8 Tips toSupport Immune Function Naturally
True prevention is not waiting for bad things to happen, it’s preventing things from happening in the first place. When we get sick, we tend to shift into ‘fix-it’ mode so we can alleviate our symptoms as quickly as possible.
But what if we spent more time preparing our immune system to reduce the likelihood of getting sick in the first place? What if our body was ready to deal with a bug should we catch one? Do we really need to wait for that ‘wake up’ call to make changes that will support a healthy body long term?
By learning how to build a healthy immune system, we can be prepared for better short-term and long-term health.
What is Immunity?
Simply put, the immune system helps protect our bodies from invaders and foreign materials.
When it is working at full capacity, if we get sick, we bounce back quickly with minimal symptoms. However, if we have a weakened immune system, we will most likely fall ill for a longer period of time or more often. Sometimes illnesses are short, such as the common cold, while others can be chronic and life-altering like autoimmune diseases.
There are many ways in which we can support the immune system to give us the best odds at maintaining our health.
Here are a few suggestions that will help prepare your body to “fight the fight” all year long.
1. Stay hydrated
Make sure you are consuming 6 to 8 glasses of pure filtered water daily. Use a humidifier in your home or a nasal saline rinse/spray twice daily to moisturize dry nasal passages and reduce your risk of infection or try Correct-X in the nostrils. Try the Water Drinking Challenge over in our private facebook group, Optimizing Health. Sometimes, all we need is a little support from our friends to create positive change.
2. Just say no to sugar!
White sugar immediately reduces your immune function – leaving you more susceptible to cold and flu viral infections. It also inhibits the white blood cells from absorbing vitamin C…an important anti-oxidant and immune building vitamin.
Foods made with white flour and white sugar cause a decrease in immune function. These foods are typically refined and are often highly processed foods that don’t add much to overall health. Ingredients in processed foods are also linked to inflammation, which can lead to many conditions – including autoimmune diseases.
White refined sugar is a dangerous substance that is stripped of vitamins and minerals, leaving our bodies with the extra work of metabolizing them without any health benefits. You can read about how sugar impacts immunity in this study. [study]
What’s more, refined flour and sugar consumption can disrupt the microbiome (our colony of gut bacteria), sending us into dysbiosis. You can read more about how the microbiome affects immunity a little further below.
Action: Read labels! Our sugar intake comes mostly in the processed foods we eat! Avoid anything ending in ‘ose’ as often as possible.
3. Feed your immune system
Our dietary choices can have an enormous impact on our immune system. Certain foods can boost immunity, while others can help modulate it. Malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies can also impair immunity. Generally, a diet rich in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, quality animal products (meat, fish, poultry, eggs), nuts, seeds, legumes and gluten-free whole grains are going to help sustain a healthy immune system.
Here are some immune-boosting superstars that I like to introduce to clients and why:
- Onions and garlic – antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral properties, also anti-inflammatory
- Berries – sources of flavonoids that are anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting, contain fibre to support the digestive tract and in turn the microbiome
- Citrus – contains Vitamin C for immune defense, protection against pathogens and infections
- Mushrooms – modulate the immune system, dialing it up or down as needed
- Ginger – highly anti-inflammatory and has anti-oxidant effects that protect against diseases
- Bone Broth – rich in minerals and amino acids that nourish the gut and encourage healing, anti-inflammatory
- Turmeric – highly anti-inflammatory and can help to modulate the immune system by activating the beneficial immune components while down-regulating the inflammatory ones
- Coconut Oil – anti-microbial and anti-bacterial
- Greens – an overall vitamin and mineral-rich category that is also rich in B-vitamins for energy and nervous system function
- Wild salmon and other omega 3 rich foods – high in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats, and a good source of protein (protein helps to support and modulate a healthy immune response)
4. Prioritize Sleep and Stress Less
We are hearing more and more just how important sleep is to our physical and mental health. A lack of sleep depresses our immunity as seen in one study of identical twins, where researchers found that the blood samples of the sleep-deprived twin showed a lowered immunity compared to the twin who slept. Insomnia can lead to activation of the pro-inflammatory cytokines, leaving us more susceptible to infections. And we encourage our clients to get to bed before 11:00 pm for a reason! It isn’t just the amount of sleep that is important but that you are sleeping in line with our natural circadian rhythm. Cortisol and Melatonin are important in creating this rhythm as seen in the image here.
Another interesting aspect of sleep and immunity is that quality sleep allows us to develop a long-term ‘memory’ of pathogens, which helps our immune system recognize and respond to infections more quickly.
To facilitate healthy sleep:
- Make sure it’s dark in the room. (any light can impact sleep negatively)
- Turn off all devices at least an hour before bed and wear blue blockers.
- Avoid sugary foods and caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
- Begin your day with a high protein breakfast
- Sleep in a cool room.
- Create a consistent bedtime.
- Practice relaxing bedtime rituals – meditation, reading, aromatherapy, baths, etc.
Go for a run, a bike ride, do some yoga, lift weights or play pickle ball. If you are an animal-lover, adopt a dog and go for a walk if that’s what it takes to get yourself moving! The best way to get started is to find an active friend and just get started together! There are some excellent free workout video on You Tube also…that you can do from the comfort of your own home.
6. Get your Vitamins!
Vitamin A, C, D, Zinc, Quercetin, Melatonin, Glutathione or NAC, Omega 3’s are also excellent options this year.
