Improve Your Body’s Defense SystemPrint
In a perfect world, we could pop a magic pill to boost our immune system and live to 100. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. But it’s not impossible. A positive lifestyle—including what we eat—and minimizing stress levels are our best defenses against sickness and disease.
Changes in climate, global spreading of germs and the simple fact of getting older (ugg), all affect our body’s ability to protect itself. For many people, allergies and colds seem to last beyond the typical few days.
That’s why it was important for me to start paying closer attention to my immune system; I realized that I could do a few things to strengthen it. And that’s exactly what I did. The trick was knowing that my body functions as a filter system. The healthier the stuff I put into it, the easier it worked to filter out the leftover toxins. The more junk and stress I added to the system, the more clogged it became and slowed me down.
Here are four simple ways to unclog your system and strengthen your immunity:
1. Eat Right
You’ve heard it all before. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and healthy fats (like olive oil, fatty fish and nuts) are the fare that keeps you fit. But did you know that a variety of healthy foods also ward off disease, allergies and the common cold by helping your body filter toxins more efficiently? The old solution to fighting off a cold was to load up on thousands of milligrams of vitamin C. But because the immune system is so complex and includes many other parts (digestive system, lungs, kidneys, etc.), ingesting only one specific vitamin or mineral may not be the answer. Eating a variety is.
Some specific foods, all on their own, are crazy good for the immune system because of the amount of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients within them. In no specific order…
• Shiitake mushrooms (amazing immune-system benefits)
• Green leafy vegetables (kale, chard, endive, spinach)
• Yogurt (probiotics may be stronger—see below)
• Red bell peppers
• Traditional green tea (rich in antioxidants)
• Citrus fruits (vitamin C)
• Oysters, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds (all have zinc)
• Vegetable oils
• Almonds and walnuts
• Wild-caught salmon (great source of omega-3s)
• Fiber foods (whole grains, fruits and veggies)
2. Take a Good Multivitamin and Probiotic
If you’re not getting all your nutritional needs met via your diet alone, a good multivitamin is crucial for preventing nutritional deficiencies. According to Harvard University Medical School, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B2 (riboflavin), B6, C, D and E have all been found to impact your immune system positively.
Likewise, probiotics may also protect against infection and disease. Various strains of probiotics are being investigated for their role in inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, prevention of diarrhea, sensitivities to allergens and strengthening the immune system, but since the health benefits of probiotics are strain-specific, make sure that you get the right kind. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus are two examples of powerful good bacteria that have been found to strengthen the immune system.
3. Go to Bed
There’s no doubt about it: Sleep is extremely important for a healthy immune system. If you’re addicted to late-night fun, or if you simply stay up late into the night to wind down, you could be seriously compromising your body’s ability to fight off infection and repair the day’s damage.
Because the body relaxes, renews and repairs while sleeping, experts recommend seven to eight hours of sleep per night, so that the body can do its job and rebuild strength and immune cells. As the deputy editor of Harvard Magazine puts it, “Sleep is not merely ‘down time’ between episodes of being alive.” Believe it or not, your body is hard at work doing all the jobs that it can’t do while you’re awake. So keep this in mind: Better sleep (or rather, healthier, deeper sleep every night) equals a better you.
4. Watch Your Stress
When I think of my own health, I tend to be most susceptible to colds and infection when I am under stress. Not just a day’s worth of stress and/or anxiety, but the kind of stress that seems to linger for a week, a month or more. Stress seems to have the most direct, measurable impact on health and wellness, despite years of Western docs denying the mind-body connection. And yet, with the increased popularity of integrative, holistic medicine, scientists and medical doctors are taking the causes and effects of stress on health and immunity more seriously.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “The final component for fine-tuning your immune system is reducing the stress in your life by achieving a higher level of spiritual harmony. Altered mood states such as depression, anxiety and panic are harmful to the body in many ways.”
Much like spiritual harmony, using relaxation techniques daily to help combat stress can help, too. Yoga, meditation, guided imagery, sex, love and music can do wonders to soothe the mind and thus allow the body to get back to its immune-building job.
The lesson learned here is: Listen to your body. If you’re not sleeping well, you’re probably not feeling well. If you’re under stress, you’re probably chipping away at your body’s ability to take care of itself. And if you’re taking in only the smallest amounts of good, life-strengthening nutrients, it may be time to reassess your diet and lifestyle. Your immune system protects you. In turn, you need to protect it.