5 Steps to Support the Immune System
Guest post by Dr. Stephanie Berg, ND
As everyone takes action to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it’s always good to remember all the easy ways we can take care of our immune systems.
In addition to physical distancing and thoroughly and frequently washing our hands, which are extremely important, below are some simple things we can all do to maintain our health.
5 Steps to Support the Immune System
1. Let Food Be Your Medicine!
Eat a whole-foods, nutrient-dense diet. Our immune system relies on nutrient-dense whole foods to function well. During a time when grocery stores are facing shortages, you want to make food choices that are as nutrient-dense as possible, as opposed to foods with empty calories.
• Try to reduce your sugar and alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that refined sugars can suppress your immune system for hours after ingesting. Whole fruit, especially with lots of rich colors, is great – we’re talking about processed foods – high fructose corn syrups, cookies, cakes, etc.
• Eat a rainbow of plant foods. Eat multiple servings of colorful fruits and vegetables which are high in vitamins C, A, and phytonutrients that support the immune system. Try to eat every color of the rainbow each day if you can…. leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower), peppers, sweet potatoes, squashes, tomatoes, cabbage, oranges, blueberries…
• Ensure adequate protein intake. While most Americans eat adequate amounts of protein, some may such as the elderly populations. Protein is critical for immune function and protein malnutrition is a big risk factor for death from infections. The recommendation is approximately 1 gram/kg or about half your body weight in grams of protein a day. If you eat meat, this is about two four-ounce servings of organic, clean animal protein. For plant-based proteins, opt for legumes, nuts/seeds and tofu and tempeh from non-GMO soy.
• Add garlic, onions, ginger, and lots of spices (oregano, turmeric, rosemary) to your meals! Garlic and onions have a broad spectrum antimicrobial properties.
• Eat fermented foods to support your gut microbiome and immunity (70% of the immune system is found in the gut)! Eat sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, miso, tempeh, unsweetened yogurt, kefir – all from the refrigerated section.
2. Stay well hydrated.
Drink plenty of fluids, especially warmer fluids. When it’s warm and toasty indoors this can cause the air to be dry and cause our mucus membranes (especially sinuses) to be dry. Staying hydrated helps your immune cells function, aids in mucus secretion and keeps the mucus membranes moist so that viruses can’t get through. General recommendations are to drink half your body weight in water; however, speak with your medical provider to determine the amount that is most appropriate for you depending on your current health circumstances. Some easy ways to increase hydration:
• Drink herbal teas – especially great if they include some ginger which is another great food with antiviral properties.
• Make soups and broths (with lots of fresh veggies if you can!).
• Keep a bottle of filtered water with you at all times.
• But avoid those concentrated fruit juices and sweetened beverages.
3. Get physical activity.
Staying home doesn’t mean you can’t get some physical activity! And keeping active stimulates endorphins (the body’s ‘happy chemicals’), so make time for working out indoors or bonus if you are able to exercise outdoors! Natural sunlight will also help regulate your circadian rhythm and promote a good night’s rest. Mild to moderate exercise (for approximately 30-45 minutes) helps boost the immune system. But try to avoid excessive training that makes you feel run down and can lower your immune defenses.
4. Get sufficient sleep!
Inadequate sleep actually impairs the immune system, and when we sleep we allow the body to heal and repair. Aim for seven to eight hours a night. Ideally, turn off your devices like cellphones and computer screens at least an hour before bed. Blue light from laptops and cellphones suppress melatonin and can, therefore, mess with your sleep. And try to find some great ways to help you relax before bed.
5. Relaxation Exercises.
There is still a lot we do not understand about the way the immune system and our mood interact, but it seems that stress plays a role in reducing the effectiveness of the immune system. In this potentially stress-inducing time, try some things to help reduce it! Listen to relaxing music, take a warm bath, read a good book, meditation and breathing exercises, home massage with your loved ones, painting… whatever puts you in your happy place. And if you’re a fan of meditation and breathing exercises, the hype is true – they are great ways to lower stress, and there are lots of apps and internet videos to help.
Lastly, try to remember to focus on the things you can control right now, such as all the things above for a start. And, most importantly, remember you are not alone – don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
For more information on Dr. Berg visit www.naturopathicways.com