Let’s talk immune boosters…We are fast approaching the season for sniffles, sneezing, and general sickness. It feels like most of 2020 we’ve been in the throes of sickness though due to COVID-19. But, as the temperatures drop, other sickness like the common cold and flu will begin to blow in and it doesn’t care who is in its path. The bad news is sickness happens and we are entering into the throes of flu season but the good news is that we do have ways we can naturally boost our immunity, even to fight against COVID-19.
Our immune system is designed to combat sickness and protect our bodies from harmful viruses, bacteria, parasites, etc. Boosting our immunity is all about training our body to do what it was designed to do. In addition to protecting us from the “bad” germs, our immune system also plays a vital role in making sure we don’t have negative reactions to benign things such as environmental allergens like pollen and certain foods. Remaining healthy is dependent upon a robust and strong immune system.
So how do we train our immune system to do its job effectively and help us ward off the nasty germs that we are bombarded by this time of year? A large part of maintaining and gaining immunity lies in adopting lifestyle behaviors that support immunity, nourishing our bodies with whole foods, and engaging in moving our bodies; these are all immune supportive and protective mechanisms.
Let’s start by discussing a few lifestyle choices that can improve our immunity. Below are three ways to naturally improve your immune system through lifestyle choices this fall and winter season.
Get Plenty of Rest/Sleep- Making sure our bodies are getting restorative sleep is crucial to a strong immune system. When our sleep-wake cycles are disrupted or we are sleep deprived, our body responds by activating the inflammatory immune response, hence weakening our immune system. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep regularly.
Move your Body- Don’t underestimate the power of movement. Regular exercise, as defined as a total of 30 minutes per day, has been shown to not only reduce stress and help with weight management, but also strengthen our immune systems. Regular exercise helps our bodies to lower inflammation and improve how our body responds to infections and sickness.
Manage Stress- Believe it or not, stress has a huge impact on our immunity. When we are chronically stressed, our body releases a hormone called cortisol, which in turn wreaks havoc on our immune responses. Cortisol has been shown to decrease the antibody, secretory IgA, which is our first line of defense against pathogens that enter our system because it is present in our airway secretions.
There are so many natural foods that provide positive immune responses. Here are 7 foods to add into your diet to help prevent sickness by naturally boosting your immune system through nourishing, whole foods.
Ginger- Ginger has antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties along with it being antibacterial in nature, all of which makes it a powerhouse for boosting immunity and improving overall health. Add a few slices of fresh ginger to your herbal tea or to some warm water with lemon and honey.
Garlic- You may not like the way this makes your breath smell but garlic has super powers when it comes to boosting immunity. Garlic has both antiviral and antimicrobial properties. The compound allicin found in garlic can treat yeast infections, GI infections such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and kill parasites. If you think you may be coming down with something, begin to eat one raw clove of garlic per day.
Bone Broth- I think there is a good reason that we grew up eating broth based soups, like chicken noodle soup, when we fell ill. Bone broth has erupted in popularity recently and there is no doubt why it’s made a strong comeback. Bone broth is chalk full of amino acids, minerals, and collagen, which has healing properties for our gut and helps reduce inflammation. Bone broth is a great thing to sip on if you are fighting a cold or the flu or just to help boost your health and immunity in general.
Lemons- Lemons are another food that naturally have antiviral and antibacterial properties. In addition, lemons are loaded with antioxidants and Vitamin C, which both help to boost immunity. Grab a lemon and squeeze it into your water, herbal tea, or smoothie.
Honey- A spoonful of honey may in fact keep the doctor away. Honey has antimicrobial properties and is an anti-inflammatory agent. Buying and consuming local honey especially can be helpful in building immunity to local allergens. Take a spoonful a day to help boost immunity and to get all of the healing properties of this sweet delight.
Turmeric- This spice and medicinal herb helps to reduce inflammation, heal the gut, boost brain function, and improve our immune systems. Add turmeric to your soups, rice, or chicken this season.
Mushrooms- Mushrooms are a superfood that have been shown to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. According to a study by NCBI, “it is well established that mushrooms are adept at immune modulation and affect hematopoietic stem cells, lymphocytes, macrophages, T cells, dendritic cells, and natural killer cells.” Mushrooms can be consumed in the form of capsules as a supplement or in a concentrated tincture form.
Along with the foods we fuel our body with, there are several vitamins, minerals, and supplements that can aid in improved immunity as well.
Elderberry- Elderberry is a tree whose dried flowers and fruit are used in teas, extracts, syrups, and pills, and are especially popular during the cold and flu season. Elderberry contains the antioxidant, anthocyanins, which is what gives elderberries their purple color. Anthocyanins help the body to fight off free radicals that may cause harm. Elderberry has proven to help boost immunity as well as decrease the length of sickness in individuals.
Vitamin D- Vitamin D3 enhances immunity and fights against bacteria, viruses, candida, infections, and various diseases. It is important to take a D3 supplement to maintain optimal levels during the winter months when our exposure to sunlight is limited. Aim for 2,000 IU of Vitamin D3 daily.
Zinc- Zinc is an essential mineral that acts as an antioxidant by fighting off free radicals. Aim to take 15 to 30 mg of zinc per day to build up your immunity. This mineral can also be found in food sources like egg yolks, seafood, sardines, and pumpkin seeds. Zinc lozenges have been shown to be effective in relieving symptoms of the common cold and reducing its duration.
Probiotics- Probiotics improve gut health which in turn helps to improve immune function because our health is rooted in our gut. Choose a probiotic with several different families of bacteria such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Be sure there are 30 to 50 billion colonies of at least 8 different strains of bacteria.
Echinacea- This popular herb can be found over the counter in the form of teas, liquid extract, dried herb, capsules, or pills. It is a supplement used for the common cold and other infections due to its antimicrobial properties. While it has not been shown to shorten the duration of sickness, it has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting a cold if taken while still well and healthy.
Vitamin C- This is the vitamin we are most familiar with when it comes to immune health and maintaining a healthy immune system. Vitamin C is an essential micronutrient that our bodies need. It is also an antioxidant. Vitamin C contributes to immune defense by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. In a study by Harvard Health, taking at least 200 mg of vitamin C did reduce the duration of cold symptoms by 8% in adults and 14% in children. It is best to get Vitamin C from our food versus a supplement. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, strawberries, green vegetables, and tomatoes.
I hope you feel better equipped with some natural boosters for your immune system this season, especially with the added coronavirus this year. And remember, one of the best ways to prevent sickness is to wash your hands!
Stay healthy y’all!
Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Certified Personal Trainer