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5 Reasons for Sluggish Immunity
College can be one of the most challenging times to stay healthy. Suddenly, things like basic nutrition and sleep are taken for granted, resulting in sluggish immunity and susceptibility to acne, hormonal issues, exhaustion, and more.
With six kids, two in college and three college graduates, I have firsthand experience keeping my kids, and many of my patients’ kids, healthy and happy during challenging college years.
Perhaps the most common symptom of imbalance I see in college students is a sluggish immune system. I find it easier to keep toddlers and elementary school kids healthy compared to college students.
The causes of sluggish immunity are clear:
- Late nights
- Bad food
- Partying to de-stress
These triggers seem to be responsible for most of what typically ails students, including:
- mild acne
- acute insomnia
- occasional constipation
- hormonal issues
- lack of concentration
- mood issues
To navigate late night exhaustion, lack of nutrition, extreme amounts of schoolwork, a trashed digestive system, ever-present social and emotional stress, and, oh yes, that thing called partying, I have put together a Student Wellness Kit with set of strategies that these students seem to really need!
If you have kids in college, have friends in college or are in college yourself, read on.
Exhaustion, Depression, and College Students
The second most common symptom of mind-body imbalance I see in college students is low spirits. Basically, you need energy to be happy, have a stable mood, sleep through the night, and focus.
Once, my son invited me to sleep in his dorm room, and I did! The deafening roar from the hall and the open window to the courtyard below seemed to escalate from midnight to almost 2 a.m. Finally, by 3 a.m., most of the commotion died down and I finally fell asleep.
At breakfast, I learned that was a pretty typical weekday night. I didn’t dare ask about the weekends!
College students become exhausted without realizing it. The more tired they get, the more wired they become. The term “wired and tired” means that you’re so exhausted that you don’t have the energy your body needs to settle down and sleep, stabilize moods, and muster focus or find joy in your life.
Additionally, while indigestion is common and easy to discuss with peers, many mood issues, including sadness and loneliness, are harder to discuss, so they often get internalized and buried.
7 Strategies for Healthy College Students
I do my best to motivate students to follow a healthy lifestyle. This is much easier as they move out of the dorms into smaller or more private housing, where they can live the lifestyle they choose, rather than be swept up by the incessant late-night party roar.
Here are some of my favorite tips:
1. Get Sound Sleep, College Style
While I usually say early to bed, early to rise, that may not work when students are up until 2 a.m. studying, partying, or chilling with friends. What may work instead is finding time during the day to catch a nap and reboot.
It’s when sleep is missing regularly over an extended period of time that a strong immune system, stable moods, and a good night’s sleep vanish! So, get regular sleep whenever you can, but also take advantage of time during the day to nap.
Back in the 60s, a college student from California decided to attempt breaking the record for not sleeping. Researchers at Stanford followed him, to document the effects of no sleep. He did break the record and stayed awake for 11 days, but not without extreme changes in his mood and behavior. Throughout the study period, he became violent, blamed the researchers for making him do this, and, by the end, this skinny white kid was convinced he was a Black NFL running back.
Sleep is needed for our sanity.
While it’s much better to get it at night, a midday nap during a break is better than nothing!
That said, long-term staying up late, sleeping in, or taking afternoon naps will deplete or derail your natural melatonin production.
The night-time production of melatonin is the link between nature’s light-dark cycles and human health. Sadly, studies suggest that the majority of adults have a circadian imbalance and, no doubt, college life does not help.
2. Eat Full Meals, Sitting Down
Pizza and beer may be the most popular meal on campus, but this clearly falls short of delivering the nutrition college students need. The most common mistake students make is that they don’t eat at all, or frequently miss meals.
Even if meals end up being slices, nachos, and Cliff Bars, college students should make an effort to eat at least three times a day, sitting down to mindfully enjoy meals.
Sitting and eating a meal until you’re full is what’s needed to deliver enough energy to sit though classes all day, with enough energy left over to study at night. Snacks for college students are fine, as long as they do not interfere with, or replace, a healthy meal.
3. Stop Using Stimulants
Sadly, our culture is more demanding now than ever before. Without adequate nutrition or sleep, students are drawn to coffee, energy drinks (like Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy), and even prescription drugs (like Adderall) to stay up at night and study.
