7 Ways To Nourish Your Immune System
The immune system is a precisely organized defense system comprising many biological structures and processes within our bodies. It protects us from hostile microbes and keeps us healthy most of the time. Just like a car needs fuel to work, the immune system needs proper nourishment to do what it is designed for.
In today's article I want to put an emphasis on the importance of proper nutrition in order to supply the immune system with its building blocks. I also want to touch on some lifestyle factors that can either weaken or support your immune system.
Next time, before you consider reaching for that immune boosting supplement in your health store, please quickly browse through the next paragraphs and ask yourself: "Have I properly nourished my immune system?"
1. Sleep enough and manage stress
Stress management and getting 7-8 hours of sleep are important to keep your cortisol levels healthy. Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. Normally it goes through a daily circadian rhythm with its peak around the time of waking up. During the day cortisol levels start dropping until they reach their lowest point around midnight. Even though cortisol is important when dealing with stressful situations, having too high levels of it for longer periods of time can suppress the immune system, making one more susceptible to infections.
➳ Create a routine of going to bed before midnight and ensuring 7-8 hours of sleep.
➳ Spend more time in nature and with friends.
➳ Do gentle exercise like yoga and pilates.
➳ Watch a comedy.
➳ Pet an animal.
2. Provide the building blocks
To function properly, the immune system depends on building blocks called immune builders or immune supporters. The immune builders have the capacity of boosting the immune system in times the body is deficient in these nutrients. Stimulating the immune system is not safe for everyone though, a good example are people with autoimmune conditions.
Protein is the first critical element when it comes to building the immune system, simply because all immune system tissues require complete protein. Another important immune builder is the mineral zinc. Zinc is needed for the development of the thymus. The thymus is a specialized organ of the immune system and the maturation spot of T-cells, a type of white blood cells that protect the body from pathogens and cancer cells. Vitamin C also plays a key role in immunity, it has antioxidant, antibacterial and antiviral properties. Other important antioxidants playing a role in maintaining the immune system are vitamins A and E along with the mineral selenium.
➳ Consume diverse plant-based sources of protein: nuts, seeds, legumes and grains.
➳ Consume zinc-rich foods: beans, chickpeas, lentils, soy beans, walnuts, cashew nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, whole grains and quinoa.
➳ Consume vitamin C-rich foods: citrus fruits, berries, green and leafy vegetables, bell peppers and potatoes. If you wish to use vitamin C supplements, make sure to purchase those which have flavonoids (compounds responsible for the vivid colors of many plant foods and exist in the foods containing vitamin C) as it will optimize the beneficial effects of the vitamin.
➳ Consume plenty of beta-carotene found in green and orange vegetables and fruits. Beta-carotene is a water-soluble pigment that converts into the active form of vitamin A (retinol) in the liver.
➳ Consume vitamin E-rich foods: whole grains, nuts, oats, soy beans, spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
➳ Consume selenium-rich foods: garlic, onions, broccoli and Brazil nuts.
➳ When having a fever, the blood concentrations of zinc are reduced in attempts to inhibit bacterial growth. Don't supplement zinc or consume too much zinc-rich foods when running a fever, since this can potentially feed the growing bacteria. Remember, fever is how our immune system fights off invaders and it's essential to healing. Eating during a fever can result in elevation of body temperature, because critical energy is being taken away from the immune system and distributed to the digestive system.
3. Take care of your gut
The gut is an important component of the body's immune system. In fact, the intestine possesses the largest mass of lymphoid tissue in the human body. Lymphoid tissues are organized structures that store immune cells which carry out attacks and defend against pathogens. Here it's important to mention IgA or immunoglobulin A. IgA is a type of antibody secreted by the immune cells in the gut. It forms a protective antiseptic layer covering the gut mucosa and controls the absorption of toxins and foreign substances. It comes as no surprise that the more beneficial bacteria live in our gut and respectively the healthier our gut is, the more stimulated the production of IgA is.
➳ Consume probiotic foods to ensure enough beneficial gut bacteria: sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, non-dairy yogurt, miso and sourdough bread.
➳ Eat plenty of prebiotic foods. They contain indigestible fiber that promotes the growth of beneficial intestinal microorganisms. Best sources among many other plant foods are: artichokes, asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, berries, bananas, beans, lentils and flax seeds.
➳ Avoid drinking chlorinated water. Always filter your tap water.
➳ Avoid consuming medicated animal products (animals that have been fed antibiotics).
➳ Avoid stress, eating processed foods, smoking and drinking alcohol.
➳ Limit your coffee intake to two cups per day.
➳ Avoid taking antibiotics if not absolutely necessary. Always consult your physician first. Discuss with your MD the possibility of adding a probiotic supplement to your antibiotic therapy.
4. Stay active
Movement is so important. Not only does it help with stress management, but also improves the flow of the lymphatic system and thus the function of the immune system. Our bodies rely on the lymphatic system to remove waste, like bacteria, viruses, toxins and abnormal cells that can lead to cancer. Every muscle contraction does count towards a better immunity.
➳ Try moving your body at least 30 minutes per day. Be gentle. Overexercising can cause physical stress on your body and impair the function of the immune system.
➳ To further improve the lymphatic flow, try dry brushing in the morning before taking a shower. Search online articles and videos on how to properly do it. It is an extremely energizing way to start off your day among other things.
5. Avoid immune system stressors
An immune system stressor is anything that can weaken the immune system. Some good examples include: refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine, smoking or food allergens.
➳ Whenever possible substitute processed sugar for fruit.
➳ Consume alcohol only on occasion.
➳ Limit your intake of caffeinated drinks to maximum 2 cups per day. Incorporate more herbal teas.
➳ Avoid foods you are allergic or sensitive to. There's plenty of alternatives to the most common food allergens.
➳ Seek help to quit smoking.
6. Get some sun
Vitamin D plays an important role in immunity. It is essentially a hormone our body makes in a chemical reaction that occurs when sunlight hits the skin. Along with the skin, other organs involved in the production of the active form of vitamin D in the body are the kidneys and liver.
➳ To make enough vitamin D, spend daily around 10 minutes in the sun with your forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen.
➳ In the cold months (September to March) consider taking a vitamin D supplement or consume foods fortified with vitamin D.
7. Take a walk barefoot
Walking barefoot in the grass, sand, dirt or on concrete is a way of engaging in earthing or grounding. This is a practice of reconnecting to the Earth's healing energy and allowing it to flow through our bodies. Some of the health benefits of practicing earthing include: improved immunity, inflammation, sleep and stress.
➳ Next time you go out to soak up some vitamin D, take off your shoes and reconnect with the Earth.
Stay safe and healthy.
Sending you much love,