Surf Body Soul 'How to Boost Your Immune System'
By Ryan Huxley | 05 October 2012
INTRO: Welcome to Surf Body Soul, a weekly Tracksmag.com blog written by Ryan Huxley specifically for surfers. Ryan is the co-founder and program creator at www.surfbodysoul.com, a website that provides safe, effective, holistic, scientific e-book exercise programs catering for surfers of all age, level and experience.
Surf Body Soul: How to Boost Your Immune System
I’m sure many of you have found yourself in the following scenario. You have an upcoming 14-day boat adventure with your best friends too Indonesia. Leading up to the trip you find yourself in a manic rush attempting to tie up loose ends at work, spend quality time with your children before you abandon them, and in general are spending most of your waking hours fuelled on a combination of caffeine and adrenaline. The glorious departure date has finally dawned, upon which you exhale, relax and to your horror collapse into a belated state of immune suppression. That’s right a common cold has taken hold and threatens to end your first three days of surfing. To ensure you avoid this horror scenario I now pass you onto Surfbodysoul’s favourite Naturopath Freya Gibbs, who will explain how to boost your immune system, in the process providing you that extra bit of barrel time!
Though we may have officially said goodbye to winter, it appears the pervasive winter woes are outstaying their welcome in more than just a few of my friends’ bodies. I’ve been witnessing these common colds and flu making their way from one friend to another; some of whom kick it in a few days with no more than a scratchy throat, others finding themselves bed-ridden for a week and lacklustre for another. But how do we say NO to these nasties when we are (literally) sick and tired of playing host?
Unfortunately, a common reason we find our immune systems victim to bacteria and virus invasion is actually our own doing. Working and playing too hard, combined with too little sleep, and a less than ideal diet all play a very big role in how well your immune system functions. Fortunately, there is quite a lot we can do to strengthen our bodies to prevent illness, and even when it’s unavoidable, there’s also ways to reduce symptom severity and hasten recovery.
Stress, both mentally and physically, is a major player in immune function. Cortisol, the main stress hormone produced and released by the adrenal glands, is essential to our bodies’ ability to withstand change and maintain homeostasis (biological equilibrium). Although cortisol is a vital hormone for normal physiological function, chronic elevated levels depress immune cell activity, making you more susceptible to infection.
Research has shown moderate exercise, yoga, meditation, massage, and music to reduce elevated cortisol levels, thus reducing the negative effects on the immune system. Magnesium and omega-3 oil supplementation have been identified as having cortisol reducing activity in cases of post aerobic exercise, and mental stress, respectively. Athletes who exercise in carbohydrate depleted states have been shown to experience larger increases in cortisol and associated exercise-induced immune depression, however, consuming 30-60g of carbohydrate during sustained intensive exercise has been shown to mitigate these negative effects.
Avoiding excessive caffeine intake is also important in reducing cortisol, as this stimulant acts to increase cortisol release. Reducing caffeine consumption can also improve sleep quality, which is fundamental in maintaining a robust immune system. Sleep becomes even more important in illness, and often, soldiering on in spite of illness compromises recovery. Allow yourself time to rest and recover, if that means a day off work or even worse, a week out of the surf, so be it.
A good diet is not just part of preventing illness, but also a very useful tool to cure. The kitchen pharmacy should be your first port of call when you feel those telltale signs of a looming infection. Garlic, thyme, oregano and raw honey all possess antibacterial properties. Ginger, tumeric and onion are all natural anti-inflammatories. Rose-hip tea is exceptionally high in vitamin C, as are guavas, parsley, capsicum, broccoli, strawberries and citrus fruit.
The effect of diet on immune function stretches beyond mere nutritional content of a food as there is much more happening on your insides than you may think. The great majority (research suggests up to 80%) of the body’s immune cells are actually located in the digestive tract and the food we consume directly affects this complex ecosystem within our intestines. The amino acid glutamine is the major fuel for the cells in our gut, known as intestinal enterocytes. These enterocytes are the nuts and bolts of the gastrointestinal system, and hence, the immune system too. Glutamine supplementation is popular amongst athletes, not only to reduce muscle breakdown, but to also support immune health. The microbial ecosystem within the digestive system has a very big role to play in immune function, and as such, supplementing with probiotics or consuming fermented foods (natural yoghurt, kim-chi, miso, keffir) on a regular basis may be of benefit.
As always, prevention is better than a cure. But a just-in-case arsenal of natural remedies is always of benefit to have at your disposal. It is particularly important to source high quality supplements, as the efficacy of nutritional and herbal products varies greatly due to formulation, manufacturing and dosing. Looking after your immune system is an investment in your wellbeing, and ultimately means fewer days feeling sorry for yourself and more days in the surf.
Ryan Huxley is the co-founder and program creator at www.surfbodysoul.com, a website that provides safe, effective, holistic, scientific e-book exercise programs catering for surfers of all age, level and experience. Ryan is a qualified Physiotherapist, Exercise Physiologist, Advanced Yoga and Pilates instructor. His list of pro surfing clients includes Chippa Wilson, Anthony Walsh, Fergal Smith, Paul Morgan, Liz Clark, Paige Hareb & Rusty Miller.