Fall is here, and soon enough the air will start getting drier while kids are back in school encountering more germs and viruses. That means your immune system will need to kick into overdrive to keep you healthy!
Thankfully, you can build an “immune support tool kit” to arm yourself for the cold and flu season ahead! Here are my top tips.
What Is The Immune System?
Every day, our body is exposed to an array of potentially dangerous microbes. Our immune system keeps us protected, recognizing foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and parasites and working to neutralize them so that they do not harm our systems.
Our immune systems work so well to protect us every day, we don’t even notice it doing its job! But when the immune system becomes compromised, that’s when we face illness.
There are two parts of the immune system:
- Our innate immune system works as a general defense against pathogens that try to enter our body. This includes our skin, which keeps out most pathogens, stomach acids that destroy them, and the enzymes in our sweat and tears that create antibacterial compounds.
- Our adaptive immune system recognizes pathogens it has already been in contact with and creates antibodies that are specific to that pathogen and destroy it. The immune system then adapts by remembering the pathogen, so that if it enters again, these antibodies and cells are even more adept at destroying it.
Now that we know how the immune system works on a basic level, let’s look at some of the ways you can support it!
Immune-Supportive Supplements & Herbs
Studies have found that people who are poorly nourished have a greater risk of catching viral, bacterial, and other infections. Certain nutrients are essential to the immune system – they work as antioxidants to protect healthy cells, support the growth and activity of immune cells, and produce antibodies. These are just a few supplements known to support the immune system:
- Vitamin D helps enhance the pathogen-fighting abilities of our white blood cells, and is also anti-inflammatory. Many people have low vitamin D levels, which has been correlated with a poor immune response. One study found that supplementing vitamin D markedly decreased the risk of respiratory infections in people who were deficient.
- Zinc is essential for immune system function. Specifically, it protects the tissue barriers in the body that prevent foreign pathogens from entering. Studies show that zinc supplements can protect against respiratory tract infections, including the common cold. And if you are already sick, zinc supplements have been found to reduce the duration of the sickness.
- Probiotics. Leaky gut syndrome is a major cause of food sensitivities, autoimmune disease, and a weakened immune system, so it is important to consume probiotic foods and supplements. Probiotics, aka good gut bacteria, help you digest nutrients that support the detoxification of your colon and support your immune system.
In terms of herbs, the following have shown strong immune-supportive effects:
- Echinacea has potent antiviral properties for fighting off respiratory viral infections.
- Elderberry has been used as a healing medicine for thousands of years. Recently, test tube studies have demonstrated the plant’s antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is especially protective against upper respiratory tract infections and strains of the influenza virus.
- Ginseng can support the performance of your immune system by regulating the different types of immune cells. It also has antimicrobial properties that defend against bacterial and viral infections.
Foods For Immune Support
While supplements can be helpful for filling in nutritional gaps, eating a well-balanced and nutrient-dense diet is one of the best things you can do to prevent illnesses. Here are a few superfoods that will help fortify your immunity this cold season:
- Bone broth will help keep you warm and healthy during the colder months. Bone broth supports good gut health, which studies have shown contributes to the strength of your immune system. In fact, around 70–80% of immune cells are present in the gut! The collagen and amino acids (proline, glutamine, and arginine) in bone broth seal openings in the gut lining, protecting against inflammation. It is also highly dense in vitamins and minerals that are essential to our body’s health.
- Ginger has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years for its immune-supportive properties. Its warming effect is believed to help break down toxins in the body. Additionally, studies have found ginger to be antimicrobial and may be helpful in warding off infectious diseases.
- Vitamin-C-rich foods such as citrus fruits, broccoli, and red bell peppers have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that strengthen the immune system. Vitamin C supports the function of various immune cells and augments their ability to fight infections. It also plays a role in cellular death, which helps keep your immune system clear out old cells and replace them with new ones, keeping it healthy.
Lifestyle Tips For Immune Health
Maintaining a healthy immune system is not as simple as just eating the right foods, though this is crucial. Our habits and lifestyle also determine the strength of our immune response. These are some of the most important facets of an immune-supporting lifestyle:
- Reduce stress: Studies show that having chronic stress levels can suppress protective immune responses and also worsen pathological immune responses. It is important to make stress-relieving practices a part of your daily routine to promote good health and healing. This could be a yoga or meditation practice, a daily walk, reading – whatever helps to calm your mind.
- Prioritize sleep: When your body lacks sleep, the immune system’s ability to do its job and protect against pathogens gets compromised. Studies have found that adults who slept less than six hours a night are four times more likely to get a cold than adults who slept more than seven hours! Good sleep hygiene is a must for optimal rest and health – avoid all screens, alcohol, coffee, and heavy, fatty meals before bedtime.
- Exercise daily: Incorporating some kind of physical activity into your regimen is vital to strengthening your immune system. A recent study found that high levels of exercise in older adults (55-79) helped slow the gradual deterioration of the immune system that occurs with age.
- Practice good hygiene: Regular handwashing is a simple but effective tool for preventing the spread of viruses and diseases. Wash your hands after coming in from outdoors, before and after preparing and eating food, after using the toilet, and after coughing or blowing your nose. Avoid unnecessarily touching your face as well.
Take a proactive approach to immune system support with this handy toolkit before cold and flu season really kicks in! If you have questions, book an appointment to come in for a personal consultation aimed at supporting your immunity. Stay happy and healthy!
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