Over the past month we have done an immune support challenge on Instagram. Here we’re sharing the top tips/daily challenges that were offered as part of this empowering series to promote immune health and resilience.
Here are Naturopathic Physician, Dr. Bridget Casey’s top tips for supporting your immune system, both during times of viral exposure and otherwise.
Top Lifestyle Recommendations for Immune Health
- Move your body! Exercise and movement are extremely important for general health and also moving lymph and blood – the highways for your immune cells. There’s even been some research on exercise being preventative for COVID-19 complications! When it comes to exercise and movement, listen to your body in terms of what feels best.
- Go for a walk – per above, walking gets your blood moving to bring immune cells where they need to be, and keeps lymph moving as well. Lymph fluid is basically the garbage trucks removing cellular waste (including used-up immune cells) from your tissues. Walking is a great form of exercise because it allows your body to stay in calm, parasympathetic mode – which is “the mode in which healing happens.”
- Try some yoga – Yoga, similar to walking, is also a fantastic and calming way to move your body. Yoga has also been studied to have immune balancing effects. Check out various free online classes or just search YouTube for ideas!
- Get outside! – Getting sun exposure on your skin is how the body naturally produces Vitamin D, which is one of the most important biomolecules for immune health. Never mind that getting outside just plain feels good!
- Note: it’s common to be somewhat deficient in Vitamin D by the end of the Winter season, so some folks may also find that they need to supplement. Speak with your doctor about that!
- Prioritize Sleep – Aim to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep or whatever YOUR body needs. Remember – melatonin is one of your master antioxidants and triggers proper immune function and healing to occur overnight. Avoiding screen time and light exposure for at least 1 hour before bed helps with proper melatonin (sleep hormone) production.
- Try Hydrotherapy – Water can be used for healing! Try ending hot showers with a cold spray on the front & back of your body for an easy at-home hydrotherapy treatment that helps stimulate immune function.
- Skip the news – Avoid excessive watching of anxiety-provoking news images/stories/videos. Stress and anxiety dampen immune function. Therefore, taking breaks from the media can be really helpful for maintaining a calm nervous system and stronger immune system.
- Meditate – Per above, anything we can do to maintain a calm nervous system helps with immune health and healing. Meditating, even for just 5 minutes, is a great way to do this! “Apps” like Headspace, Calm and Buddhify all have free resources for guided meditations, or you can simply sit in silence for a few minutes.
- Breathe – Practicing conscious breathing helps to put us into that calm, parasympathetic state in which our immune systems do their best work. Try taking a nice deep inhale through the nose, and then a slow, forceful exhale through the mouth. Do this 10 times morning and night – easy!
Top Diet & Nutrition Tips for Immune Health
- Avoid Sugar – Sugar of all kinds, but especially refined white sugar, is a drain on the immune system. In fact, white blood cells (your immune/infecting-fighting cells) are impaired for up to 5 hours after consuming sugar. So, while it might be tempting to load up on treats during these challenging times, it is NOT recommended! Now is a great time to avoid, or at least significantly minimize, your intake of sugar and sweet treats. (Whole, fresh fruit would not be included in this category).
- Eat Zinc-rich foods – Zinc is one of the most important minerals for immune health and white blood cell (immune cell) function. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, animal protein, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and cashews. Supplementing with zinc can also be a good option – check with your naturopathic or functional medicine doctor.
- Eat Vitamin C-rich foods – Vitamin C is one of our most important antioxidants and supporters of immune cell function. As with most micro-nutrients, we must get Vitamin C from food, as our bodies do not produce it. Vitamin C is found primarily in produce such as berries, greens, citrus fruits, kiwis, broccoli and bell peppers. Supplementing with Vitamin C can also be a good option – speak with your naturopathic or functional medicine doctor.
- Consume probiotic-rich foods – Probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha and yogurt can be quite helpful in supporting our microbiomes. Remember, the microbiome is the garden of micro-organisms that live in/on us and it has a MAJOR impact on our immune health. [Note: if you are dealing with seasonal allergies, fermented foods should probably be avoided due to their high histamine content. You may want to ask your naturopathic doctor about specific probiotic supplementation].
- Eat more fiber and plant foods – Plant foods contain fiber, as well as many important vitamins and minerals. Fiber feeds healthy gut bacteria. This helps maintain a balanced microbiome and hence a happy immune system. Some ideas for getting in more fiber include:
- Add ground flax seeds to foods/dishes
- Add microgreens or sprouts to any meal/dish
- Add greens like spinach or kale to smoothies, sauces, soups, etc.
- Eat Carotenoids – Carotenoids such as as beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene are pigments found in foods such carrots, squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, leafy greens and tomatoes. Carotenoids act as antioxidants in the body, and are also converted into Vitamin A. Vitamin A has a major impact on immune function, white blood cell function and is even anti-viral in itself.
- Eat Quercetin-rich foods – Quercetin is a flavonoid found in various herbs and foods such as apples, onions, tea, berries and broccoli. Quercetin is immuno-modulating, which means it is balancing – both helping to both reduce inflammation and fight infections (especially viral infections!).
- Eat Mushrooms – Mushrooms have great immune-supportive and health-promoting qualities. In particular, the beta-glucan component of mushrooms helps to support the function of white blood cells and their ability to fight infection. A simple way to enjoy the benefits of mushrooms can be as easy as adding white button or shitake mushrooms to your cooking.
- Drink 1/2 of your body weight in ounces of water. Hydration is key for overall immune function, as well as keeping mucus secretions thin and lessening microbial attachment to mucus membranes.
- Drink tea! A few to consider include:
- Green tea, which is full of antioxidants and antiviral components.
- Licorice, which supports energy levels, adrenal health and has antiviral components. (*Caution with high blood pressure.)
- Lemonbalm, which is both antiviral and calming. (*Caution with hypothyroidism).
- Calming herbs such as chamomile, passionflower, skullcap or lavender (or any “nighty night tea”), which are all particularly useful if you’re feeling anxious.
- Consider Intermittent Fasting – Extending your overnight fasting window to 12 or more hours can have amazing effects on your immune health and ability to fight infections. In medicine, we’ve used clinical fasting for gut infections and various other issues for hundreds of years. Intermittent fasting is an easy, at-home method that you can play around with and see if it works for you. Here is a great overview of intermittent fasting. If you have any concerns about blood sugar or other medical issues, speak with your doctor first.
And there you have it – 20 great tips on how to naturally support your immune system, now and always!
**Remember, none of the above constitutes medical advice, nor is an approved treatment for any particular infection. If you are sick or feel you need treatment for SARS-CoV-2 infection or otherwise, please seek the advice and care of your physician.