Easy ways to support the immune system and keep yourself healthy
You and a friend go to a party. You both hang out with someone who, it turns out, has a bad cold. A few days later, you’ve got a sore throat and a wastebasket full of Kleenex, while your friend stays healthy as a horse.
What gives? How can two people be exposed to the same germs, yet only one gets sick?
The answer: the immune system.
What is the Immune System?
The function of the immune system is to limit or prevent infection in the body, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Every day, we’re surround by countless microbes. The immune system’s job is to recognize which microbes are dangerous and which are harmless, then react appropriately.
Essentially, it’s our body’s security system.
The interconnected network is made up of immune cells, tissues and organs. The skin, bone marrow, bloodstream, thymus, lymph nodes, spleen and mucosal tissues in the gut and respiratory tract are all part of the immune system.
Without this line of defense, harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses and parasites could attack the body unobstructed.
It’s a delicate balance. If the body doesn’t react to an attack, infectious disease can result. But if the body over-reacts, damage to healthy cells can occur, resulting in autoimmune disease and allergic reactions.
How to Support Immune Health
Different people have different levels of immune system function. It’s important to keep your natural immune system as strong as possible to fight off illnesses, even if you receive vaccinations for COVID-19 and other illnesses.
According to Harvard Medical School, common sense “healthy living” advice also serves as a guide for how to support the immune system:
- Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep is an important immunity booster. Studies have tied lack of sleep with depressed immune response. Adults should try to get 7 hours of sleep or more per night. Infants and young children should get up to 14 hours of sleep, and teenagers should get 8-10 hours of sleep.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Vegetables, fruits and other whole plant foods support the body’s natural ability to fight off pathogens, organisms that cause disease. Fruits and veggies are rich in fiber, which supports gut health. They’re also full of beneficial vitamins and nutrients. Antioxidants like vitamin C support the body’s ability to fight inflammation caused by free radicals, which has been tied to health problems including cancer, dementia and cardiovascular issues.
Get even more anti-inflammatory power by eating healthy fats such as olive oil and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon. And of course, avoid added sugars and refined carbohydrates as much as possible. These can promote inflammation and lead to obesity, which can increase your risk of illness even more.
- Exercise (but don’t overdo it). The health benefits of moderate exercise are well documented. Not only does exercise boost cardiovascular health, control weight and lower blood pressure, it also supports overall health, which is important to strengthen the body’s natural defenses.
Health experts believe improved blood circulation from exercise may help the immune system by allowing immune-boosting properties to move more freely and effectively throughout the body.
Moderate levels of exercise such as walking, swimming, biking, jogging and hiking can boost the immune system, reduce inflammation and help immune cells regenerate. But it’s worth noting that prolonged, intense exercise has actually been shown to depress immunity in certain people.
Be sure to seek medical advice before starting a new workout program.
- Stay hydrated. Hydration is critical for overall health. Dehydration impacts physical well-being, mental focus, organ function and digestion. Dysfunction in any of these areas can make you more susceptible to illness. Tip: urine that is pale yellow in color is usually a sign of adequate hydration.
- Manage stress. Chronic stress promotes inflammation and can cause imbalances in immune system function. DIY stress management techniques like yoga, meditation, exercise and journaling can help, or consult a licensed therapist or counselor.
- Wash your hands! Handwashing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections, according to the CDC.
Does Being in the Cold REALLY Make You Sick?
Despite generations of worried mothers warning under-bundled kids that “you’ll catch your death of cold,” there isn’t a scientific basis for this concern. Canadian researchers have concluded that moderate cold exposure itself doesn’t increase the risk of getting sick (although hypothermia and frostbite are still obvious risks).
Supplements to Boost Immune Health
Ideally, we’d get all our essential nutrients from the foods we eat. The body absorbs and processes them best that way. But to fill in the gaps of a less-than-perfect diet, supplements are a great natural support for the immune system.
There’s no “magic bullet” supplement for perfect immunity, but studies indicate that some vitamins and nutrients may strengthen the body’s immune response. Quality matters, so make sure you get your supplements from a trusted source.
- Vitamin C. Widely-used vitamin C is one of the favorite “immunity vitamins” and helps cells protect against infection. In a review of 29 studies of 11,306 trial participants, both the duration and severity of colds were reduced with 1000-2000mg of daily vitamin C supplementation.
