When your immune system is healthy and working well you might not give it a second thought. But, if you’re suffering from an infection, an autoimmune condition, cancer, or allergies, supporting your immune system becomes a top priority. Fortunately, there are many lifestyle interventions and dietary supplements you can consider to support immune system function and reduce your risk of disease.
How does your immune system get compromised?
Several factors can up the chances of getting sick or feeling run down.
- Antibiotic intake — this kills your natural beneficial flora that protect against pathogens
- Chronic stress
- Alcohol consumption
- Excessive intense exercise
- Imbalanced gut bacteria (think IBS, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac, Diverticulitis, Reflux, and Heartburn)
- Lack of sleep
- Nutrient deficiencies (A, B, C, D, E ,copper, Iron, selenium and zinc)
- Physical inactivity
What conditions predispose you to a weakened immune system?
- Allergic asthma
- Autoimmune conditions (e.g., type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Certain cancers
- Food allergies
- Type 2 diabetes
- Immunocompromised states (transplant recipients, chronic steroid use, HIV)
Lifestyle tips to maintain a healthy immune system
Chronic stress has been shown to suppress immune function by decreasing immune cell count and increasing inflammation.
Tip: Try to manage your stress better. Incorporate mindfulness techniques (Tai-Chi, Qi Gong, Meditation, Yoga and Deep breathing)
There is a Goldilock’s effect with exercise. Research shows that lifelong regular physical activity can be immunoprotective. However, strenuous exercise, such as competitive athletic training, may result in an impaired immune system. For example, athletes undergoing heavy training and competition may have an increased risk of upper respiratory infection symptoms.
Tip: If you feel tired after a work out, you’ve done too much and are creating body inflammation. So Stop.
Chronic sleep loss really does a number on your immune system. Not only does it increase inflammation, it predicts a poor uptake to the flu vaccine, and an increased risk of catching colds.
Tip: If you are over 18 aim for at least 7 to 8 hours a night.
Dietary supplements to support your immune system
Here are some recommendations for supporting your immune system
Multivitamins and minerals
Micronutrients like vitamins A, B, C, D, E and the minerals copper, iron, selenium, zinc are key for immune function.
Research suggests that supplementation with a multivitamin and mineral (MVM) may reduce the risk of cancer, increase the probability of healthy aging and reduce susceptibility to colds.
Several botanical herbs have beneficial effects on immune function.
Tip: Astragalus, Echinacea, Garlic and Elderberry are key ingredients to look for in any immune boosting botanical blend. Check out Immunotone and EHB by Integrative Therapeutics, my two personal favorites.
Certain mushrooms have amazing medicinal properties. The bioactive ingredients found in mushrooms has been shown to stimulate immune function.
Recommendation: Check out My Community from Host Defense Mushrooms
Colostrum supplements are produced from the first milk of a mammal after giving birth. It contains compounds known as immunoglobulins which may prevent upper respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, and certain types of inflammation. Research shows that supplementation with bovine colostrum may help support immune and gastrointestinal health.
Recommendation: I love SBI protect from Ortho Molecular
Probiotics may inhibit the growth of pathogens (microbes that cause infection) and can influence your immune responses. Probiotics may also reduce the risk of respiratory infections, such as the flu and the common cold.
Bottom Line: You don’t have to sit around waiting for the cold season to take you prisoner. Start incorporating these tips to a healthier, happier winter!!
5 Ways to Beat Cold and Flu
A good way to look at why you get sick in the winter months is not that there are “more” cold and flu viruses around. It has more to do with your immune system.
Is your immune system overly stressed? Not getting enough rest? Not getting the nutrients and vitamins it needs to fight off dangerous intruders? If you are a chronic cold, flu, sinus, bronchitis, blah blah sufferer, then listen to these next tips.
One: Eat Light
Avoid your standard meals. Your body needs to focus on healing and fighting off infection. Every time you eat food you are taking resources away from your immune system. Remember, when you eat, your immune system has to work to protect you from the bacteria, viruses and other harmful agents that are present IN your food.
TIP: Consider a 24 hour water fast when you are sick. Stay hydrated. Fasting can boost growth hormone which is incredibly healing and immune boosting.
Two: Hydrate the Right Way
Your body needs to be well hydrated to support detox pathways. These pathways help flush pathogens from the body and repair damaged tissue. Certain phytonutrients found in lemons, apple cider vinegar, herbal teas and bone broths can repair the immune system and help destroy bacteria and viruses along the way.
Tip: Add apple cider vinegar to a cup of water. Drink herbal teas. Sip on lemon water throughout the day. Ginger tea can boost glutathione, our master liver detoxifying anti-oxidant. Bone Broths are high in minerals and key amino acids needed to reduce inflammation.
Three: Essential Oils
Essential oils contain antiseptic properties to fight off bacteria, viruses, and unwelcome yeast. Who wants uninvited yeast roaming around our bodies? Not me.
Essential oils also lower inflammation, can reduce anxiety, support relaxation, and can call natural killer cells into action (these are the immune system’s version of ninja warriors–the badasses of the immune system.
Here are some examples of medicinal oils you can use to feel better faster:
Eucalyptus oil: Consider taking a steamy bath or hot shower with a few drops of added eucalyptus oil for natural decongestant relief to help you breathe better and sleep sounder. Here is an organic, non-GMO brand I like.
Frankincense oil: This oil reduces inflammation from stiff joints or sore muscles and may even target symptoms of a sore chest and throat. Here is a quality full strength option from NOW that I like.
Oregano oil: Has a lot of antibacterial properties. Oregano oil has been shown to block the growth of E.coli and pneumonia-causing bacteria in clinical research.
Thyme oil: When used in combination with oregano oil, thyme oil can fight bacteria and inflammation.
Four: Sun Exposure
You need vitamin D to heal. End of story. Just take my word on this. Lack of vitamin D can be linked to most immune system imbalances.
Ideally, you would get 10,000 to 20,000 IU of vitamin D3 from the skin with appropriate sun exposure. Here are some guidelines based on skin color:
- Light Skin = 15-20 minutes per day
- Medium Skin = 25-30 minutes per day
- Dark Skin = 40-45 minutes per day
Remember, this requires a decent amount of exposed skin and no sunblock. How do I do this in the winter Sadaty?
If you aren’t a fan of standing out in the cold naked for more than 15 to 20 minutes at time like I am, then boost your vitamin D levels with a supplement containing doses at 2 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day. For every 25 pounds of body weight take 1,000 IU vitamin D3 per day.
Five: Vitamin C
Oh yes. It’s the old Vitamin C trick. I won’t bore you with all the details. Just. Do it . Is that a Nike ad? Or could I be making millions on a moment of genius? Probably a Nike ad.
Tip: Eat foods rich in Vitamin C:
- spinach, leeks, chives, kale and sweet bell peppers
- lemons, limes
- green vegetables. Add these vegetables to your bone broths and soups you are running out and making for yourself
Avoid vitamin C supplements with added sugars, artificial colors and preservatives that inhibit your immune defenses. Take 2 grams of a vitamin C supplement every hour for the first 24 hours that you are awake until you feel better. Follow up with 1 gram of vitamin C a day. This is a highly bioavailable brand from Klaire Labs.
Six: Zinc (I lied when I said 5)
Tip: 20 to 50 mg zinc every 3 hours until you feel better for the first 24 hours.
This mineral supports the immune system but is often depleted. The Orthomolecular Zinc supplement at a 50mg dose. Things that rob you of zinc:
- A diet high in sugars and carbs inhibits zinc absorption
- The overuse of medications or NSAIDS also loses your zinc
Feel better and stay cold and flu free this winter!!