7 Tips For A Healthy Immune System
We’re entering that wonderful time of the year where it seems like everyone is getting sick! However, you don’t have to assume you’ll get sick just because it’s that time of year, there are many ways to keep your immune system stronger than ever!
There are several theories behind why we always seem to get sick around this time of the year. It could be that we are spending more time indoors, closer together and exposing ourselves to more germs and bacteria from each other. Or maybe it’s because the days are shorter with less sunlight, meaning less vitamin D, which is crucial to immune system health. Perhaps it’s because the higher amount of treats and unhealthy food around the holidays that can hinder our immune system’s function. Or maybe, it’s all of those things plus other individual factors like more stress, less sleep and overall less time for healthy habits.
Here are some of my favorite tips and nutrients that I like to use in the colder months, or anytime I feel run down and susceptible to sickness.
Stress less, sleep more – If there’s anything that helps keep a body strong, no matter what time of year, it’s more sleep and less stressing. Stress is a tremendous hinderance to the body and is connected to our physical health in many ways. Chronic stress can result in elevated inflammation levels, imbalanced gut bacteria, and nutrient imbalance. Magnesium is a prime example: a necessary mineral that many people are deficient in already, when we add chronic stress, it’s depleted to even lower levels. Stress hormones such as cortisol can cause immune cells in the spleen and thymus to die! Sleeping allows us to combat much of this stress and allows the body to recharge, replenish and repair. When you feel even the slightest bit “off” and think you might be getting sick, it’s absolutely essential to prioritize sleep and aim for at least eight hours a night of sleep.
Vitamin D – Vitamin D supports so many functions within the body, one of the most influential being the immune system response. Almost all of our immune cells have receptors for vitamin D, highlighting its importance and how widespread its use. Some studies have even found the immune cells within the body to produce their own vitamin D to utilize during an immune system attack when the body is running low on vitamin D stores. That in itself is remarkable and shows just how important substantial levels of vitamin D are in fighting off pathogens. Upping your vitamin D from sunlight is the bodies most beneficial and bioavailable way to utilize this powerful nutrient, so get outside whenever you can during the winter months.
Eat full fat yogurt, egg yolks and fatty fish to increase your vitamin D levels and turn to supplements when you want a powerful dose of the sunshine vitamin.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant in the body and has the power to suppress free radical damage (pro-oxidant) in the body. These free radicals act upon the immune system and cause negative effects, but with the help of vitamin C the body can respond in quicker time and with greater support. Vitamin C can help transport antioxidants in immune cells to the site of infection or inflammation. Vitamin C is plentiful in most fruits and vegetables, including oranges, yes. However, if you want the largest amount of vitamin C, eat a red bell pepper. Red peppers have nearly three times the amount of vitamin C versus an orange! Other great sources include kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and strawberries.
Probiotics – The body has many lines of defense against bacteria and viruses, the gut lining being one of them. The gastrointestinal tract is a huge barrier against pathogens, so chances are if your GI tract is damaged from junky, inflammatory foods, then you will get sick more often and it will hang around for longer too. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live within our bodies and GI tract, and they are so important when it comes to maintaining a healthy gut to keep bacteria and viruses out. Probiotics limit the growth of undesirable bacteria, and they also support the health of immune cells that travel to the infection site once the pathogen has entered the body and started to make us feel sick. Upping your beneficial bacteria can be incredibly helpful in warding off sickness and also helping speed up recovery. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt and kombucha offer the greatest amount of good bacteria, however, supplements can also be very helpful too.
Water/Hydration – Staying very well hydrated can be a game changer when talking about immunity. Water helps the body to produce lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune cells. Lymph also transports bacteria to the lymph nodes where it is then destroyed. Water flushes out toxins, pathogens and keeps us feeling energized. Add fresh lemon juice to your water for extra vitamin C. Tea made with herbs that are helpful for immune support such as Echinacea, ginger and elderberry are great choices to stay hydrated as well. Traditional Medicinals makes a great cold care sampler tea!
Zinc – Another common nutrient that many people are deficient in, zinc is especially beneficial at the onset of sickness. Meaning you should load up in zinc rich foods or supplements right when you start feeling sick. Zinc is related to many functions in the body, including enzyme activity, proper lymphocyte function, and regulation of inflammation levels. Lozenges are thought to be the most well absorbed and beneficial type of zinc when talking about battling off a cold or the flu. Oysters, shellfish, beef and spinach are some great sources of zinc from whole foods.
Nutrient adequacy – Last, but definitely not least, is nutrient adequacy and the remarkable power of eating a nutrient rich diet in immune system support. Ensuring that you are eating a wide variety of real, nutrient rich foods will keep your body strong and ready to fend off a pathogen any time of the year, better than any supplement or herb. With the right amount of micronutrients in the proper balance, your body is capable of amazing things! With the transformation of eating more nutrient rich foods over a period of time, you will notice that you are less likely to get sick in the first place, your body can respond quicker to a pathogen, and you will not be hit as hard as you previously would have been if you do get sick. Diet is a very powerful tool in our immune response and how our body deals with foreign invaders, so treat it well with good food all year-long and you will be rewarded with good health throughout the cold season and beyond.
Thanks for reading, and as always, let me know if you have any questions or comments. Let me know what your favorite tips for staying healthy during cold and flu season are!