Toxins, stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, financial strain, packed schedules, a possible mutating H1N1 virus (and other seasonal viruses), antibiotic resistant bacteria and more—all of these can wear you down. They can also compromise your immune system. Fortunately, your immune system is always on guard and the cells of your immune system are constantly circulating in your bloodstream or in your lymph nodes so they can move quickly to minimize invaders’ entrance into the body.
A strong immune system is not something to take for granted, though, and it needs to be as strong as it can be—especially when life’s demands and rogue viruses and bacteria are ever present. Start with your diet because a healthy diet can support immune health. To ensure a balanced immune system with healthy immune cells and molecules, include healthy proteins, antioxidants, probiotics, enzymes, essential fatty acids and certain vitamins and minerals.
Healthy proteins, for example, are required for adequate numbers of immune cells and for those cells to function properly by making antibodies and other immune system components. Vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins are all essential for healthy immune cells as are the minerals zinc, folic acid, iron, copper, selenium and manganese. Vitamin D, for example, is a powerful immune system supporter and inhibits negative autoimmune responses by modulating cell responses. When vitamin D is in short supply, cells can attack the body instead of fighting off unwanted invaders.
And processed foods? They’re problematic for your immune system, so avoid them—especially sugary foods. We simply don’t have immune capacity for much sugar. Ingesting even 100 grams of sugar (about 8 tablespoons, equivalent to one or two cans of soda—depending in the brand) reduces our white blood cells’ ability to kill germs by 40%, an effect that starts less than 30 minutes after ingestion and lasts up to five hours. Being overweight can put a strain on your immune system, too, so be sure to stay at a healthy weight.
Be sure you include regular exercise, stress management, positive thinking and proper sleep in your immune-supporting regimen. Exercise is essential to immune function because regular activity increases the circulation of nutrients as well as cellular immune components.
Additionally, muscle activity is necessary to circulate lymph fluid. Just one session of vigorous exercise can increase circulation, which, in turn, can boost white blood cell count—thereby boosting immunity. Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom says, “Whenever circulation is increased, you get far more white blood cells, so they check for foreign germs and are far more apt to be able to gobble them up.”
Regular walking—a 45-minute walk five times a week—may be helpful, too, according to Alice Domar, Ph.D., assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Walking increases natural killer (NK) cells that fight infections and may diminish “down time,” since exercise helps move lymph fluid and white blood cells through the body.
Manage your stress, too. Excess stress causes hormones to be released that can adversely affect the thymus gland, reducing immune activity. Also, think good thoughts. Why? Every thought sets off a chain of biochemical reactions in the body, so a good attitude can increase your levels of nitric oxide, which helps to balance neurotransmitters, improve immunity and increase circulation. Constant worry, however, causes the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine levels to rise, and this can weaken overall immunity.
A good night’s sleep is in order, too. Adequate sleep helps the immune system. While you sleep, the body gets a chance to restore itself. For instance, when you sleep, melatonin levels rise, and that can help support immunity.
So, if you’re seeking immunity from life’s pressures and whatever bugs are circulating this season, tune up your diet, get plenty of exercise and rest. It can help give your immune system a fighting chance.