By Myriah Shimatsu
From the Spring/Summer 2020 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association
In these challenging times, it is important to keep your health a top priority! To keep your immune system strong, make sure you are drinking enough water, eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible, exercising, and getting a good night’s rest.
4 Steps to Keep Your Immune System Strong
- Get Outside: Getting outside for 5-15 minutes several times a day will help improve the body’s ability to make and absorb vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bones, blood cells and boosting the immune system, as well as, absorbing other minerals like calcium. (Don’t forget your SPF if you’re spending an extensive time outdoors.) Secondly, a little fresh air can make you feel less angry, anxious, and stressed. Sunlight helps keep your serotonin levels up. Serotonin improves your energy, keeping your mood calm, positive and focused. Serotonin levels also play a big role in quality of sleep and depression.
- Sleep: While sleeping your body’s immune cells, specifically T-cells, are more active making them stronger at identifying virus-infected cells and destroying them. Sleep also plays an active role in antibody production. This is probably why when you are sick you feel excessively sleepy. Sleep is your body’s natural way of helping your immune system become more efficient. Averaging seven or more hours of sleep most nights will help keep your immune system strong and able to fight off whatever life throws at you.
- Movement: Exercise or movement is one of the pillars in living a healthy lifestyle, which is the best line of defense in having a healthy immune system. Exercise improves your cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal health, while also helping maintain a healthy weight, which can help protect against a variety of diseases. At least 20 minutes of moderate exercise is encouraged every day to maintain a healthy lifestyle and immune system.
- Nutrition: The best way to get all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need is to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Add color to your plate each day with the five main color groups. Strive to eat 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Red and pink fruits and veggies contain phytonutrients like lycopene and ellagic acid. These are high in antioxidants, promote heart health and fight cancer.
- Green foods help lower blood pressure, improve heart function, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, and improve vision as well as skin complexion.
- White and brown foods like mushrooms, onions and garlic reduce cholesterol, reduce cellular mutations, resist bone loss and lower blood pressure.
- Blue and purple phytonutrients fight against fungi and can improve immunity, protect cells from damage and improve memory function.
- Yellow and orange foods provide electrolytes and anti-inflammatory compounds to reduce post-exercise sore muscles, and keep eyes and skin healthy.
Let’s not also forget about water when talking about nutrition. Our bodies are made up of more than 60% water and it is vital to keep our body and immune system functioning properly.
Best Supplements to Support a Healthy Immune System
When talking about supplements or vitamins, let’s first discuss the quality. There is no standard for vitamins or dietary supplements, so doing your own research on brands is highly important. You want to find a product that is organic, whole food based and non-GMO. Also, getting vitamins that have minimal and especially no added sugar or filler is important. Two brands that check these boxes are Garden of Life and Nordic Naturals.
- Zinc plays a major role in regulation of immune system cell production. Zinc has the innate ability to trigger white blood cells to act on illness or infections in the body. Thus, shortening the time of the cold or illness and strengthening the immune system. A food source that contains zinc are seeds (sesame and flax), spinach, garlic and animal meat.
- Elderberry is packed with antioxidants and vitamins that support the immune system. Elderberry can help fight inflammation, lesson stress and protect the heart. Elderberry is also great at alleviating respiratory conditions such as a cough. It is suggested to take elderberry at first signs of a cold or even prior as a preventative tool. The most common form of elderberry is a syrup—you can even make your own.
- Probiotics help boost your immune system by inhibiting the growth of bad gut bacteria and helping good gut bacteria flourish. Probiotics can also help promote the production of natural antibodies. Fermented foods like kombucha, sourdough breads, miso, kimchi and yogurt (preferably whole fat Greek yogurt) have probiotics in them.
- Vitamin C is used in the body to promote the cells and enzymes used for fighting infection. Therefore, it is an essential nutrient to keep the immune system strong. The main food sources of vitamin C are yellow bell peppers, citrus and broccoli.
- Vitamin D is actually a hormone and you can find these receptors in almost every cell and tissue in the human body. Vitamin D has many benefits, including fighting infection and boosting the immune system. Vitamin D is absorbed by being in the sun for 10-15 minutes a day without sunscreen. Vitamin D is also found in wild-caught fatty fish, pasture-raised eggs and wild mushrooms.
5 Best Foods for a Strong Immune System
When looking at using diet to improve your immune system, remember that quality makes a big difference. For your food to have the proper nutrients, make sure it was raised or grown in a healthy environment. Buying organic, non-GMO produce, pasture raised meat and eggs will help ensure you are getting the right nutrients.
- Fermented foods are one of the best ways to maintain a healthy immune system and overall wellbeing. Fermented foods help our good gut bacteria flourish while inhibiting the growth of bad gut bacteria. Our gut is actually our “second brain,” so keeping it functioning well is essential to our health and wellness. Eating fermented foods daily like sauerkraut, pickled veggies, apple cider vinegar and miso are great ways to stay healthy.
- Ginger, garlic or turmeric (anti-inflammatory spices) are so important to a healthy immune system because they help battle the chronic inflammation our bodies encounter due to high inflammatory foods or lifestyles. Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system to signal immune cells to defend itself against foreign invaders, like a virus. However, when the body experiences chronic inflammation this leaves our immune system in overdrive and eventually weakens it due to it no longer being able to respond rapidly to the invaders. Thus, eating a high anti-inflammatory diet will help the body not be in chronic inflammation.
- Berries such as strawberries and blue berries are packed with antioxidants and disease-fighting vitamins and minerals (mentioned above) that support a healthy immune system. Antioxidants are important because they help keep free radicals, inflammation and oxidative stress in check.
- Broccoli contains the nutrient sulforaphane, which has anti-bacterial properties, is a natural detoxifier, and anti-inflammatory. All these factors support a healthy immune system. Broccoli also contains lots of antioxidants and vitamin C.
- Bone broth is packed full of vitamins, minerals and nutrients like amino acids, antioxidants, glutathione (natural detoxifier) and glucosamine. It helps maintain a balanced bacterial environment in the gut like a probiotic. This tasteful broth increases collagen synthesis enhancing bone mineral density. Sip one cup of this broth daily to support a healthy immune system and overall wellness.
This article was written to provide general information. You should always consult a medical professional when making changes to your diet or wellness regimen.
Myriah Shimatsu is the co-owner of Movement 1st Wellness and has been certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) for over 12 years. She holds her bachelor’s degree in adult exercise science with a minor in nutrition. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.