Twelve Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System and Minimize Germ Exposure
You have a lot more power of your health and well-being than you might realize. Of course, please consult your physician if you have specific questions regarding your individual health concerns. But for those who are interested in taking a proactive approach to their well-being, I have compiled 12 tips to optimize immune function in the face of germs and pathogens.
1) Ditch sugar and processed foods: Sugar actually decreases our immune system…yes really! Lab evidence has shown lowered immune function within 30 minutes of eating simple sugars (like glucose, refined sugar, and fructose), causing a reduction in your white blood cells abilities to kill germs. This effect is most noticeable 2 hours after ingestion, but is still present 5 hours later! It also starves your beneficial gut bacteria and over-feeds the bad.
Processed foods have a similar impact on your gut with gut-health weakening chemicals, allergens and are usually devoid of any immune boosting nutrients.
2) Eat the rainbow: Bright colored fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants which help decrease free radicals which keeps our immune systems strong. Some specific fruits and veggies to include:
-Anything from the allium family: garlic, onions, scallions, chives, leeks, shallot powerful anti-viral, antibacterial and antifungal properties…and they taste great too! They feed your gut the fiber and prebiotics that feed the good gut bacteria which strengthens your microbiome.
-Fiber from plants feed the good bacteria in your gut, strengthening your microbiome, which is good for your immune system! Apart from garlic and onions, Enjoy other fiber rich plants such as Jerusalem artichokes and tomatoes, radishes, leeks, asparagus, and the stalks of broccoli and cauliflower.
-Leafy greens like spinach, kale, bok choy, collards, chard, etc. are packed with phytonutrients and fiber that feed your good gut bacteria, which keeps your immune system strong. A few ways to sneak more greens into your day are adding a pile of spinach or kale to your breakfast eggs, or stews and soups. Greens go great in smoothies too. Have a huge salad.
-Coconut oil. Just a teaspoon a day will add extra flavor and healthy fats, while supporting immunity with its powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
-Fermented Foods: Fermented foods are another source of probiotics that are good for boosting your gut health and immune system. Things like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, low-sugar kombucha, as well as organic yogurt and kefir (if your gut tolerates dairy) are good foods to add to your diet if you can “stomach” them. Otherwise unfiltered apple cider vinegar is another good ferment that has show to have some antiviral properties as well.
3) Drink your way to good health: No, not alcohol, which has actually been shown to compromise immune function. Same goes for sugary drinks like soda and most juices. Instead reach for some hot teas with immune boosting herbs like echinaccea or elderberry.
Drinking bone broth is another great beverage option as broths made from healthy, grass-fed animals are good sources of amino acids like arginine, glutamine, and glycine which can help bolster immune function.
Water, coconut water (which is also high in naturally occurring sugars, so should be consumed in moderation), and herbal teas are good options to help you stay hydrated and help flush toxins.
4) Supplement wisely: Consult with your trusted medical professional about taking supplements to enhance your immune system. But my research indicates (and the great majority of my physician friends and mentors would agree) that most folks could benefit from taking additional vitamin C (liposomal if possible), a multi-strain probiotic, and/or quality fish oil supplement, especially during sick season. Make sure to inquire about quality brands, as not all supplements are created equal.
Zinc lozenges, no-sugar-added elderberry syrup, and medicinal mushrooms like cordyceps/chaga/and maitaki can be beneficial for boosting one’s immune system as well. Again, check with your doctor about this and see if any of these could be right for you before adding any to your wellness enhancing routine.
If you’re into essential oils, Thieves or OnGuard (doTERRA’s immune protecting blend) can be nice to have on hand. They can be made into immune boosting roll-ons, and diffused to purify the air in your home or office. You can also use them as a cleaning agents for countertops and for washing hands via sanitizer mist. They contain a combination of essential oils with powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties. If you don’t have access to either Theives or OnGuard, both lavender and melaleuca (also commonly called “tea tree) are powerful antibacterial and antiviral essential oils, and can be used instead.
A few lifestyle habits to try:
5) Don’t skimp on the self care: Make stress relief a priority. Mitigating stress will both help you stay calm no matter what external circumstances are going on around you, but keeping excess stress at bay can also keep your immune system functioning optimally. Emotional stress can negatively impact our bodies by lowering our immune defenses and makes us more vulnerable to illness. Long-term stress has been shown to lower our white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs, and actually creates more inflammation. So whatever helps you calm your mind, whether it be gentle to moderate exercise, journaling, talking with a friend, meditation, or focusing on deepening your breath, include more of that into your day. And speaking of exercise…
6) Get fresh air and moderate daily exercise: Moderate exercise boosts your immune system. But, be aware of intense exercise it can actually temporarily decrease immune function. Extra points if you can take your sweat sessions outside! Nature is a powerful healer and can both strengthen your immune system AND help balance your wake and sleep cycles.
7) Get adequate sleep: Getting enough sleep actually boosts your immunity and activates your parasympathetic (or rest and relax mode) nervous system. So, don’t skip out on your sleep. Broken or inadequate sleep can increase inflammation in your body which can make you more susceptible to pathogens. Aim for seven to eight hours per night, and behold the power of a 20-minute power nap if you got subpar sleep the night before.
8) Enjoy some sunshine (in moderation): A few minutes of sunshine per day (preferably not at peak hours between 11am and 3pm-ish) can help regulate your sleep/wake cycle but also helps to stimulate your body’s vitamin D production, both of which are super important for your immunity. Especially in winter our Vitamin D levels can get chronically low, so check with your doctor about getting tested for D deficiency and/or to see if supplementation might be right for you.
9) Wash your hands –a lot: Warm to hot soapy water for 20-30 seconds should do the trick. But don’t forget to get the fronts and backs of your hands, in between your fingers, fingertips, and thumbs. Bacteria and viral matter can get stuck in our fingernails and like to hide in the creases of our skin. So be thorough.
11) Moisturize your skin: Keep your hands, and all of your skin, moisturized. Frequent hand washing can also promote cracks in the skin where germs can enter. Slather up your hands, face, and body with coconut oil, olive oil, or a skin cream that you trust (the less chemical-laden, the better…) a couple times per day.
12) But most importantly, try to remain calm and clear headed: There’s a lot of information out there. Remember to be discerning about what is actually true and/or useful to you and your loved ones.
And if you do feel sick, seek treatment from your trusted medical practitioners immediately. Continue to bolster your immune system with the aforementioned ideas. Remember that we are all in this together and the more collaborative we can be in our wellness efforts, the better the outcome will be.
Please share this post and /or Episode 11 of the Vitality Sessions Podcast that with anyone who is concerned about keeping their immune systems strong. Thank you.