8 Ways to Nourish Your Immune System
Updated: Jun 12, 2020
As we take on flattening the curve of this global pandemic together, we have also been catapulted into the unique opportunity to reflect on the state of our health with more awareness, and most likely, more motivation to improve it.
These 8 ways will nourish and strengthen your body's line of defense to better protect you against threats like the flu & other viruses. While simple COVID-19 precautions like practicing impeccable hand hygiene should be at the forefront (& your newfound opportunity to practice a jaw dropping 20-second karaoke performance for when the dust settles), notice where you may be able to add a dose or two of the following:
1. Step outside for a pocket of sunshine (10 minutes!): Vitamin D is essential for healthy functioning of the immune system, because it helps the body to produce antibodies. Low levels of Vitamin D in the body has been termed as one of the major reasons for respiratory problems (Aranow, 2011). A brisk walk in the sunlight for 10–15 minutes will ensure that enough Vitamin D is produced in the body. Choose supplements that contain D3 (cholecalciferol), since it’s better at raising your blood levels of vitamin D . Natural sources of this includes egg yolks, mushrooms, and beef liver.
2. Practice gratitude to uphold a positive mindset: Gratitude is the antidote to adversity and the building block for resilience. For every frustrating article that you come across or spurt of fear that appears in your thoughts, look for the ones calling out the heroes and seek out the silver lining to it all. Our brains are naturally wired to stick to negativity like velcro and allow positivity to slip like teflon, so make an intentional practice out of diving into opportunities that counteract this process. The more you practice, the more you wire your brain towards the stress-busting effects of positive emotions (Krejtz, 2016). Consider trying something different like creating a gratitude jar to remind you daily of this practice.
3. Lower stress with deep breathing & meditation: Chronic stress tampers with the body's ability to down-regulate inflammatory responses; Inflammation plays a significant role in the onset and progression of a wide range of diseases (Cohen, 2012).
Deep breathing and meditation are two methods shown to reduce cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress (Ma, 2017).
Here are a few of my favorite free resources for meditation and breathing exercises:
4. Moderate or cut the booze: Ethanol (alcohol) exposure has been reported to inhibit the functioning of multiple important components of our immune systems. This is seen in both innate & adaptive immune cells, such as B and T-cells, where they are shown to be adversely affected in both in vitro and in vivo ethanol exposure models. What this means for you on the macro level? Cutting back on a drink or two could benefit your immune system's performance for the long run, especially when it needs to kick it into gear on short notice. (Eken, 2011)
5. Stay on top of your Vitamins & Minerals: C, D and Zinc especially: Your body uses vitamin C to produce white blood cells (Carr, 2017). It isn't stored or produced naturally by your body so you need to supplement daily. Vitamin D is important in decreasing susceptibility to infections, and Zinc supports the growth and basic function of immune cells (Prasad, 2008). Sources like red peppers contain twice the Vitamin C ounce for ounce than citrus. Brocolli is another source super charged with Vitamins A, C, E, antioxidants and fiber. Zinc can be found in a variety of foods ranging from oysters and crab to beef and yogurt, to nuts like cashews and almonds.
6. Incorporate more cruciferous veggies in your diet:
A mechanistic link has been shown between dietary components available in cruciferous vegetables (like cabbage & kale!) to the presence of cell-surface proteins necessary for ensuring efficient immune-system function on both skin and intestine surface levels. These components send a chemical signal to the
body that boosts immune function, which from studies in rats and mice, have demonstrated to protect cells from DNA damage, inactivate carcinogens, and have antibacterial and anti-viral effects (Le, et al 2011).
7. Get your heart pumping and sweat with daily exercise: Regular exercise mobilizes the T cells, a type of white blood cell which guards the body against infection. Getting your heart pumping accelerates the circulation of these disease-fighting cells (Woods, et al 2009). Countless studios, gyms and personal trainers are offering free (or low-cost) options for working out at home.
Here are some of my personal favorites:
1. Yoga Strala Yoga with Tara Stiles
2. HIIT Workouts Group HIIT
3. Send us a note fo a custom program in our Mind-Body Training section
8. Plan for 8 hours of sleep: Lack of sleep can cause the inflammatory immune response to activate, reducing the activity of T cells in the body. Our brain uses sleep as the opportunity to "take out the garbage" built up from the day by releasing cytokines during extended periods of sleep. Cytokines are a type of protein that help the body fight infection by regulating the immune system. Studies shows those who got 7 or less hours of sleep over a two week period were 3 times more likely to develop flu symptoms after exposure to a common virus than those who got 8 or more hours (Cohen et al, 2009). Our website includes a sleep hygiene guide (get it free by using code: SPRING8) if you've been having trouble catching more Z's.