Immune system health is at top of mind for just about everything right now. It’s important to support our immune systems so we are more resilient to infection. A healthy lifestyle is the foundation for immune health. It takes consistency, and an overall healthy lifestyle to really build strong immune support. Don’t be fooled by the “immune boosters” that are out there everywhere now. We can’t just boost our immune systems overnight.
Most of our immune systems are functioning constantly. The system isn’t waiting for us to do anything to be pumped up or boosted. With that being said, many of us are running around exhausted and depleted a lot of the time, leaving us low in nutrients that might help prevent viral infection generally. We also want to support the body as best as possible so it can do its thing more efficiently.
As we always say, the body has an amazing capacity to heal itself when given the right conditions. We just need to do that.
Here are some of our go-to tips to support immune system health:
Eat a Whole Foods-focused + Nutrient-dense Diet
A healthy diet is one of the keys to a healthy, robust immune response whenever we do get exposed to viruses and bacteria. Our immune system relies on nutrient-dense whole foods to function well. Death from infections in the developing world is often not due to the infection itself but the body’s inability to fight it due to nutrient deficiencies.
An optimally healthy diet includes 6 to 8 servings of fresh veggies and fruits daily (a serving is half a cup) plus whole food sources of healthy fats and high-quality protein sources. Vegetables are the foundation of a nourishing diet, and they provide loads of immune-supporting nutrients like vitamin C (red bell peppers, broccoli) and carotenoids (carrots, sweet potatoes).
It’s time to cut out sugar and refined starches. Now has never been a better time for a sugar and junk food detox. Studies have shown that refined sugars can suppress your immune system for hours after ingesting. Minimizing processed carbohydrates and sugars helps our immune systems function optimally.
Add garlic, onions, ginger, and lots of spices like oregano, turmeric, and rosemary to your meals. These can be tossed in everything from soups to stews to sauces. Garlic and onions are known for their antimicrobial properties. While the benefits of garlic are more specifically beneficial for bacterial infections, it is still a dietary staple for overall health and immune health.
Turmeric is loaded with antioxidants, helping us fight off damage from free radicals. Research also suggests that turmeric is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. Curcumin can lower the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation. It is as effective an anti-inflammatory agent as ibuprofen. Its anti-inflammatory properties help ease symptoms caused by many diseases, like headaches and joint aches and even help with allergies, pain, fatigue, mood, and cognitive function. This is why we came up with our fermented turmeric supplement, Purify. You can try this Spicy Cauliflower with Turmeric or this Easy Golden Milk to reap all the benefits.
Make sure to nourish that gut! Most of the immune system resides here. Eat fermented foods to support your microbiome and immunity. Eat sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, miso, tempeh, and/or unsweetened coconut yogurt.
Get Enough Protein
Protein is critical for immune function and protein malnutrition is a big risk factor for death from infections. As a general guideline, we should be eating approximately half our body weight in grams of protein a day, whether from animal or plant-based proteins. Plant-based proteins (legumes, nuts/seeds, plant-based protein powder) are adequate if consumed in enough quantity. Our Daily Shake is a clean protein and vitamin powder that’s both non-GMO and vegan, meaning there’s no whey or other fillers. It has a unique blend of vitamins, minerals, 12g of high-quality plant protein, and fiber to help fill nutritional gaps and encourage clean eating.
Several studies over the past few years have found that drinking hot green tea can reduce the likelihood of upper respiratory infections. It’s unclear whether this is due to the warm vapor or the aromatic oils we inhale when sipping tea.
Green tea provides disease-fighting antioxidants (polyphenols and flavonoids) that protect against free radicals. One study showed that catechins, a particular type of polyphenols in tea, kill certain viruses. Green tea is also rich in L-theanine, an amino acid thought to help enhance immunity. You can check out our Clean Matcha here.
