Boosting Immune Function
“Boosting immunity” is a hot topic in the fall as cold and flu season approaches; however, this is a conversation we should have all year long, especially considering the current COVID-19 pandemic. What does boosting immunity mean? Our bodies have a complex immune system guarding us against disease, and our lifestyle choices impact our ability to strengthen – or weaken – our immune response. Behaviors such as consuming processed foods and overloading on sugar can weaken our defense system while proper self-care works to strengthen it. While boosting our body’s immune response is not a guarantee against infection, it is one more tool in our toolbox to decrease risk and improve our ability to heal. Therefore, there are many lifestyle choices we can make to help boost immunity:
- Manage stress: When we are stressed, we release cortisol, which suppresses our immune system. Each person manages their stress differently, and there are a variety of ways to do so in a healthy manner. You could consider journaling, meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, or making a gratitude list. Other ideas include calling a friend, trying something new, being outside in nature, doing something you enjoy, or expressing yourself creatively with music or art.
- Stay Hydrated: Drinking water helps your body naturally eliminate toxins and keeps the system flowing smoothly. The goal of drinking at least 64 ounces or eight cups of water each day may sound daunting, but there are many options to help you reach this, like – infused water, unsweetened tea, or herbal tea. Start by adding an extra cup per day, and slowly increase from there.
- Prioritize sleep: Your immune system works while you sleep by releasing cytokines and antibodies, so if you’re not sleeping, your immune system cannot function at its full capacity. While each person is different, the ideal range is 7-9 hours of sleep. To improve your quality of sleep, consider avoiding technology or screens at least 90 minutes before going to bed and instead try reading, journaling, taking a bath, or listening to soft music. Make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark – if you can see your hand in front of your face, it might not be quite dark enough.
- Move your body: Regular exercise mobilizes your immune cells and circulates them throughout your body. There are many ways to incorporate physical activity into your day, such as taking extra steps while doing household chores or doing yardwork. As little as 20 minutes of movement can be effective, with the goal of moving your body each and every day. Also, if you’re not a runner, don’t force yourself to run. It’s important to focus on activities you like, as these will be more maintainable.
- Choose anti-inflammatory foods: Not only do a wide variety of fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of antioxidants and phytochemicals, but they also feed our good bacteria. While variety in our diet is always best, there are some key nutrients in food that can support our immune function. The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, cod, herring, sardines, trout and tuna, as well as walnuts, avocados, olive oil, avocado oil, flaxseed, chia seed, and hemp seed, which are precursors. Zinc can be found in oysters, beef, pork, crab, and lobster, as well as plant foods such as pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, kidney beans or almonds. Similarly, selenium can be found in brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, shrimp, beef, turkey, or chicken. Magnesium is found in small amounts of a variety of foods, such as almonds, spinach, black beans or kidney beans, potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal or bananas, so it’s important to focus on getting these nutrient-dense foods in regularly. Concentrated sources of vitamin A include sweet potato, spinach, carrots, herring, cantaloupe, and mangos, while vitamin C rich foods include peppers, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, cabbage and cauliflower.
- Supplement if needed: Even with a balanced diet, our body may get depleted in nutrients and need a little extra help. While we can get adequate vitamin D from 15 minutes of sunshine per day, you may need to consider getting your serum vitamin D tested and taking vitamin D3 supplements to maintain an adequate level. Similarly, it might be worth testing your vitamin A level and considering a supplement if you’re deficient. Zinc is involved in nearly every aspect of our immune function and may need to be supplemented within 24 hours of coming down with something, but be sure you only take it for 2 weeks or add a copper supplement to prevent a copper deficiency. Additionally, magnesium is involved in over 200 reactions in our body, and with over half of Americans being deficient, it would be wise to consider taking magnesium glycinate. Vitamin C (buffered) and selenium are both powerful antioxidants that can boost your body’s immune system and may be worth supplementing if they’re not consumed regularly in your diet Maintaining a healthy microbiome is also a key part of a healthy immune system, so it’s important to discuss with your provider about taking a probiotic.
As you can see, boosting your immune system requires a whole-person approach. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all protocol to do this, so if you need help personalizing a plan, I’m here to help. Not only can we work on identifying and addressing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, but we can eliminate foods that are causing your body inflammation and slowing your immune system. For more information or support, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lastly, if you need additional resources, don’t forget to check The Complete IC Diet Cookbook, which is filled with over 70 delicious and nutritious recipes that help support immune function.