease the risk of illness this flu season.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Practicing healthy lifestyle habits is the first line of defense in building a strong immune system. Every part of the body, including the immune system, functions better when people take the following measures:

  • Demonstrate good personal hygiene such as washing hands regularly
  • Avoid all tobacco products
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get an adequate amount of sleep
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Minimize stress and practice mindfulness

These factors can help limit exposure to harmful toxins and bacteria, like those found in cigarettes or from touching dirty surfaces, as well as preventing the immune-damaging effects of sedentary behaviors, chronic stress and inadequate rest.

Well-Balanced Diet

Grocery store shelves are stocked with products that claim to boost or support immunity, but the common belief that Echinacea tea or a megadose of vitamin C will fend off a cold lacks convincing scientific evidence. However, meeting the recommended daily intake of a variety of nutrients such as vitamins C and D, zinc, iron and protein can help keep the body’s immune system strong. Incorporating the following foods into meals or snacks can provide a flu-fighting boost:

  • Citrus fruits, such as grapefruits and oranges
  • Red bell peppers
  • Healthy cooking oil such as olive oil
  • Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and other beans
  • Salmon
  • Yogurt

Variety is key to proper nutrition, so it’s important to integrate a good mix of wholefoods, fresh fruits and vegetables into a well-balanced diet to keep the body fueled appropriately.

Preventive Measures

The CDC recommends everyone six months of age and older get the flu vaccine annually. Much like the virus itself, the vaccine is constantly changing. Researchers create new formulas based on the previous year’s strain to combat the latest virus. Each vaccine contains a small amount of the virus, which triggers the body’s natural defenses. This exposure helps the immune system better identify and combat incoming pathogens. The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the chance of infection by 40-60% and is available at doctor’s offices, pharmacies and community clinics. Those interested in receiving a flu shot, can conveniently search providers by zip code at VaccineFinder.org.

While practicing healthy lifestyle habits is especially crucial right now, they are always important to not only support long-term health, but also for increased energy, vitality and overall well-being, no matter the season.

Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

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Photo credit: Geber86

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