The chief job of your immune system is to combat “invaders,” including viruses and bacteria. There is an intricate connection between inflammatory responses in the body like fever and body aches, specifically designed to slow you down so you can rest, along with the release of cells that gobble up invading pathogens. There are many things that we can do to support our hard-working immune system, and now, more than ever, we should be supporting our immune system in any way that we can.
The great dance
When your immune system is functioning at its best, there is a great dance happening between hormones, blood, lymph cells, and the nervous system to protect you from dangerous pathogens. This intricate defense network is just what causes the familiar symptoms of “being sick” that we experience. These natural symptoms are what keep us from succumbing to viruses and bacteria. Fever, sneezing, and fatigue can make us feel really crappy, but they are all part of the body’s fight against illnesses that help us get better and destroy the foreign invaders so that we can get back to our normal life.
Here are just some of the ways that you can support your hardworking immune system so you can get well quickly and get back to what you love to do.
A healthy diet forms the basis of a strong and well-functioning immune system. Here are my favorite foods to feed my immune system.
Vitamin C is well-known to enhance immune function, and citrus fruits are loaded up with the stuff. In one study, vitamin C was shown to reduce the duration of a common cold. Make sure to keep oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit in your fruit basket year-round. One medium orange, for example, contains 70 milligrams of vitamin C. Other sources of vitamin C include dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, along with Brussels sprouts, strawberries, and papaya.
If you’ve come down with a cold, ginger is going to be your best friend. But even if you’re not sick, your body will benefit. Ginger root contains gingerols and shogaols, which can kill the rhinoviruses that cause colds. In one study, ginger was proven to have antiviral activity in the respiratory tract. For the most effective treatment, use fresh ginger instead of dried.
Rich in allicin, raw garlic is well-known to fight off viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The compounds contained in garlic produce a notable anti-inflammatory effect that can even ward off cancer cells. There are numerous studies assessing garlic’s effects on the immune system in juice, oil, and powder form. We recommend using crushed garlic in your recipes to get the most health benefits.
Both green and black teas are packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Where green tea really excels is in its levels of epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, another powerful antioxidant. EGCG has been shown to enhance immune function. The fermentation process black tea goes through destroys a lot of the EGCG. Green tea, on the other hand, is steamed and not fermented, so the EGCG is preserved.
Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T-cells.
This beloved Indian spice does just about everything, but it’s most well-known for fighting inflammation. Research has shown that curcumin, turmeric’s active compound, can enhance antibody responses, even at low doses. Turmeric’s ability to rally the immune system may be why it has beneficial effects on patients with arthritis, allergy, asthma, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer. This is one powerful spice to use daily!
Spinach made our list not just because it’s rich in vitamin C. It’s also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which may increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems. Similar to broccoli, spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients. However, light cooking enhances its vitamin A and allows other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid.
Your body needs vitamin B6 for more than 200 functions in the body — including immune system support. Research has shown that vitamin B6 can help increase immune system response in critically ill patients, even in just 14 days. In order to get this vital vitamin, eat bananas, chickpeas, lean chicken breast, and cold-water fish like tuna.
Deep, deep sleep
Although its role is often overlooked, a lack of adequate rest can have a very detrimental impact on your health. Not getting enough high-quality sleep (most people need seven to nine hours a night according to the experts) puts you at higher risk for:
- Metabolic disorders like diabetes, obesity and weight gain
- Cardiovascular disease
- Memory impairments and dementia
- Immune disorders
- Workplace accidents
- Auto crashes
Why is sleep so critical to your health? Scientists believe that disruptions to your circadian rhythm (your body’s biological clock) can adversely affect your hormonal balance in ways that undermine your metabolism, your immune defenses, and your body’s repair mechanisms. Study after study confirms the link between rest and resilience. People who are sleep deprived are far more susceptible to getting a cold or virus, having a heart attack and stroke, or even getting cancer.
If sleep is not something that comes easy for you, here are a few tips to get at least seven good hours a night.
- Set a sleep and wake schedule – Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day is a great way to set your internal sleep clock. Your body loves a good sleep habit and will reward you if you stick to a good schedule.
- Put down the electronics – Nothing disrupts sleep more than the blue light that is emitted from electronics. For the best sleep possible, stop playing with your phone or computer at least an hour before bed. Additionally, don’t take your phone to bed with you.
- Sleep in a cool room – The best possible temperature to sleep in is between 60 and 67 degrees F. If possible, keep your window cracked to help keep your room cool.
- Sleep in a dark room – Another great way to help your body get the rest it needs is to keep your room dark. Use room darkening blinds or shades if you can to keep out street lights and other distractions.
- Get some sun each morning – Spending time outside in the sunshine each morning can help your body regulate. Exposing your body, face, and eyes to sunlight will increase the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin that regulates everything from mood to sleep.
- Take a warm bath – A warm bath with lavender bath salts can do wonders to relax the body and mind before bedtime. While you are in the bath, be sure to practice deep belly breathing to relax further.
Your great, great, great ancestors used the built-in fight or flight response to keep them safe in times of danger and when they needed to survive in highly stressful times. Unfortunately, we push ourselves into the fight or flight due to living a stressful life and often get stuck in this mode. This causes the stress hormone cortisol to rise, which causes a number of health complications, including overburdening the immune system. Here are some great ways to get a handle on the stress in your life – which, by the way, you can’t avoid altogether, but you can learn how to manage.
- Meditate. Clinical psychologist Sameet Kumar explains, “Meditation actually alters how the brain reacts to stress.” Meditative techniques help you focus on the here and now, which turns the dial down on the kind of mental chatter that feeds worry. That little reprieve can allow your mind and body to renew themselves.
- Take “micro-breaks.” Perhaps you can’t get off the work day treadmill for very long, but even a few five-minute breathers daily can help you wind down and recharge. Maybe you tend to a plant in the office for a few minutes, engage in some stretching activities, or you take a few moments to reflect on what you are grateful for. Carving out a few minutes of daily downtime could just be a life-saver.
- Eat calming foods – The mineral magnesium is considered nature’s chill pill. Great sources include almonds, spinach, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, wild-caught salmon, and Brussels sprouts. Most Americans are deficient in this vital nutrient, which helps modulate the stress response system. Limiting caffeine and drinking herbal teas (particularly chamomile, peppermint, and lemon balm) can help soothe your nerves too.
- Music and dance – Extensive research shows that the right kind of music encourages the production of alpha brain waves, which are correlated with states of relaxation. What types of music are best? Studies suggest most people chill when listening to classical, light jazz, folk, and easy listening pop. But everyone has their particular favorite style of music. To relax, choose the music you enjoy most.
Move more moderately
Regular moderate movement reduces the risk of infection compared to a sedentary lifestyle; however, the key here is moderate. Prolonged bouts of highly strenuous exercise has been found to increase the risk of infection in athletes. What this means is that a brisk walk can do wonders for keeping your natural defenses strong, but running twenty miles a day may have the opposite effect. Gentle stretching, yoga, and activities that support your weight and joints such as biking and swimming are all excellent choices. If you have a desk job, be sure to get up and walk around at least once an hour and consider a lunchtime stroll.
Although there is nothing that can 100% guarantee that you won’t get sick, doing all you can to support your body’s natural defenses will go a long way towards building immunity and preparing your body to defend nasty pathogens! Remember, prevention is a fundamental building block for lasting health and wellness.
-The Alternative Daily