How to Boost Your Immune System
Do you get sick frequently? Do you suffer from allergies? Do you have a chronic illness? If so, your immune system could probably use a boost. However, the truth is, most of us these days could use a little immune boosting. Because of all the toxins we’re exposed to and our fast-paced lifestyles. This is why I am going to share my tips and tricks for strengthening your immune system. Not just to live without illness or disease. But to feel your best and thrive.
But first, what is your immune system?
In general, your immune system is designed to attack and neutralize threats to prevent illness and disease. These threats include bacteria and viruses. They also include toxins found in our food, air, water, beauty products, and cleaners. When your immune system is strong, it is quite powerful. Powerful enough to evoke fever and cause swelling and inflammation. Reactions that are necessary to destroy foreign invaders. And if everything is functioning properly, your body returns to normal once the threat is over.
However, if your immune system is compromised, your body may have a harder time fighting off germs and dealing with toxins. And conditions such as allergies and autoimmunity may arise. With allergies, your immune system reacts to substances that shouldn’t be seen as a threat. Such as pollen or a specific protein in food. When it comes to autoimmunity, your immune system begins to see your own cells and tissues as a threat. And attacks accordingly.
Immune System Killers
While my definition of the immune system is simple for the purposes of this article, there is nothing simple about it. It’s complex. And it’s closely connected to almost every other system in your body. Thus, if your immune system is out of whack, other systems may suffer and vice versa. You’ve probably heard that most of your immune system lives in your gut.
Well, it’s true! Your gut is your first line of defense against outside invaders. In fact, even the bacteria in your gut play a significant role in the health of your immune system. This means that anything that harms your gut as well as your gut flora, is also harming your immune system.
What foods should we avoid for gut health?
- Artificial food additives in processed foods
- Artificial sweeteners
- Antibiotics and other medications (i.e., ibuprofen)
- Lack of sleep
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Alcohol and drug overuse
- Genetically modified foods and ingredients
- Gluten-containing grains (i.e., wheat, spelt, rye, barley)
Now, many of the above can also affect the immune system independently of the gut. And stress is a big one! For example, when you’re under stress, the endocrine system is activated and hormones are released to prepare your body to flee or fight. And this “stress response” shuts down your immune system. This is a good thing in a moment of danger and is only designed to be temporary.
But, the problem is way too many of us are dealing with non-stop stress. And that’s not a good thing for your immune system. In addition, stress comes in many forms. Most often we think of emotional stress, but there’s also physical stress. Injuries, chronic inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, and a lack of sleep are all forms of stress that can negatively impact your immune system.
How to Strengthen Your Immune System
Eat a Nutrient-Rich Diet
To function at high speed, your immune system requires an abundance of nutrients. And a steady stream of them. This is why a nutrient-rich whole foods diet is so important when it comes to your immune health. This means eating healthy, pasture-raised animal proteins, wild fish, nuts, seeds, and an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables. I can’t emphasize enough that the case for eating more fruits and vegetables is solid.
A recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology concluded that approximately 7.8 million premature deaths every year may have been prevented if 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables were consumed daily. A review examining the relationship between cancer and fruit and vegetable intake found a statistically significant protective effect in 82% of the 200 studies examined. And this isn’t the only review of it’s kind.
Cruciferous vegetables (i.e., broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower)
Specifically, when it comes to the immune system. They have been shown to activate immune defense cells within the lining of the gut. And as I mentioned before, your gut is your first line of defense against outsiders. High consumption of cruciferous veggies (5 or more servings a week) has also been shown to reduce the risk of cancer in numerous studies.
One nutrient that contributes to this protective effect is sulforaphane. And interestingly, a single broccoli sprout contains the same amount of sulforaphane than an entire adult broccoli plant. Thus, I highly recommend incorporating broccoli sprouts into your diet.
