5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System Anti-Inflammatory Diet vs Antioxidants & Lean Proteins vs Elimination Diet ... and 2 more
Edited by Jasmin, Eng, Maria Quinney
The immune system is a complex collection of cells (mainly white blood cells,) organs, and fluids found throughout the body. It's responsible for protecting us against infection by detecting a wide variety of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites. It must also be on a constant lookout for cancer cells that need eliminating. The majority of our immune system, roughly 70%, can be found in the digestive system. Our first line of defense against foreign materials entering or harming our bodies comes from the skin and mucous membranes (nose, mouth, etc.,) as well as certain fluids like saliva, nasal mucus, tears, and stomach acid. Though a sneeze or a watery eye in response to getting something caught in it may seem like a simple and common occurrence, it's proof of the immune system hard at work.
When the immune system is compromised there is subsequently a high risk of increased infections, allergies, and other inflammatory diseases, as well as cancer development. If you're constantly suffering from chronic fatigue, colds and flu, ear infections, slow-healing wounds, and urinary tract infections your immune system could definitely do with a boost. While other bodily systems get to take breaks (even if only for a few moments) the immune system never stops working. We are constantly coming into contact with foreign substances that our bodies need to create a proper response to. Imagine how you might feel if that was your work life and no one ever gave you the support you needed. It would be horrible, right? Give your immune system the love and support it deserves by checking out the suggestions below.
Method 1: Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Inflammation is also a method in which the immune system defends itself and the body as a whole. Though we typically see inflammation discussed as a bad thing, what's really being referred to is when inflammation has gone unchecked. Some inflammation is good; it helps destroy pathogens and aids in tissue repair. However, when the immune system is imbalanced, inflammation can run rampant and lead to pain and tissue damage. An easy way to reduce your body's interaction with inflammation is to decrease foods that cause it and increase foods that fight it.
- 1Foods to avoid:
- Hydrogenated fats and oils; commonly found in processed and fried foods.
- Excess and added sugars. In addition to being inflammatory, just one serving of refined sugar can suppress your immune system for up to 4 hours.
- Dairy products, which are not only acidic (and lead to inflammation) they're also highly allergenic.
- Processed meats are full of preservatives and additives that the body registers as foreign, forcing the immune system to take action.
- 2Foods to incorporate:
- Anti-inflammatory fats such as walnuts and flaxseed.
- Alkaline foods (fruits and vegetables) keep the body from becoming too acidic and therefore prone to inflammation.
Method 2: Antioxidants & Lean Proteins
- 1First and foremost, antioxidants work to protect the body against free radicals by increasing the stability of oxygen-containing molecules. In doing so, they prevent these molecules from damaging cell DNA, which in turn prevents damage to immune cells and their response messengers and can help to reduce cancer risk. Vitamins A, C, and E, as well as the minerals zinc and selenium, are all high in antioxidants. Vitamin C and zinc, in particular though, are especially beneficial to immunity.Antioxidants.
- Vitamin C. This vitamin is an immune system stimulator in general. More specifically, it has been shown to activate neutrophils and increase the production of lymphocytes, which are both a type of white blood cell. It can also regulate histamine production, which is a chemical that's effect works much the same way as inflammation: a little is beneficial, a lot is detrimental. As you probably already know, vitamin C can be obtained from oranges but it's also found in green vegetables, pineapple, papaya, and bell peppers.
- Zinc. Deficiency in this mineral is directly associated with increased colds and flu and some studies have shown that white blood cells can't function optimally without it. The best and cleanest dietary source of zinc is in pumpkin seeds but adequate levels can also be found in mushrooms, steel cut oats, chickpeas, pine nuts, and dark chocolate (the darker the better, of course.)
- 2Immune cells (like antibodies, white blood cells, and other immune response messengers,) skin tissue, and mucus membranes all require amino acids that they can convert into proteins, for their proper manufacture and maintenance. Ensuring adequate protein intake is essential for optimal immunity but all dietary proteins are not created equal. Lean proteins are what you should focus on, as not only do they digest much easier (taking stress off the immune response in the gut) they also contain far less (if any) saturated fat making them the better choice for avoiding inflammation. Try incorporating these sources into your diet:Lean proteins.
- Legumes: beans, peas, lentils, and organic soy products.
- Nuts and seeds: especially sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, and cashews.
