boost your immune system

In a world filled with bacteria and viruses, it’s important to understand how best to support our immune systems. 

Life in the 21st century is rife with ways our health is continually compromised: from chronic physical and/or emotional stress, and intense work and/or family obligations to sustained sleep deprivation and exposure to pathogens.

How we eat can aid recovery and boost immunity. My number one recommendation is to follow basic, clean eating habits. This means loading our diets with lean proteins, colorful vegetables, quality carbohydrates (which includes colorful fruits) and healthy fats (think olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds). Sugars and processed foods may reduce white blood cell function and lead to inflammation. Keeping to whole foods does not mean going on a diet, which may deprive your body of the nutrients it needs and explains why many people get sick a week or so after starting a crash diet.

Gut health is also important, if not essential, to support your immune system. Prebiotics help nourish our good microbial friends, while probiotics have been shown to help people recover faster from illness. The best whole food sources of prebiotics are those with fermentable fiber such as certain veggies (asparagus, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and onions); starches (barley, beans, oats, quinoa, rye, potatoes, and yams); fruits (apples, bananas, berries, citrus, kiwi); and fats (flax seeds and chia seeds).

Aim for one to two servings of probiotic-rich foods each day, including dairy (yogurt, cheese, kefir); fermented veggies (pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi); fermented soy (miso, tempeh); soy sauce; and kombucha. (Note: you may feel worse before feeling better since bacteria release toxins.)

Vitamins and minerals are the unsung heroes in our bodies. Deficiencies in key nutrients (vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and calcium) can compromise immunity. In addition to the following food sources, a good multi-vitamin or multi-mineral can be a great supplement. Make sure to first get your blood levels tested and always check in with your doctor before beginning and continuing on any supplement regimen.

Vitamin D can be found in salmon, fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese, and mushrooms.

Vitamin A is in liver, cod liver oil, mackerel, salmon; and beta-carotene (sweet potato, winter squash, kale, collards, carrots).

Zinc may reduce the duration or severity of the common cold. If you are already sick, try nine to 15 milligram zinc lozenges every two hours while you are awake. Good food sources of zinc include seafood (especially oysters), pumpkin seeds, sea vegetables, beans, lentils and legumes.

Vitamin C, taken in high amounts (two grams a day), may reduce the severity of the common cold, but won’t prevent the transmission of a cold or the flu. Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, kiwi, organic leafy green vegetables (spinach, bok choy, kale), broccoli, and bell peppers. Vitamin C works best when taken with calcium and magnesium.

Studies show that elderberry can reduce the severity and duration of the flu. Look for elderberry syrup that is organic and homemade as it will contain less added sugars or preservatives.

Raw honey has been shown to have anti-viral properties, but do not heat it.

DHEA is a hormone known to support healthy immunity, aid tissue repair, improve sleep and counteract the negative effects of cortisol, our body’s stress hormone. Supplements of DHEA can be taken under medical supervision by a licensed healthcare provider. Relora is another supplement that can be used to prevent the health conditions associated with stress, including poor immunity.

The following nutrients are scientifically proven to help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety, which directly impacts our immune system:

Magnesium supplements are often used as a natural treatment for anxiety because it helps regulate neurotransmitters in our brain. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium is about 420 and 320 milligrams per day for adult men and women, respectively.

Insufficient vitamin B6, low iron levels and not enough fiber all contribute to greater feelings of anxiety. As we make our way through this year, it’s ever-important to do right by your body and immune system, with the support of your physician or other health professional.

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