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Natural Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System

Let’s face it. When you’re in the middle of a global pandemic that seems to have gotten a little out of hand, it’s nice to know there are some things you can still control, one of which is how you treat your own body. We know a lot of us are concerned with how to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy, so we wanted to share some proven fundamentals to keep your immune system in tip-top shape.

Rest

We know we’re probably not the first ones to tell you that getting a good night’s sleep is important, but you might not know how it helps your immune system specifically. Your body produces a type of protein called cytokines that help fight infection and inflammation. These proteins are not only released during sleep, they’re also produced during sleep, which makes clocking in your 7-8 hours essential to keeping your immune system in fighting shape. If 7-8 hours is a challenge for you on a nightly basis, try squeezing in a couple of naps -- one in the morning and one in the afternoon -- for no longer than 30 minutes each to offset the effects of missing a couple of hours at night and decrease stress.

Hydrate

Staying hydrated is just one of the many ways to keep our body functioning optimally since 60% of our body weight is made up of water and every system in your body needs it to function. Drinking an adequate amount of water helps flush toxins from your kidneys and keeps your body functioning properly. Other beverages made with water, including coffee, tea, and sodas, as well as fruits and vegetables also contribute to your daily fluid intake, but water is still the best option (assuming you have access to clean drinking water), especially as an alternative to sugary drinks and too much caffeine, which have negative impacts on the body.

Reduce Stress

Here’s an annoying truth we need to find a way to reconcile: being stressed out about a global pandemic makes it harder for your body to ward off viruses. Which is kind of a vicious cycle, right? When we’re stressed, our body produces a hormone called corticosteroid that suppresses our lymphocytes, which is what our immune system needs to effectively fight off antigens such as viruses, bacteria, and cancerous cells that make us sick.

Easier said than done, right? Here are some suggestions for ways to chill out:

    • Give yourself a break from the news and social media. Whether it’s a whole day or week or limiting yourself to just an hour a day, trust us, COVID-19 and its corresponding memes will still be here when you get back. Give yourself some time away from all the nitty-gritty that might be contributing to higher stress levels.
    • Spend quality time with someone you love, whether it’s at home with your quarantine buddy/pod, or on Zoom with your family or friends.
    • Get your “flow” on. What’s an activity that you can do for hours on end without noticing any time has gone by? Maybe it’s something creative like playing music, drawing, writing, knitting, or cooking. Maybe it’s a physical activity like yoga or dance. Or maybe it’s something that allows you to zone out and get out of your own head like reading, playing video games, or watching movies. Losing yourself in an activity is a great way to de-stress and enjoy this extra time many of us have right now.
    • Meditate. You knew this was coming, and that’s because meditation is legit! It has been proven to decrease anxiety, partially because it helps you quiet your mind from all that negative mental chatter. We are big fans of the Buddhify and Calm apps, as well as Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation Experiences.

Exercise Regularly

Don’t think “stay home” mandates mean you can’t exercise anymore! There are plenty of ways you can exercise at home, and doing so pays off in spades for your overall health and immunity. Physical activity helps flush bacteria from your lungs, which minimizes your chances of catching a cold, flu, or other viruses. Exercise also lowers your risk of chronic diseases that make you more susceptible to illness, and research proves that individuals who partake in regular physical activity are less likely than their sedentary counterparts to get sick. Exercise also releases endorphins, which minimizes stress.

There are surely more exercise videos on YouTube than a person could get through in a lifetime, as well as apps like the 7 Minute Workout ones we’ve been into lately. Hankering for that group class experience? Many yoga, dance, and other workout studios are working to provide their classes online. Check-in with some of your local favorites to see what they offer, which is a great way to support these businesses during this tough time. If nothing else, go for a walk around your neighborhood (as long as you’re able to stay 6 feet away from other people) or bump some tunes and dance your heart out to get your body moving.

Keep Symptoms of Other Chronic Conditions to a Minimum

If you have a chronic health condition like asthma, allergies, heart disease, or diabetes, make sure you stay on top of medications and good habits that keep those symptoms at bay. This will free up your immune system’s capacity to fight off infections. And don't forget to get your flu shot during flu season!

Keep Alcohol Intake to a Minimum

This means one drink a day for women and two for men.

