Boost Your Body’s Natural Defenses
If we’ve learned over these last couple of years it’s that we need to do our part to keep our bodies healthy. There are many articles about how to boost your immune health. Here are 9 tips to strengthen your immunity naturally.
9 Ways to Boost Your Body’s Natural Defenses
1. Get enough sleep
Sleep and immunity are closely linked. Inadequate or poor sleep makes you more susceptible to getting sick. In a study in 164 healthy adults, those who slept fewer than 6 hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept 6 hours or more each night. And we all know that sleep will help you overcome that same cold.
How do we get the recommended 7 or more hours of sleep per night? Try limiting screen time for an hour before bed – blue light from the TV, Phone, Ipad, etc. can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Keep your room dark or wear a sleep mask, try to go to bed at the same time every day and get regular exercise.
2. Eat more whole plant foods
Whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that may give you an upper hand against harmful pathogens. Antioxidants decrease inflammation, which is linked to things like heart disease and cancer. At the same time fiber in plant foods keeps the bacteria in your gut healthy, blocking access to those same harmful pathogens. Furthermore, fruits and vegetables that are rich in Vitamin C can help reduce the duration of diseases like colds.
3. Eat more healthy fats
Healthy fats, found in foods like olive oil and salmon, also help to decrease that inflammation.
Although low-level inflammation is a normal response to stress or injury, chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system. Healthy fats like olive oil and the omega-3’s found in salmon or chia seeds are highly anti-inflammatory and can help combat illnesses like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
4. Get your probiotics
Fermented foods (like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and natto) are rich in beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which live in your digestive tract. You can also take a probiotic supplement which can give you a stronger immune response to disease. Gut healthy and immunity are deeply interconnected. Probiotics may boost your immune system by helping it identify and target harmful pathogens.
5. Limit added sugars
There is plenty of research that links refined carbs/sugars to obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. That means that sugar plays a role in reducing your immune response. You will find these added sugars and carbs in most processed foods. The same research recommends that you limit your sugar intake to 5% of your daily calories – that’s about 2 tablespoons of sugar for someone on a 2000 calorie diet.
6. Engage in moderate exercise
Although prolonged intense exercise can suppress your immune system, moderate exercise can give it a boost. Regular, moderate exercise (like a brisk walk, bicycling, jogging, swimming, light hiking) can help reduce inflammation and help your immune cells regenerate regularly. It can even help boost the effectiveness of a vaccine if you have a compromised immune system.
7. Stay hydrated
Dehydration can make you more susceptible to illness. Being hydrated doesn’t protect you from germs and viruses, but it’s important to maintaining things like digestion and heart and kidney function. Water is your best option (sugar-free, calorie-free) and you want to drink enough to make your urine pale yellow. You will need even more if you exercise intensely, work outside or live in a hot or dry climate. And the older you get, the less thirsty you feel so you need to just pay attention and drink lots of water.
8. Stress less
Relieving stress is a no-brainer. Long term stress leads to inflammation and imbalances in immune cell function. Lowering your stress levels through meditation, yoga, exercise, therapy, and just about any mindful practice can help keep your immune system functioning properly.
9. Supplement wisely
Keep your supplements natural and healthy and do some research before you take them. The following supplements have been studied and are indicated to help boost your body’s general immune response:
- Vitamin C. According to a review in over 11,000 people, taking 1,000–2,000 mg of vitamin C per day reduced the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children. Yet, supplementing did not prevent the cold to begin with.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency may increase your chances of getting sick, so supplementing may counteract this effect. Nonetheless, taking vitamin D when you already have adequate levels doesn’t seem to provide extra benefits.
- Zinc. In a review in 575 people with the common cold, supplementing with more than 75 mg of zinc per day reduced the duration of the cold by 33%.
- Elderberry. One small review found that elderberry could reduce the symptoms of viral upper respiratory infections, but more research is needed.
- Echinacea. A study in over 700 people found that those who took echinacea recovered from colds slightly more quickly than those who received a placebo or no treatment, but the difference was insignificant.
- Garlic. A high quality, 12-week study in 146 people found that supplementing with garlic reduced the incidence of the common cold by about 30%. However, more research is needed.
The bottom line
You can make several lifestyle and dietary changes today to strengthen your immune system.
These include reducing your sugar intake, staying hydrated, working out regularly, getting adequate sleep, and managing your stress levels.