Protecting ourselves against bacteria and viruses is on our minds now that school is around the corner, and COVID is looming. Everyone wants to know: Is boosting your immune system a myth? Is there value in trying to improve your immunity? The answer is yes — and no.
The truth is your innate immune system is designed to protect against germs and foreign substances and does an exceptional job of protecting you without interference. You also have an adaptive immune system as a second line of defense. This system battles viruses and bacteria by adapting to remember a germ that once made you sick so that it won’t make you ill again.
Boosting your immune system is an elusive concept that is very enticing. A more accurate framework to understand “boosting your immune system” is to recognize unhealthy habits that bog your body functions down while implementing healthy routines that encourage optimal health. When your body operates at an optimal level all your systems function better.
Habits that Support Your Immune System
Here are some healthy habits that boost your optimal health, which in turn helps your immune system run smoothly.
Walk it Out!
Get your body moving for at least 30 min a day. Your genes expect you to move! A sedentary lifestyle is a health concern for many people that has only grown worse with COVID and people staying indoors. Not forcing your body to move is in fact, counter-intuitive to health and wellness.
According to a study by David Nieman published in Appalachian State University Magazine, the best preventive measure for the common cold is regular exercise. Your lymphatic system is a valuable part of your immune system. It pushes fluid through your lymph nodes where immune cells kill off harmful germs and abnormal cells. Your lymphatic fluid then drains into the bloodstream, through your kidney, and is excreted through your urine.
His findings aren’t unique, according to another article, Exercise & The Lymphatic System published by the MD Anderson Centre, “The lymphatic system is stimulated by moving your muscles and getting your heart rate up. . . The contraction of your muscles becomes the pump that helps the fluid get around your body. Exercise can help the lymphatic system flow more effectively and potentially help prevent infections and other diseases, like cancer.”
Give your immune system an upper hand this fall by cleaning out your pipes with movement. This can be as simple as a brisk outdoor walk, have a dance party inside, log onto some zoom classes, or yoga in the park.
Say Goodbye to Excess Sugar
Sure, sweet treats and carbs bring us comfort on hard days, but excess sugar is detrimental to supporting your immune system. Approximately 70% of your immune system lives in your GI tract and according to studies at John Hopkins University, “There is a lot of interaction between the body’s immune system and bacteria in the gut.” It’s no secret that we consume excess hidden sugar every day. Diabetes Canada reports that the average Canadian eats 110 grams of sugars per day. Sugar suppresses the immune system by decreasing the capacity for neutrophils to engulf bacteria and by damaging your microbiome.
Refined sugar also impacts your cortisol levels. When you have a spike in blood sugar, and then subsequent crash cortisol is produced in massive quantities causing stress on your system. A study published by NCBI found that “Cortisol is ordinarily anti-inflammatory and contains the immune response, but chronic elevations can lead to the immune system becoming “resistant,” an accumulation of stress hormones, and increased production of inflammatory cytokines that further compromise the immune response.”
You can reduce damage to your gut by reducing or eliminating the intake of refined sugar and high-glucose corn syrup. One of the easiest ways to do this is by cutting out sweetened beverages. Water or lemon water is a much better choice to sip on throughout the day. If you feel you can’t live without an afternoon sweet treat then opt for naturally occurring sugars in fruit (like an apple with almond butter). Fruits and veggies help reduce pro-inflammatory biomarkers and increase immune cell profiles. Making better food choices for your family is a great way to improve your immune system and overall gut health.
Diminish Disease & Inflammation
COVID is known for being detrimental to those suffering from pre-existing conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. All of these conditions have inflammation in common. Your immune system is designed to create inflammation as a response to foreign bacteria and viruses. So it would make sense that someone with a pre-existing inflammation issue would become hyper-inflamed when infected. You can address these pre-existing diseases through healthy eating, exercise, and lifestyle choices (such as eliminating smoking and alcohol intake).
Taking healthy supplements like high-dose Tumeric (curcumin) extract is proven to reduce inflammation, improve metabolic syndrome, relieve aches and pains, as well as reduce some anxiety symptoms according to a study published in NCBI. Another powerful supplement to support cellular function is Vitamin D, but many people are deficient. Factors such as skin color (darker skin doesn’t absorb as much), pollution, and the use of sunscreen have led to a decrease in the absorption and Vitamin D deficiency. Seeing a Naturopathic Doctor is beneficial! They can test to see what you are deficient in and help determine what dose of vitamins and supplements will have a therapeutic effect on your health.
Ditch the Stress
This tip is mentioned all the time and yet it’s one of the hardest things to master. Stress and lack of restorative sleep can have grave impacts on your immune system. A study by Simply Psychology emphasizes that “The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system by lowering the number of lymphocytes.” There are many arguments for the mind-body connection when it comes to optimal wellness. Your thoughts have the power to change the chemistry in your body. Finding ways to manage anxiety, depression, and stress are vital to your health. This can be done through journaling, yoga, meditation, or even talk-therapy. It’s important to acknowledge your mental health and make time for yourself daily to decompress.
Become an Immune System Superhero
Following some of these simple tips will help your immune system run smoothly to fight germs and viruses like the superhero it is! Give yourself an extra advantage when it comes to cold and flu season by taking care of your health.
Denise Semple & Associates can help you reach your immune system goals. We have multiple practitioners and services that can address immune function including Naturopathic Medicine, Osteopathy, and Yoga. Our services are available both virtually and in-clinic. Let us help your family maintain optimal health this fall.