Boost Your Immune System
By: Mary Von Ahnen, Owner of Horizon Hot Yoga in Frisco & Certified Yoga Instructor
Most of us are extra concerned these days about building and maintaining a healthy immune system. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, and after seeing the Netflix documentary “Heal”, I decided to go on a quest to heal myself using alternative therapies that would allow me to get off medication.
This article is the collection of research I have done on how to naturally boost the immune system. Although any autoimmune condition is considered to be the result of an overactive immune system, the cause of these conditions is a high level of inflammation in the body. All of my research indicates that what fires a state of healthy immune responses also decreases body inflammation. So, for those of you like me who struggle with sometimes debilitating autoimmune conditions, read on! For those of you just wanting to get or stay healthy, this article is for you too. Not all of these therapies work for everyone.
The guidance I have gleaned is that you should experiment and watch how your body responds to various interventions. Keeping a log or journal is a practical way to spot trends in the effectiveness of these therapies. (I think this might be better in a recap section at the end)
I found articles in Harvard Medical Review and healthwise.org most helpful, and I also interviewed friends and colleagues who just seem to never get sick. (Just like people who seem to maintain a healthy weight effortlessly, but who actually put quite a bit of work into this, these people who never get ill put work into staying healthy! It’s no accident or stroke of luck in the genetics department.)
Here is what I learned.
Proper nutrition is absolutely key. The following several items deal with food to eat and supplements to take to get the nutrients you need to have a highly functioning immune system.
Optimize your vitamin D levels.
Most people don’t get enough direct sun exposure each day for their bodies to manufacture sufficient amounts of vitamin D, and vitamin D is essential for healthy immune function. Remember that if you are counting on your sun exposure to give your body all the Vitamin D it needs, you will need to strike a balance between protecting your skin from aging and cancer, and getting Vitamin D. Sunblock lotion will cut out the Vitamin D benefits. Eating foods like salmon and getting dark leafy greens like spinach are also good sources, as is a reputable supplement.
Add medicinal mushrooms to your diet.
Shiitake, Cordyceps, Reishi and Maitake species have been extensively researched and are renowned for possessing powerful immune-supporting compounds.
Limit or eliminate your sugar consumption.
Sugar decreases your immune system’s ability to function almost immediately by inhibiting the activity of important immune cells. The results of one study showed that the amount of sugar found in two sweetened beverages lowers immune response by 50% for up to five hours!
Get your C in.
Vitamin C really does help. It has been the “cure for the common cold” for generations, and that’s because it builds up your immune system. It increases the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections. Almost all citrus fruits are high in C.
Eat more broccoli.
It is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as fiber and many other antioxidants, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your plate.
It is great for amping up the immune system. Even early civilizations recognized its value in fighting infections. Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.
Add ginger for taste and your immune system.
Ginger helps fight inflammation, and lower inflammation leaves your immune system free to fight viruses and bacteria as they arise. There is also evidence to support that ginger decreases chronic pain. Any chronic condition in the body weakens the immune system, as resources are drawn away from fighting potential new issues to keep existing chronic issues in check. Chronic pain also leads to exhaustion and depression, both of which weaken the immune system.
Load up on spinach.
It’s rich in vitamin C and also has numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which both increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems.
Yogurts pack an immune-boosting punch.
Look for yogurts that have the phrase “live and active cultures” printed on the label, like Greek yogurt. These cultures stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases. Also, many yogurts are fortified with Vitamin D, already discussed as helpful to a healthy immune system. You might want to add something but watch for added sugars. Yogurt is one that can be VERY deceptive on the amount of sugar that is included. Which made me think on your Sugar comment – there is beware of sugar with other names….example agave nectar, etc.
Vitamin E is a well-kept secret among immune boosters.
It is often overshadowed by C, but this powerful antioxidant is key to a healthy immune system. Nuts, such as almonds, are packed with the vitamin and also have healthy fats. Avocados and dark leafy greens are also a good choice, as well as sunflower seeds, which have the added benefit of being incredibly high in selenium. Studies have shown selenium to be effective in helping the immune system fight viral infections.
Turmeric is key in curries, and in fighting inflammation.
It has been used for years as an anti-inflammatory in treating autoimmune conditions. Turmeric has high concentrations of curcumin, which is an immune booster and an antiviral. Author’s note: I have taken turmeric for years in capsule form and have found it to be very helpful in relieving the inflammation caused by my rheumatoid arthritis.
