Coupled with vaccinations, prioritizing good sleep and nutrition—and avoiding drug use and skeptical supplements—can help patients boost their immunity this fall.
Encouraging COVID-19, influenza, and, for some, RSV vaccinations can help you and your patients protect themselves and their loved ones this fall. But staying healthy doesn’t start or stop with vaccines. Pointing to new research and reports, you can suggest that your patients try out the following tips as well.
Prioritize fruit and vegetable consumption
Good nutrition has endless benefits, from supporting healthy energy levels, hormonal balance, stress management, childhood growth, disease prevention, and immunity—the list goes on.
While diet plans vary person to person, experts tend to recommend that everyone consume a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables at meal time. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that people fill half of their plate with fruits and vegetables. Some health organizations are now taking things to the next level by giving patients a prescription to buy produce.
Reduce the use of fake sweetener
Some people gravitate toward artificial sweeteners like aspartame in an attempt to limit their sugar intake and to eat better. While these substitutes are often low-calorie or calorie-free, their ingredients are not always healthy or safe. Health organizations and research bodies reveal that using some artificial sweeteners may increase risks of cancer.
This July, the World Health Organization (WHO), International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) cited aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The designation implies that there is limited evidence regarding the substance’s cancer risks in humans and that animal studies have revealed less-than-sufficient evidence of risks. Gasoline exhaust and lead, for example, are also cited as possibly carcinogenic.Related: Popular artificial sweetener aspartame labeled as a possible carcinogen by the WHO
Despite the new designation, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)—a group that works with the WHO—maintains that it is still safe to consume aspartame at high levels. JECFA recommends that people do not consume more than 40mg of aspartame per kg of body weight per day. For a 180-pound adult, this translates to consuming up to or less than 3,200 mg of aspartame a day—or no more than 16 12-oz Diet Cokes.
Still, it’s in you and your patients’ best interest not to push these limits. A recent study on postmenopausal women found that drinking sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages may significantly increase risks for liver cancer and chronic liver disease mortality. In the study, people who consumed one or more sweetened drinks per day had a much higher risk profile than those who consumed three or fewer per month. Put simply: less is best.
According to some experts, sleep is one of the best medicines out there—rivaling a good diet or exercise. Researchers say that, when asleep, our bodies work to regulate the immune system—and that having a strong, regulated immune system can help equip us to fight off germs and viruses in the waking hours.
Avoid heavy drug and alcohol use
Heavy drug and alcohol use can lead to long-term consequences, including liver and/or lung damage, addiction, and, in some cases, death. It can also lead to short-term consequences, like immune system impairment or pneumonia. As such, avoiding heavy drug and alcohol use can have long- and short-term benefits.
With a COVID-19 surge upon us and flu season around the corner, reducing drug and alcohol use can help protect our immunity to avoid or fight off viruses in the short term. In the long term, avoiding these substances may increase longevity. A new study found that people who limited drug use and avoided drug addiction by their 40s—coupled with a few other habits—may be able to live longer than people who did not.Related: Middle-aged adults may be able to extend their lifespan through these eight habits, according to a new study.
Remain wary of supplements
While many claim otherwise, sports drinks and weight loss supplements can be harmful to the body.
Recent studies have shown that many sport supplements have misleading ingredient labels, and that some contain ingredients that are banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Similar findings are true of weight loss supplements, which have been mislabeled and, as a result, have led to emergency room visits for some users.
Because supplements are not regulated by the FDA, products can hit the shelves without the same extensive testing required of over-the-counter medications. This doesn’t mean that supplement companies don’t work hard to ensure the safety of their product—many do—but inconsistencies make it hard for customers to differentiate health from hazard.Related: A new study reveals that sports drinks contain misleading ingredient lists and, in some cases, FDA-banned drugs.
Some tips: Check if to see if the supplements are backed by third parties; to double-check ingredient labels; and to check in with you or another healthcare provider if they have questions or notice unwanted side effects.
What this means for you
Staying healthy this fall doesn’t start or end with vaccines. Being mindful of sleep hygiene, diet, drug use, and supplement use can help support a healthy body.