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Your Immune System and Performance

I am currently sick with a chest cold and an annoyingly sore throat as I write this. So, instead of creating the post I originally had planned for you today, I’m going to talk about your immune system, and how important a system it really is.

First, what is it?

Your immune system is a compilation of lymphatic tissues and blood cells that help to support your body from invaders – for lack of a better term, but it’s quite the accurate term anyways. The big players you should be aware of are your lymph nodes, your thymus, bone marrow, white blood cells and your antibodies.

Your lymph nodes are places sporadically throughout your body to house your immune cells. When you are sick or fighting something, they tend to either swell or get tender (or both) because they are increasing the immune cell production and working hard. Your thymus and bone marrow are where immune cells are created and matured, until they become part of the white blood cells that can circulate in your system looking out for the invaders that are not supposed to be there. Our immune system is working all the time to keep our body in a healthy state. All of these pieces work together to keep you safe and are working overtime in me right now as I get over this viral infection.

What impacts your immune system

In the simplest terms (as mentioned above) foreign invaders impact your immune system – also known as pathogens. When something your body deems as “other” is detected, your white blood cells activate to kill it and restore what is called “homeostasis” (body balance). The symptoms you feel are a result of this (fever, congestion, fatigue, etc.) because it’s the body’s way of trying to expel the “other” and not have it be in a livable environment, and sometimes, it will take more effort to get rid of it. The newer the substance, the more attack your body will need to get rid of it. From there, the body creates a memory file of that pathogen so if it tries to invade again, your body will respond faster and you might not even notice.

Now, pathogens get IN to the body either because we are introduced to a new environment with things our body has never experienced, or something compromises our body’s ability to respond. More often than not, stress will be the thing that will compromise our body’s ability to respond to these pathogens. Our main stress hormone CORTISOL actually suppresses the body’s immune response (among other things) and will not allow your white blood cells to launch their attack effectively. It can even compromise your body’s ability to create or access that memory file for the pathogens that have invaded before. That’s why it’s important to manage and monitor our stress (both mental and physical) so that we can make sure our immune system has the resources necessary to do the job it’s created to do and keep us safe and healthy.

Why should you care as a performer

Not only will a weakened immune system mean you are less equipped to deal with illness and invaders, it will mean that you take longer to recover. Longer recovery time means either more time off where you can’t train, or more time when you are training at only partial strength. Pathogens in our body (of all kinds) take resources from us that are needed for regular functioning. The reason our immune system works to get rid of them is because these pathogens are using our body to live, and if they are using our body resources, that means our bodies DON’T get to use those resources. When our body is deficient of the nutrients and energy it needs, it causes inflammation systemically, which will continue to increase our stress hormone and down regulate other processes in the body – for example, muscle recovery, oxygen exchange and your overall energy levels. Protecting your immunity means protecting your ability to keep performing at your best.

How to protect your immune system

NOTE: When it’s a virus that is aggravating pathogen (e.g., a cold or the flu) then “usual recommendations” are to wait it out or treat the symptoms with decongestants and headache medication. When it’s a bacterial infection (e.g, Strep Throat) then antibiotics are recommended to kill the bacteria – and then probiotics should be used to replenish your healthy bacteria, because antibiotics kill EVERYTHING, not just the bad.

Here are my top recommendations:

  1. Rest and water: This is going to be the prime thing to do when you are sick. The reason why your body was able to be invaded was probably because you’re spreading your resources thin (stressing your system). Drinking plenty of warm fluids is also very soothing for the body so can help with your body using less of its own energy to warm itself up.

  2. Vitamin C: Our main immune vitamin (along with Vitamin D). Increasing this while your sick through electrolyte drinks, and lots of fruits will help support immune cell maturity. Vitamin C also helps with supporting our natural killers to clear out the invaders faster

  3. Adaptogens & Mushrooms: These are used as stress modulators. By helping to control our stress hormone release and support the adrenal glands (where the stress hormone is made), we can make sure to support our immune system. Remember when I said that cortisol can suppress the immune system? Adaptogens help to make sure this doesn’t happen. Know that these are best to take before you get sick (not while you are sick).

  4. Probiotics: All systems start in the gut. Making sure you have a healthy gut will make sure you have the right resources to build healthy immune cells. Probiotics themselves have been shown to help enhance our immune system and decrease illness frequency. They are especially important after a bout of antibiotics as they will replenish the good bacteria that were also wiped out.

  5. Botanicals: Even though viral infections are self-limiting (they clear on their own), that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do naturally to help speed up the process or make it a little more enjoyable (as enjoyable as being sick can be as an adult).

    • Manuka honey: antimicrobial and helps soothe sore throats

    • Eucalyptus and Thyme essential oils: support nasal passageways and antimicrobial

    • Oregano: seriously antimicrobial!

    • Elderberry: soothes coughs, immune tonic and tastes great!

So, as I sit here and suck on my manuka honey drops and drink my elderberry cold formula tea, I hope that you found this information useful and will think of it the next time you need an immune boost or as you get over that nasty cough. Until then, stay healthy, be well and as always…

Perform Unbound,


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