Both green and black teas are a great choice for an immune-enhancing beverage.
They are packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Green tea especially excels because of its levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), another powerful antioxidant. EGCG has been shown to enhance immune function. Green tea is also a good source of the amino L-theanine, which aids in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T cells.
Enjoy a papaya and boost your immune system.
They are loaded with C and also have a digestive enzyme called papain that has anti-inflammatory effects.
Chicken fights infection.
When you’re sick and you reach for chicken soup, it’s more than just the placebo effect that makes you feel better. The soup helps lower inflammation. Poultry is high in B-6, an important player in many of the chemical reactions that happen in the body. It’s also vital to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells, a very necessary part of a healthy immune response. Even the broth made by boiling chicken bones contains gelatin, chondroitin, and other nutrients helpful for gut healing and immunity.
Shellfish is also a good choice.
Some types of shellfish are packed with zinc, which helps our immune cells function as needed. Pick oysters, crab, lobster, or mussels for the highest zinc content.
Variety is the key to proper nutrition. Eating just one of these foods or vitamins won’t be enough to really fire up the immune system. Select several of the above choices and rotate to get maximum effect.
Eating right is a great start, and there are other things you can do to boost your immune system.
Get regular, moderate exercise.
Exercise increases circulation, which promotes the elimination of toxins and helps to move immune cells throughout your bloodstream more quickly. It can also help reduce stress, which is important in optimizing your immune system’s ability to fight off infection. People without a regular exercise program are 8 times more likely to get sick than those who have an exercise regimen.
Aim to get at least 6-8 hours of rejuvenating sleep each night.
During the day, the stress hormone cortisol circulates at high levels in the body, suppressing your immune function. At night, cortisol levels drop, triggering cellular repair processes that are critical to optimal immune function.
Take a cold shower.
This therapy is an ancient Ayurvedic remedy that has numerous health benefits such as treating anxiety and depression and improving circulation (cited above as critical in the effectiveness of the immune system). A cold shower stimulates the lymph system. The primary lymphoid organs generate white blood cells called lymphocytes. The secondary lymphoid organs maintain these cells and use them in the adaptive immune response to fight off infections, diseases, and tumors. Because a cold shower amps up the lymphatic system, it increases the amount of white blood cells in your body to protect against diseases. Researchers believe a cold shower also increases metabolic rate, which stimulates the immune response. Author’s note: I had to work up to taking cold showers. I started by just putting my arm in cold water, and then a bit more of my body each day. I am used to the cold now and find it an exhilarating way to start my day. I feel refreshed and less stressed, and I can almost feel my lymphatic system firing up to keep my immune system strong.
Lower your stress.
Identify the pinch points in your life and work towards relieving them. The number-one destroyer of our body is stress. Our ancestors had the genetic “fight or flight” reaction built in to save them when they were occasionally threatened by a predator or other dangerous situation. Our modern hectic pace has tricked our body into feeling like it’s in “fight or flight” mode many times a week or even a day. This response keeps our cortisol levels way too high for overall good health. When too much cortisol is produced, all of our systems are stressed and function well below capability, including our immune system.
Find time every day to meditate.
There is a scientifically proven link between regular meditation and lowered stress. And as discussed, excess stress tears your immune system down, as well as many other systems in the body. Meditation brings your mind in tune with your body. Since our thoughts signal the brain to initiate chemical reactions in our bodies, practicing calming and healing meditations not only lowers stress but signals our brain to activate processes to heal chronic conditions, such as autoimmune disorders, chronic pain, migraine condition, and other issues. Author’s note: I have adopted a healing meditation that takes me only 11 minutes a day. It has made a huge difference. Do not set yourself up for failure by thinking you need to set aside an hour or more a day for a meditation practice to be effective.
I found it empowering to learn that there were so many steps I could take to boost the power of my immune system. All it takes is some planning and discipline to implement life changes. I know it can be easier said than done, but the return is so high. I wish all the readers of this article a healthy life.
About the Author:
Mary Von Ahnen is Co-Owner of Horizon Hot Yoga in Frisc and a Certified Yoga Instructor. The studio offers an array of classes and meditations including Kundalini for everyone. They currently have amazing specials. Find their schedule of classes at www.horizonhotyoga.com