The immune system protects against germs that cause illness and helps us heal. But it needs good nutrition to do its job well.
Simple dietary and lifestyle changes can support the immune system so it works as it should. Avoid some habits that weaken the immune system, such as smoking, and focus on nutrients like iodine and zinc.
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
When you eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, you support the immune system without needing extra supplements. Hansen suggests eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Also eat more lean protein, low-fat dairy and healthy fats like olive oil.
Vitamin C may be the most well-known immune-boosting nutrient. It boosts white blood cells that help fight infections. To get your daily dose, eat citrus fruit like oranges and grapefruit or try chewable Vitamin C tablets. Ginger is another natural immune booster. Research shows it triggers mucosal cells to make a substance that makes it hard for viruses to attach to the body. Prebiotics (like those found in yogurt, kefir and kombucha) can also support the immune system. The trace mineral selenium, found in tuna, halibut meat and Brazil nuts, can also strengthen the immune system.
2. Get Enough Sleep
The immune system is the body’s defence against disease, infection and damage. It’s made up of a complex network of cells and proteins that can identify pathogens (the bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that can cause illness) and fight them off.
It’s divided into two levels: innate and adaptive immunity. Innate immunity is the first line of defence, and it works by identifying foreign substances and ‘tagging’ them so they can be removed from the body. Adaptive immunity is more specialised and is responsible for things like remembering that you’ve had a certain virus, such as chickenpox, so it doesn’t come back again.
The immune system requires good quality sleep to function properly. Sleep deprivation decreases production of infection-fighting cytokines and also reduces the effectiveness of vaccinations.
3. Exercise Regularly
Your immune system needs to be strong enough to fight off germs and sickness, but also sensitive enough not to overreact and trigger illness. It’s a delicate balance and one that is influenced by many factors.
Studies show that lack of sleep can impact your immune system by lowering the activity of a critical type of white blood cell. Make it a priority to get 7 or more hours of sleep each night.
Eat more nutrient-dense foods such as berries, dark leafy greens, yogurt with live and active cultures, mushrooms and olive oil. These foods offer your immune system a natural boost. Vitamin C is another immune-boosting nutrient. Include kiwi, citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe and spinach in your diet to reap the benefits of this immune-boosting powerhouse.
4. Reduce Stress
It’s not a stretch to say that reducing stress is important for your immune system. Stress can cause sleep disturbances, eating less healthy foods, avoiding water and exercise, and not washing hands often enough. All of these things can impact the immune system negatively.
Short spurts of stress that occur during the fight-or-flight response in reaction to an immediate threat stimulate the immune system, according to studies. However, chronic stress can lead to an overproduction of the hormone cortisol and can decrease the number of white blood cells in the body. This can increase your risk for infection and make you more susceptible to colds and flu. It’s difficult to conduct a controlled experiment on the effects of stress on the immune system. However, scientists do know that the immune system is complex and interconnected.
5. Drink Water
Like a security system, your immune system is a first line of defense against viruses and harmful bacteria. While it is important to take steps to strengthen your immune system, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep, drinking adequate amounts of water is also key.
Not only does water help maintain proper body temperature, but it also helps to support the immune system by hydrating cells and providing the energy they need to function. Additionally, water promotes sweating which can help to eliminate toxins from the body.
In addition to water, try adding hot drinks to your daily routine, especially during cold and flu season, while traveling or when seasonal allergies flare up. These beverages can also boost your immunity by containing certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, zinc and selenium.