Mushrooms are also high on my list when it comes to immunity. Essentially, they have been shown to stimulate the production of small proteins known as cytokines. And these cytokines play a huge role in immune system activation and regulation. And don’t forget about herbs and spices! Essentially, they are tiny packages bursting with immune-boosting nutrients. While I suggest incorporating as many as you can in your diet daily, my top three include garlic, ginger, and echinacea
Most of the immune benefits of garlic come from the sulfurous compounds which give it its pungent odor and flavor. These compounds have been shown to stimulate the immune system as well as attack and neutralize free radicals. Other effects include increasing white blood cell counts when needed and releasing nitric oxide, which is protective against viruses as well as rapidly spreading diseases. And if that’s not enough, there is evidence suggesting that garlic can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Ginger has been used traditionally by many cultures for centuries to boost the immune system. It works in several ways, including reducing inflammation. And we now know that inflammation is at the root of almost every modern disease we face today, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Ginger is also great for reducing the harmful effects of the many chemicals our bodies are burdened with these days. You can add ginger and garlic to many recipes even if they don’t call for it, such as soups, dressings, sauces, and stir-frys. I also love to throw a knob of fresh ginger in my shakes.
The active compounds in echinacea have been shown to play a significant role in immune system regulation. It effects help the body fight against viruses and bacterial infections as well as cancer. Thus, a daily cup of echinacea tea is great for boosting your immune health. Two additional foods that you must put on your immune building list are bone broth and fermented veggies.
Bone broth is packed with proteins (glycine and proline) that are well-known for nourishing the lining of your gut. And fermented veggies are an excellent source of nutrients as well as good bacteria. Both strengthen the health of your gut, which in turn will boost your immune system.
Detoxification is also essential when it comes to boosting your immune system. In addition to putting in all the good stuff, you need to stop putting in all the bad stuff. Because it’s overworking your immune system. I’m talking about processed junk food as well as all the chemicals in your food, water, beauty products, and cleaners. Invest in a water filter if you don’t already have one.
Buy organic foods whenever possible. Cut back on your alcohol consumption. And use natural skincare and cleaning products. The truth is there are many options on the market today that are both affordable and effective.
Stress Less, Sleep More
Finally, let’s not forget about reducing your stress and getting more sleep. I can’t emphasize enough how important these two steps are. Learn to say “no” more often to avoid being overcommitted. Spend less time on social media and more time outdoors soaking up the sun and fresh air.
The goal is to give yourself some “me” time each day to unwind and recharge. When it comes to sleep, creating a bedtime routine and sticking to it is your best bet. Unplug from the world during this time. Soak in a warm bath. Read a novel. Journal your thoughts. Or cuddle with a loved one.
Don’t Shun the Sun
The sun gets a bad rap when it comes to skin cancer, but your body needs the sun to produce a very important immune-boosting nutrient–vitamin D. I’m not advocating for unlimited sunbathing, but I do recommend getting 10 - 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure as many days as possible
Move Your Body
Extended periods of intense exercise has been shown to reduce immunity. However, on the other hand, frequent stints of moderate-intensity exercise boost it in several ways. Studies have reported that exercise can improve your body’s ability to detect foreign invaders or other abnormalities, such as cancer cells.
Exercise has also been shown to reduce inflammation as well as stress. Too biggies when it comes to immune health! BUT, it’s important to recognize that exercise in the absence of a nutrient-rich diet can do more harm than good. So it’s important to always combine the two.
In summary, your immune system is complex but powerful.It works hard protecting you from infections and disease. But it needs your help to function optimally. So give your immune system the support it needs to do its job by:
- eating well (including lots of fresh fruits and veggies)
- reducing your exposure to toxins
- stressing less
- sleeping more
- catching some rays; and
- moving your body
Strengthening your immune system will positively impact your daily life. A strong immune system is necessary to look and feel your best. But it’s also vital to prevent chronic disease, such as allergies, autoimmunity, and cancer.
Keep Thinking Big and Living Bold!