Method 3: Elimination Diet
Allergies are another type of immune response. Technically, they're referred to as exaggerated responses to foreign materials. They can develop due to an immune system that's been overworked, or they can arise from poor digestion that led to intestinal permeability, which allows for undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream and be considered foreign invaders. An elimination diet is the best way to pinpoint foods that are wreaking havoc on your body, so you can remove them once and for all. (Always remember: the digestive and immune systems are intrinsically linked so supporting one always helps the other, too.) You'll want to do a bit of research, or get in touch with a nutritionist, but here are the basics of an elimination diet.
- 1This includes anything from citrus fruits to nightshades, soy and dairy, all nuts and seeds, most animal products, saturated fats, stimulants like alcohol and caffeine, and sweeteners (even natural ones like maple syrup.) You'll also want to consider removing any foods you eat frequently. Constant exposure can lead to sensitivities but it could also mean you have an addiction to the particular food. This stage should last 3-4 weeks.Remove the most common allergenic foods.
reactions. Start by adding a single food group back into your diet for one day and then monitoring your symptoms for the next two. For example, reintroduce citrus fruits on a Monday, avoid them on Tuesday and Wednesday and record how you're feeling. On Thursday reintroduce soy products, avoid them on Friday and Saturday and record how you're feeling. Things to look for include (but are not limited to):
- 5Changes in bowel movements.
- 7Sinus or other respiratory issues.
- Reintroduce specific foods. Once you've narrowed things down to specific food groups, you'll follow the same pattern as step 2 (one day on, two days off) but with specific foods instead of the entire group. You should then be able to identify the foods causing you harm, based on the symptoms you have recorded. As mentioned, the process is a little more complex than outlined here and if you need guidance along the way, it's best to contact a professional.
Method 4: Lifestyle Changes
- Stress management. The body's natural response to stress is to manufacture and release a hormone called cortisol. In small amounts, cortisol helps to keep inflammation and allergies in check. However, as stress becomes chronic and cortisol production is continued and increased, the hormone actually becomes an immune suppressant. So anyone experiencing prolonged period of stress will have a harder time fighting infections. Here are some suggestions for reducing stress:
- Getting adequate amounts of sleep.
- Engaging in regular but moderate amounts of exercise.
- A daily routine of deep breathing exercises.
- Laughter yoga.
- Dry skin brushing. Your lymphatic system is an important part of the immune system. Its key function is in transporting lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body. There are limited ways to stimulate lymphatic activity and dry brushing is by far the best method, as it's able to encourage the movement and drainage of lymph through the skin. Using a brush like this one gently brush your skin in a circular motion moving towards the heart. Your skin should look a little pink afterward, but never red or irritated. Dry skin brushing also exfoliates the skin, which only increases its ability to act as a first-line of defense for the body.
- Inversion therapy. Another way of stimulating the flow of lymphatic fluid is through inversion therapy. Because the lymphatic system requires its fluids to be pumped towards the heart, inverting our bodies can be helpful to this process. There are plenty of inversion tables and chairs on the market you can choose to invest in, but there are also simple exercises that can be done in your own home each and every day. Check out this link for some beginner inversion exercises. As a bonus, inversion therapy can also help with digestive issues and back pain.
Method 5: Helpful Herbs
You can find the following herb suggestions in either tincture form (a concentrated liquid that can be added to water or juice) or in loose-leaf form to make teas and body compresses. Or, in the case of garlic, you can use fresh bulbs or look for capsules.
- Garlic. An antibacterial and antimicrobial plant that can help destroy foreign pathogens. It's especially helpful for respiratory and digestive issues that also affect the immune system.
- Echinacea. Immuno-modulator that can help stimulate immune function and improve your resistance to infections by blocking bacteria and viruses from entering healthy cells. It also helps to reduce inflammation.
- Goldenseal. Anti-catarrhal that helps to reduce inflammation and restore tissue in mucous membranes. It can be very helpful when you're experiencing excessive discharge in the nose or throat. Elderberry is another type of anti-catarrhal that can be used specifically in the treatment of colds and other acute infections that cause fever. The berries themselves are also super high in antioxidants.
- Oregano. Antiviral that can be used to help ease symptoms of colds and flu. It also fights allergy symptoms, parasites, and inflammation.
- Astragalus. Another immuno-modulator as well as antimicrobial, which helps to combat infections of all kinds and can also soothe the nervous system to help with stress management.
- Licorice root. An antiviral and expectorant herb that can help boost the body's production of interferon, a key immune system chemical that defends from attacking viruses. It also helps soothe pain from a sore throat.
As always, the above suggestions are not meant to replace medical advice. Everyone's body is different and you may be in need of additional care and guidance. Please get in touch with a nutritionist or naturopathic doctor to learn more about natural and effective immune system care.
If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.
Categories : Health & Wellness
Recent edits by: Eng, Jasmin