How to Supplement to Support Immune Function
Zinc plays an important role in immunity, helping the body to fight invading bacteria and viruses, and may help the lining of the respiratory passages prevent viral replication and inflammation. Seafood (especially oysters), red meat, and pumpkin seeds are the best food sources. We love these delicious Healthy Bison Burgers to get in our daily zinc. Zinc supplementation can cause some nausea, so preferably take your zinc supplement with a meal if you do choose to supplement.
Vitamin D is a hormone that has an important effect on immune function and ability to fight infections. According to a 2017 meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal, vitamin D supplementation was safe and it protected against acute respiratory tract infection overall. Adequate vitamin D status is critical for optimal immune function. Studies have shown that people with vitamin D deficiency are 11 times more likely to get a cold or flu while supplementing with vitamin D can reduce colds and flu by 42%. It’s pretty difficult to get adequate levels of vitamin D due to modern lifestyle habits, like spending most of our time indoors and wearing sunscreen when we are exposed to the sun. This is why supplementation may be a good idea, especially during the winter months, or times when we aren’t able to get outside.
The best form of vitamin D for maximal absorption is vitamin D3. Our Shine Vitamin D contains vitamin D3. Shine comes in two forms: 1,000 IU and 5,000 IU for a more targeted dosage depending on your needs. For best absorption, take it with a meal that also contains healthy fats, like avocado, as vitamin D is fat-soluble. Good food sources of vitamin D include salmon, tuna, mackerel, and egg yolks.
Vitamin C helps immune cells function properly and nearly 150 animal studies demonstrate that it can help fight different pathogens and supports the health of the respiratory passages. According to a 2013 Cochrane Database Meta-analysis, vitamin C appears to lead to a 50% reduction in the likelihood of catching a cold in athletes who “perform regular or acute bouts of intense exercise” compared to athletes who don’t take vitamin C. Also, cold duration may be reduced by about 8% in adults who take vitamin C regularly, and colds may also be less severe.
Some great food sources of vitamin C are oranges, grapefruits, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, and baked potatoes.
Probiotics are attributed to a myriad benefits and numerous mechanisms by which they support immunity. A healthy microbiome is absolutely critical for an overall healthy immune response. Healthy gut flora supports a healthy gut lining, which is a major barrier against pathogens and integral to a strong functioning immune system. Ideally, we want a supplement with several species of good bacteria that contain at least 5-10 billion organisms per capsule. Our Cultivate Probiotic contains 12 potent strains and 30 billion active cultures per capsule.
Important Lifestyle Factors
Make Sure to Sleep
Sleep quantity and quality play a role in immune health, and lack of adequate sleep can make us more susceptible to colds, the flu, and can impair immune response. Lack of sleep also creates a generally heightened inflammatory state. Aim for no less than 7 hours per night of good rest. Having trouble sleeping? Check out our tips here.
Get Regular Exercise
Regular moderate exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, and protects against a variety of diseases. Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.
Aim for approximately 30-45 minutes of exercise per day. Avoid overexertion, such as training for endurance events, when you are feeling run down as this just puts a bigger stressor on the body and will lower immune defenses. Need to get in a good workout at home? Try this simple apartment workout that will have you sweating in no time.
Practice Meditation and Yoga
Ever feel really run down after a long week? It’s likely due to stress. Increased levels of stress increase susceptibility to viral infections. Studies have shown that stressed students had fewer natural killer cells, which fight tumors and viral infections, during a stressful exam period. They almost stopped producing immunity-boosting gamma interferon and infection-fighting T-cells responded only weakly to test-tube stimulation. What does this mean? Immune response was lowered during a period of stress.
Let’s be real: stress isn’t going anywhere. We have to learn how to perceive it differently and manage it as best as we can. Amazing ways to manage stress are through yoga, meditation, and breathwork. Try this 5-Minute Mindfulness Meditation today for a clearer mind.
*This article is not intended to provide medical advice and any changes should be done in consultation with your healthcare provider.
Recipe and photography by Hannah Aylward
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