Not sleeping on the weekends catches up with them on Monday and then, exhausted, they look for ways to boost or stimulate themselves to focus and concentrate. This leads to a vicious cycle of deep fatigue and exhaustion.
The need for these stimulants is a sign of a serious sleep deficit and soon the body will give out. The body cannot be pushed so hard for so long and not break down.
To help counteract college burnout, I am a firm believer in the lifestyle changes I mention above, related to sleep and eating, along with taking the three supplements below, which are essential to supporting immunity, mood, energy, and focus.
4. Take Vitamin D for Immunity Support and Mood Stability
With the majority of college students spending time inside to study or socialize, many just don’t get enough sun to manufacture adequate amounts of vitamin D.
The fallout from low vitamin D is multi-faceted.
Vitamin D activates genes that protect antimicrobial peptides or AMPs, which govern your immune system and support your body’s natural ability to fight viruses like influenza.
Vitamin D is converted into an immune-boosting agent in respiratory cells—a process that supports healthy lungs and immunity.
Vitamin D Dosage: During the fall and spring college terms, I suggest 5,000 IU of vitamin D each day. In May, after school is out, I recommend getting a vitamin D test to confirm you’re in the optimal range, which is 50-80 ng/ml. Vitamin D levels can easily be tested from home with a vitamin D testing kit.
5. Take Ashwagandha for Rejuvenation and Stress Support
Ashwagandha is an herb that is famous for its adaptogenic properties, meaning it supports the body’s natural ability to cope with stress.
In one study, Ashwagandha was shown to both increase and decrease cortisol, a stress-fighting hormone, based on what the body needed at the time. In times of exhaustion, cortisol levels plummet, while when over-stimulated or stressed, they can rise.
Ashwagandha is therefore not a stimulant nor a sedative, rather it provides deep rejuvenative support. Ashwagandha is also commonly used for supporting energy before a sporting event or a stressful endeavor.
Most college students battle acute fatigue and exhaustion, particularly during exam time, and ashwagandha seems to provide the deep restorative and stress-fighting support most college student’s need.
Ashwagandha Dosage: I suggest taking 500–1000 mg (1-2 capsules) of Whole Herb Ashwagandha with breakfast.
6. Take Turmeric for Immunity and Cognitive Support
Immune system health can take blows from poor sleep, poor diet, and extreme stress.
Stress receptors line your gut and when you’re under a lot of stress, your intestinal mucous membranes produce excessive reactive mucus. This reactive mucus may compromise absorption and detoxification pathways in the gut, leading to congestion in the body’s lymphatic system.
Turmeric supports the mucosa of the gut, thins the mucus, and supports the flow of bile.
In addition to breaking down nutritional fats that we need, bile is also our body’s primary immune response in the gut to emulsify toxic chemicals and other fat-soluble toxic material that we may have ingested, including heavy metals, parasites, pesticides, candida, fungi, and more.
Turmeric also has at least 10 neuro-protective actions that support healthy cognitive function, which are essential in a college environment full of late nights.
Because the brain is predominately fatty tissue, fat-soluble toxic material and certain drugs may accumulate in the brain and cause damage. As a fat-soluble substance, turmeric may have an affinity for chelating (removing) fat-soluble toxic substances out of deep tissues.
Turmeric Dosage: I suggest taking 500–1,000mg (1-2 capsules) of the Whole Herb Turmeric with breakfast.
7. Take Chyawanprash to Support Vitality and Vigor
With a supporting cast of more than 40 organic herbs, chyawanprash is a classic Ayurvedic formula for anyone who needs support during the change of seasons and stressful life transitions.
Chyawanprash is an easy-to-digest superfood that I have been using successfully for myself, my family, and my patients for years.
Chyawanprash Dosage: I suggest taking 1-2 teaspoons of Chyawanprash every few hours in a cup of hot water or by the spoonful to boost immunity during times of stress.
Parenting College Students
The key here is to not fight the system and, as parents, support your children as they navigate college life. It has been my experience that students figure out soon enough that the college lifestyle is a drain.
While these strategies offer support right away, most students eventually choose a healthier lifestyle. It is our job as parents to introduce this to them.