Our body is naturally created to fight off infections and illnesses through our immune system. Our immune system is a complex network of proteins and cells that keep a record of every germ it has defeated. If a germ that has already been pushed out of your body comes back into the body again, the immune system recognizes it and pushes it out again.
While this system automatically works to safeguard your body, there are choices you can make to help support the immune system’s protection of your health.
Studies have shown that people who aren’t getting enough quality sleep are more likely to get sick when exposed to viruses. While sleep doesn’t necessarily feel like an active step in boosting your immune system, there are many important processes going on when you are sleeping.
When you are sleeping, your immune system releases certain cytokines. These small proteins are crucial in controlling the activity and growth of other immune system cells. When they are released during sleep, they give the immune system a signal to do its job — to keep you from illness and manage inflammation responses. If you get a good night’s sleep, you are giving your immune system one of the key support systems to staying healthy to be able to fight off illnesses.
Most whole foods are rich in antioxidants and nutrients. Your body needs essential vitamins and trace minerals from whole foods to maintain your immune system and give it the energy it needs to function at high levels.
Experts believe that your body absorbs these vitamins and nutrients more efficiently from the food you eat, rather than supplements (although those can help as well), so here are some basic guidelines to follow when choosing foods that can boost your immune system:
- Antioxidants and healthy fats help your body lower inflammation.
- Fermented foods containing probiotics give you a healthy gut microbiome that promotes natural antibodies in your body, inhibits the growth of harmful gut bacteria, and boosts immune cells like the IgA-producing cells, T lymphocytes, which are natural killer cells.
- Too much sugar affects the way your white blood cells attack bacteria and also creates inflammation throughout your body, so less is more when it comes to sugar.
- Alcohol use can suppress your immune system, both in single-episode use and long-term use.
One of the most important uses of whole foods to support your immune system is through getting essential vitamins in the food you eat. Loading up on these healthy foods can give your body the majority of the vitamins it needs:
- Grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, tomatoes, broccoli, or spinach for Vitamin C
- Salmon, tuna, bananas, green vegetables for Vitamin B
- Almonds, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, spinach for Vitamin E
- Yogurt, turmeric, green tea, and ginger for probiotics and micronutrients
Exercise & Hydration
Physical activity, along with maintaining a healthy weight, is a great way to support a healthy immune system. Exercise helps improve your immune function by promoting circulation, enabling immune cells to travel more efficiently and easily throughout your body. Studies have shown that doing 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise every day helps stimulate your body’s immune system.
Your body is constantly losing water, even when you’re not exercising or sweating. One fluid called lymph in your circulatory system carries infection-fighting immune cells throughout your body, and lymph is mainly made up of water. So, it is important to stay hydrated for the movement of lymph fluid to support your immune system.
More and more, science is engaged in the intricate connection between your physical body and your mental health. Stress affects your health and can impact your immune system. When you have long periods of time that create chronic stress, your body will initiate a stress response.
When that happens, the stress response releases hormones called corticosteroids which suppress the effectiveness of your immune system by lowering the number of lymphocytes, one of the main types of immune cells. There are many ways to decrease stress and lower your levels of corticosteroids — exercise, meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and mindfulness exercises.
At OWM Wellness, we work with you to optimize your health. We work to support your immune system to keep you from illness and help your body have the support it needs to restore energy stores and cellular function and repair damaged DNA.