“In the United States, one "standard" drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol”

The reason why, and sorry this is going to be a bummer, is that excessive alcohol consumption has a strong correlation with adverse effects on your immune system. Alcohol disrupts immune pathways that “can impair the body’s ability to defend against infection,” which predisposes “chronic drinkers to a wide range of health problems, including infections and systemic inflammation.” It also reduces the abundance of microbes in the gut microbiome, which allow your gut and your immune system to function properly. “In addition to pneumonia, alcohol consumption has been linked to pulmonary diseases, including tuberculosis, respiratory syncytial virus, and ARDS. Alcohol disrupts ciliary function in the upper airways, impairs the function of immune cells, and weakens the barrier function of the epithelia in the lower airways. Often, the alcohol-provoked lung damage goes undetected until a second insult, such as a respiratory infection, leads to more severe lung diseases than those seen in nondrinkers.” And to be honest, the list of ways chronic alcohol consumption or even occasional binge drinking negatively impacts your body and the immune system goes on and on (read here for more information). 

Eat Nourishing Foods

Consuming higher intakes of certain nutrients, including antioxidants, vitamins B6, folate, B12, C, E, A, D, and of selenium, zinc, copper, and iron, keep our immune system functioning optimally, and luckily those nutrients are easy to access in foods. 

  • Goji Berries - Excellent source of antioxidants, fiber, protein, and micronutrients like riboflavin, thiamine, nicotinic acid, and minerals such as copper, manganese, magnesium, and selenium.
  • Broccoli - High in fiber, protein, potassium, B6, vitamin C, vitamin A, as well as antioxidants and phytochemicals that are great for the immune system.
  • Green Tea - The catechins in green tea have antioxidant, anticancer, antifungal, and antivirus capabilities that also help stimulate the production of the cytokines your body produces while you sleep!
  • Turmeric - Anti-inflammatory and potent immunomodulatory agent that helps activate the cells that your body uses to fight infections.
  • Citrus Fruits - High in vitamin C, which is thought to increase your body’s white blood cells.
  • Red Bell Peppers - They contain twice as much vitamin C as citrus fruits!
  • Garlic - Heavy sulfur-containing compounds like allicin help garlic stimulate certain cell types that the immune system needs to thrive.
  • Berries - Promote healthy gut bacteria, anti-inflammatory, and have a high amount of antioxidants that stimulate the immune system.
  • Spinach - Rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, and beta carotene.
  • Ginger - Anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties.
  • Mushrooms - These powerhouses have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular-protective, anti-diabetic, hepatoprotective, and anticancer properties! They're also one of the few plant sources of vitamin D, which also has powerful immune-strengthening effects that may help your body against this coronavirus.
  • Sweet Potatoes - Great source of fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin B6.
  • Beans - Beans are a great source of protein, which helps build the cells your body needs to defend itself, as well as other nutrients like folate, potassium, B vitamins, magnesium, and fiber.
  • Hazelnuts - Hazelnuts are high in vitamin E, which helps shield the body from cell damage.
  • Fermented Foods - Probiotics in fermented foods like pickles and sauerkraut help restore balance in the gut and regulate the immune system in healthy people. However, people who have immune deficiency should consult with a doctor before taking probiotics.
  • Sunflower Seeds - High in vitamin E, phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamin B6.
  • Kiwi - Jam-packed with vitamin C, folate, potassium, vitamin K, carotenoids, and dietary fiber.
  • Papaya - Super high in vitamin C, vitamin A, and antioxidants like lycopene.
  • Avocado - Excellent source of C, E, K, B6, and riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, folate, potassium, beta carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Pumpkin Seeds - High in zinc, which plays an important role in immune cell development, as well as vitamin E and other antioxidants.

Do your immune system some good by whipping yourself up a meal or beverage with some of your favorite ingredients! 

Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin D

Spending time outdoors is also a great way to reduce stress and get some vitamin D, which is important for maintaining optimal health. However, if you're not able to safely social distance while outside in your neighborhood, consider taking supplements (or eating vitamin D rich foods like mushrooms, egg yolks, canned tuna, or salmon if you're animal-product friendly), cracking a window open and soaking up the sun for 10-30 minutes at least a few times a week. And don't forget the sunscreen!

Stay healthy, friends!

-Alex & Lindsay

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