Vitamin A has been studied for nearly 100 years with regards to immune function. It helps to regulate our innate and adaptive immune systems, and supports antibody cell production. It’s been shown to improve recovery rates from certain illnesses. Vitamin A strengthens the barrier in our digestive tract and this can help prevent pathogens from breaking through and disrupting gut health, immune health or causing inflammation.
Vitamin A has been studied for its effects on infections such as tuberculosis, influenza and HIV, as well as childhood diseases like polio, measles, mumps and infant diarrhea. Because this is a fat based vitamin (meaning you don’t pee it out), use with caution and work with your Naturopath for proper dosing.
Many people don’t realize how important Vitamin D is to the function of the immune system. Our immune cells have Vitamin D receptors, and it helps to modulate our immune response, prevent infection and protect against autoimmune diseases. In places where the populations have less sun exposure, there is a higher incidence of many illnesses.
We get Vitamin D when the UV from the sun reacts with the cholesterol in our skin. People with darker skin tones need 3-5 times longer exposure to the sun than people with lighter skin tones. Many of us also wear sunscreen, preventing vitamin D production in the skin. If you are unable to get out into the sun during non-peak hours, Vitamin D supplementation is inexpensive and easy to take. But be sure to use a quality brand because not all are easily absorbed. You can read more about Vitamin D here. We also offer Vitamin D injections for those who struggle maintaining an appropriate level.
Zinc is a key modulator of the immune system, impacting nearly all components of immunity to help protect against infections. It also helps to prevent inflammation and this impacts the risk of infection, as well as chronic inflammatory diseases and autoimmune conditions. Zinc must in balance in the body; too much or too little can disrupt the immune system and lead to negative effects and this is why you’ll hear about zinc often when it comes to immunity and many health imbalances.
We love pumpkin seeds and oysters for their zinc content.
Vitamin C is a vitamin you may already know about because it’s essential to our innate and adaptive immune system, and for the gut barrier to keep pathogens out. As an antioxidant, Vitamin C is highly anti-inflammatory and this further protects from the dangers of infections and tissue damage.
Evidence indicates Vitamin C can protect against and fight off many infections, including respiratory infections, and has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties that can inhibit infections. Being deficient in Vitamin C increases the risk of developing an infection.
We love papaya, kiwi’s and red peppers for their vitamin C content!
Best known as a sleep aid, melatonin also plays a role in immune function. Aside from being a sleep aid, it’s been shown to stimulate the production of immune cells like natural killer cells, macrophages and T cells, as well as reduce airway inflammation.
Red grapes and cherries provide a nice dose of melatonin!
Quercetin is a highly potent antioxidant that greatly reduces inflammation. It’s often been used to reduce allergy symptoms, but also contains significant immune-modulating properties. It has anti-viral properties, and has been shown to inhibit the flu.
We learned about zinc above. Research shows that quercetin helps to transport zinc into cells where zinc can be most the effective. Simple right?!
An apple a day will provide a little quercetin and will also feed your gut. (prebiotics)
Omega 3 Oils
Omega 3s have long been promoted for their anti-inflammatory effects and inflammation can have negative consequences for the immune system. Emerging research shows that the omega-3 fats found in fish oil also help to modulate the immune system.
Wild caught salmon and walnuts are just a few examples of foods with omega 3s.
Keep things simple and grab our Work Wellness Kit or our School Support kit!
7. Support Gut Health
About 70% of our immune system lives in the gut. [gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT)] Researchers are learning more and more about our gut (microbiome) every day. The microbiome refers to the community of bacteria that live inside of us in our digestive tract. They are learning just how important it is to have the right balance of good guys (beneficial bacteria) versus bad guys (damaging bacteria) because this balance affects our immunity and a variety of common health conditions.
Evidence indicates that beneficial bacteria help to ‘train’ the immune system to identify which pathogens are friendly or not so friendly, and to produce beneficial nutrients that keep the bad bacteria in check. Our children inherit our microbiome from us ; our dietary choices impact their ability to develop a functioning immune system.
One of the ways we can help ‘seed’ our microbiome is through a good probiotic. These can help improve digestive function, boost immune function, benefit the brain and our mood, reduce our need for antibiotics, and may even prevent the common cold.
Check our our Reclaim Your Gut Health Program for more customized support!
8. Keep Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption Low
Caffeine when consumed in excess, raised cortisol levels quickly. When cortisol goes up, your immune system is one system that gets put on the back burner along with your endocrine and digestive systems.
Ideally 2 cups a coffee a day is enough! Choose wine over beer more often…and keep it to 1-2 glasses max a day. (slightly higher for men)
Other basic digestion tips that will help your gut health:
- Consume soluble and insoluble fibre
- Drink qualify filtered water
- Eat fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickles, dairy-free yogurt/kefir, etc.)
- Eat prebiotic foods (jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, dandelion greens, etc.)
- Don’t overuse antibiotics
- Chew your food well, until liquid
- Use digestive bitters or digestive enzymes with meals
- Pray or say thanks for your food before you eat to stimulate digestion
- Reduce or eliminate refined sugars
Call us for more information. 289-291-0254.
Set up a FREE discovery call if you need support but aren’t sure where to start!
Linda Ljucovic, Registered Nutritionist and Dave Ellis, Manual Practitioner Osteopath, Oakville.