5 Simple Ways To Boost Your Immune System
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with all of the suggestions for supplements and protocols to boost your immune system. A google search for “boost your immune system” will churn up 169,000,000 results. By the time you have read a few articles, you may feel a little stressed by all of the varying data and laundry lists of suggestions. I want to make it easier for you.
I am a fan of simplifying things. So I’ve outlined the 5 most basic practices to help you take care of your immune system that anyone can do and that won’t break the bank. While I love supplements, and use them when needed, I realize that not everyone has the budget to purchase a cabinet full of vitamins, minerals and herbal remedies and I realize that it can be super overwhelming to determine what to even take.
Also, if you take great care of your body, your immune system will be strong and your need for supplements drops. Following basic good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy.
Boost Your Immune System with Nutrient Dense Food
It is safe to say that you eat every day, and probably at least 3 times, maybe even 5 if you prefer frequent and small meals. That means you have 3-5 opportunities every day to boost your immune system.
The rule is simple – eat nutrient dense, whole foods. As long as you fill your plate with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables and quality fat and protein you will be fueling your immune system with the vitamins it needs MOST: vitamin c, zinc and vitamin D (those 3 are the exact supplements you are advised to take to boost your immune system when you feel ill). You will also be eating a high level of anti-inflammatory foods packed with antioxidants, which protect your immune cells from damage and to make it nice and simple, research shows that antioxidants are more accessible from whole food sources.
Starting with the base of your diet being a variety of whole foods you can add in fermented foods that you like to eat such as sauerkraut, kimchi, fresh pickles, dairy free yogurt and kombucha. I see these as a tasty bonus to my meals. Have you ever added sauerkraut to an avocado sandwich or sipped on blackberry kombucha on a hot summer day? These can be such immune boosting treats!
Your immune system is also very dependent on healthy gut function. So, if you have a leaky gut you will want to focus more intently on repairing the gut lining to help boost your immune system. I’m a huge fan of adding in bone broth to help heal your digestive system and support a healthy gut microbiome.
Which Foods Decrease Your Immune Function?
Now, there are also a few foods to minimize or leave out completely since they are inflammatory and activate the immune response, leaving it less equipped to handle a viral or bacterial infection. They are – gluten, dairy, refined oils and refined sugar. I know it can seem challenging to leave these foods off of the plate but when you focus on a whole foods diet they get pushed out quite naturally. So my advice remains simple and basic – eat a varied, nutrient dense, whole foods diet and you will cover a lot of bases with an activity you are going to do 3-5 times a day anyway. Simple, tasty and useful.
Importance of Hydration
Why is hydration so important for healthy immune function? Well, the lymphatic system circulates a liquid called lymph which contains the infection-fighting white blood cells. We also need enough water to transport waste and toxins out of the body which can suppress immune function if they aren’t secreted.
You can be really basic and simple about your hydration plan by drinking quality water from a spring or through an RO (reverse osmosis) filter. Or you can get really adventurous and have some fun with it. I love herbal teas, which can be medicinal as well; cold pressed juice, full of vitamins and minerals; and kombucha for a tasty gut healing boost.
Also, remember that many fresh fruits and veggies have a high water content and count towards hydrating your body. If you are filling your plate with the rainbow then you are also working to keep your body nice and hydrated.
Sleep Boosts Your Immune System
Did you know that a lack of sleep is associated with the reduction in infection-fighting antibodies and cells? That is one reason why those who don’t get quality sleep are more prone to getting sick after being exposed to a virus. Sleep is also a time in which our immune system makes proteins called cytokines, which fight off infections. Prioritizing your sleep hygiene will go a long way to boosting your immune system.
National Institutes of Health estimates that roughly 30 percent of the general population complains of sleep disruption, which means 30% of the public have impaired immune systems.
My top tips for getting better sleep are going to bed and waking up at the same time every night and day and sleeping in a cool (65-68 degrees) and dark room. If you have trouble falling asleep then you may benefit from turning off all screens an hour before bed. Now, I know that isn’t always going to be your choice, sometimes a pinterest session or a netflix binge happens, so in that case I suggest wearing blue light blocking glasses since the blue light from screens slows production of melatonin. You may find that essential oils like lavender help you sleep too and I suggest diffusing some while you sleep.
Other ways to wind down include taking a hot bath, meditating, journaling, doing gentle yoga, reading and cuddling with a loved one. I hope you take this as a reason to spoil yourself and unwind at the end of each night and that you will reap the benefits of deeper sleep and a strong immune system.
How Stress Impacts Your Immune System
A normal amount of stress isn’t going to hurt you, and in fact can be beneficial when your stress hormones help you rise to meet challenges. So, please don’t stress about stress. BUT, chronic stress, like working at a job that stresses you out daily or being a caretaker for an elderly parent, can take its toll on the immune system, especially if it isn’t managed well.
The best way to combat the effects of chronic stress is to build in time to recharge throughout your day and to add in things that bring you joy. What you choose doesn’t even have to be for long chunks of time either. Even setting a timer for 2 minutes to focus on your breath lowers stress, or taking 5 minutes to dance (bonus points if you shake it off) to your favorite song can release stress hormones. When you have a little more recharge time, doing yoga nidra is a great way to restore the body and 30 minutes of it is equivalent to two hours of deep sleep.
If being chronically stressed is a trend in your life you may also want to take some time to learn how to manage your time and energy so that you are not adding more to your to do list than you are capable of managing. Rhythms and routines can really change how we approach our day and improve our mindset. That’s why I talk so much about the benefit of meal planning, just so we can avoid dinner time stress. And morning routines can be stress relieving too, providing you a sense of ease and grace as your start each day.
The beauty of taking care of the first 3 steps is that when you are eating a nutritious diet, getting good sleep and staying hydrated your stress level will be lower in general and your ability to recover from acute stress will be higher. It’s all connected.
Reduce Your Toxic Load
This one may not seem so obvious but what we put on our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream and eventually ends up in our liver to be detoxed out of the body. On the way there, toxins wreak havoc on our cells and cause inflammation (an immune response) which can weaken the immune system over time. One of the best places to find safe skin care products is through the Environmental Working Agency’s website. It is worth the investment to upgrade your skincare, and it can be really fun to explore new products too! You know I’m a big fan of Beautycounter and their mission to educate everyone about what to avoid in skincare products.
We can also breathe in toxins from cleaning products so the next place to upgrade is your cleaning cabinet. There are so many safe products to clean with that you won’t have any difficulty switching out your old toxic cleaners for newer and toxin free cleaners. If you are really creative you can even mix your own and add high-quality essential oils for extra cleaning power and to leave your house smelling like a fresh garden. And don’t discount the power of lemon to disinfect your home and kitchen.
What you want to avoid entirely are artificial fragrances, antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers with isopropyl alcohol, which strips your skin of its natural barrier.
BACK TO THE BASICS
Going back to the basics of self care really is the best way to build a strong immune system. This is by far the most simple and cost effective approach. It is even fun. It’s fun to decorate your plate like a rainbow and enjoy the tasty meals you make; to take a bath with lavender and read an inspirational book before bed; to sip on herbal tea or fizzy kombucha with girlfriends or your kids; and to take time to recharge and infuse your days with more joy.
I hope you are feeling more relaxed just knowing that you have the power to stay healthy through the cold, flu and coronavirus season by paying a little more attention to HOW you are eating, drinking, sleeping, managing stress, and caring for your skin and house. You can boost your immune system with these simple practices, and share these ideas with your loved ones.