Give your immune system a boost!
Everybody talks about it when it’s cold and flu season, and we know we want a strong one, but what exactly is our immune system and how can we give it a little boost? Using stress-reduction, increasing sleep and physical activity as well as including lots and lots of nourishing foods (and plant medicine) into our diet we can be rewarded by making it year-round feeling alive and energized! If you think your immune system may need a boost, which most of us in Western society do, here is a quick overview of how are immune system works and some factors to consider to keep it running smoothly.
The immune system is a very prominent subject in today’s medical community, after all, it is the most dynamic body component we have when deciding our state of health vs disease. Our daily lives and lifestyle choices greatly effect our immune system and in return our immune system greatly effect’s our health. Each person’s immune system works to constantly protect them from their external environment by interacting with their internal environment. It is a complex system that distinguishes between things that may hurt us or help us.
There are many factors that determine how balanced and active our immune system is such as genetics, individuality, and lifestyle. We want our immune system to be active enough to fight against invaders (pro-inflammatory) but also be able to tell the defense to turn off (anti-inflammatory) so that we don’t stay in a chronically inflamed state. Unfortunately there are many more factors that suppress our immune systems then enhance it and this can ultimately lead to diseases and conditions that deplete our energy level and vitality. In order to give our immune system and our overall health a fighting chance we need to work on incorporating more of these immune enhancing factors in our life, not least of all a balanced and optimistic attitude!
Lifestyle: Let’s first discuss some key lifestyle factors such as stress, sleep and physical activity. Chronic stress, which causes chronic exposure to stress hormones, can reduce the activity of essential immune cells. Focus on a daily practice of breathing exercises, meditation or joy inducing activities that can counteract these stress hormones. We all know sleep is important, and no wonder, sleep deprivation causes a decrease in immune cell numbers. Shoot for that 6-8 hour range and consider some of your stress reducing exercises before bed to help you wind down and sleep better. Physical activity is a crucial immune boosting factor because it helps white blood cells become more active (defense against infection) and increased circulation and heat helps flush out bacteria and slow the growth of bacteria.
Nutrition: Immune-boosting vitamins and minerals include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, and Zinc. These are all essential nutrients that help support the protective layer of the GI tract, coordinate the immune response, and help white blood cells work efficiently. Water, fiber, adequate protein, and essential fatty acids are also essential for not only a healthy immune system but a healthy body. These help flush out impurities and clear colon toxins as well as increase anti-inflammatory actions. These nutrients and antioxidants help counteract free-radicals and stimulate the immune response when appropriate. An overall wholesome and rotating diet that is low-chemical, low-sugar, and low-fat is crucial to creating an environment for your immune system to work the most efficiently it can.
Gut Health: As I’ve mentioned before, good gut health is incredibly important for your WHOLE HEALTH but also your immune system! Almost 60% of the immune system resides in the gut and many of the nutrients mentioned above help strengthen the gut mucosal barrier, so you know it is important! Probiotic bacteria can be a great way to help regulate the immune response because it helps balance the gut microbiota that communicate with many aspects of the immune system. Get a good mix of fermented foods as well as high fiber plant-based foods to keep your gut in tip-top shape. (I will be doing a blog next week specifically on probiotics, which I am pumped about!)
Plant Medicine: Finally, herbs and plant medicine. Since I am rotating at the American Botanical Council these next three weeks, I have never been more inspired to incorporate more plants as medicine into my diet. Garlic and onion are anti-microbial and anti-viral so make sure to cook with a lot of these whenever you can. Elderberry syrup is a must have, since it contains a special inhibitor that stops viruses from entering cells (and has been prescribed in Germany for ages to treat colds and flus). My favorite, which I learned how to make during my time at Bastyr, is fire cider! That is what is pictured above from today and a quick recipe is at the end of this post.
In order to boost our immune systems we need to take a comprehensive and all-in approach, you can do it, and I am here to help at any step of the way!
What you’ll need:
Raw apple cider vinegar
Glass jars with a a good seal and wax paper
A selection of herbs (fresh or dried(: turmeric, cayenne pepper, thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, cilantro, fennel seeds or anything else your heart desires!
Chop up your vegetables and herbs and add them to a glass jar, filling it no more than 2/3 full. Then add half honey and half vinegar until you fill the jar. Stir well and then seal with the wax paper between the jar and the lid (this stops erosion from the vinegar). Put it somewhere you will see it everyday and shake daily. After two weeks strain liquid into a clean jar or bottle. Take 1tbs everyday as a preventative measure, and 1tbs every hour if you are sick (or feel sick coming on). You can also use it in cooking or salad dressings, and the leftover veggies and herbs are great for adding to stir frys and soups. Enjoy!