- Vitamin D. Deficiency of vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin,” can increase your odds of illness. It can be difficult to get adequate vitamin D from sunshine alone, especially in colder climates. Studies have shown that supplementing with vitamin D can boost immune response and protect against upper respiratory infections. A blood test can determine if you’re deficient in vitamin D.
- Zinc. The mineral zinc is needed for the immune system to function properly. Multiple studies suggest that supplementing with zinc may provide protection against the common cold and other respiratory infections, as well as help people who are already fighting off respiratory illness.
- Garlic. Garlic is known for its anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. It’s also known to stimulate white blood cells that protect against infection, called natural killer cells (NK cells). A 12-week study of 146 participants showed that garlic supplementation reduced occurrence of colds by around 30%.
- Other supplements that may help improve some type of immune response include selenium, astragalus, licorice, vitamin B12 and B6, curcumin, echinacea, elderberry and propolis.
Medicinal Mushrooms as Immune System Boosters
Since ancient times, medicinal mushrooms have been used to treat and prevent sickness. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and other cultures have relied on them for thousands of years.
More than 270 types of mushrooms have been found with medicinal properties. Around 125 therapeutic effects are identified so far, including for stress, energy levels, inflammation, cardiovascular health, cancer protection and brain health.
Some of the most popular medicinal mushrooms include cordyceps, lion’s mane, maitake, shitake, reishi, chaga and turkey tail mushrooms. These are typically consumed in the form of supplements, teas and tinctures.
The benefits of medicinal mushrooms are rooted in polysaccharides in the cell walls. Some human immune cell types have receptors for the polysaccharides in mushrooms, which have been shown to activate immune responses.
7 of the Most Powerful Immune-Boosting Mushrooms
- Cordyceps. Commonly used to increase energy, vitality and endurance. Cordyceps mushroom has antioxidant and hypoglycemic properties. Promotes activity of natural killer cells (NK cells), white blood cells that protect the body against infection. Contains polysaccharides, sterols, peptides, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and nucleotides to support the immune system, heart, lungs, kidneys and adrenals.
- Turkey Tail (Coriolus). Research shows coriolus, commonly called turkey tail, may boost immune system response and have an anti-cancer effect. Turkey tail mushrooms contain polysaccharides PSK and PSP, which stimulate immunity.
- Maitake: Shown to enhance immune function. Maitake mushroom is used for prevention and treatment of flu, diabetes, hypertension, urinary tract infections and HIV.
- Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): Helps increase immunity, provides cardiovascular and blood sugar support. Reishi mushroom has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial, antioxidant, antiviral and anti-allergic properties.
- Chaga. Known as the “mushroom of immortality” in Siberia, it is extremely nutrient dense. Some cultures consume it daily to increase stamina, prevent disease and promote longevity. Chaga mushroom has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, analgesic, antimutagenic, hypoglycemia, hepatoprotective and immune-stimulating effects.
- Shiitake: Commonly used in Japan to support immune function in cancer patients. Shiitake mushroom shows antiviral, antibacterial, anti-parasitic, hepatoprotective and hypoglycemic properties.
- Lion’s Mane: Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to increase strength and vigor and for its digestive benefits. Lion’s mane mushroom contains nerve growth factors (NGFs) which support brain health and the neuron growth.
If a kitchenful of edible mushrooms isn’t practical for you, these powerful mushrooms are all found in Immune Defense, a natural supplement made with mushroom mycelia to support a healthy immune system.
In a Nutshell
To protect yourself from lurking pathogens that can make you sick, the age-old advice to eat right, exercise, get enough sleep and manage stress still rings true. Remember:
- Changes to diet and lifestyle can have a major impact on your immune system.
- Supplements can help fill in the gaps, especially vitamins, minerals and medicinal mushrooms.
- And, of course…wash your hands!
Need More Help?
ZZZZ…Why You Need a Good Night’s Sleep https://nativeremedies.blog/2020/10/01/zzzzwhy-you-need-a-good-nights-sleep/
Healing Herbs for the Kitchen https://nativeremedies.blog/2020/07/02/healing-herbs-for-the-kitchen/
Holistic Health Support for a Healthier You https://nativeremedies.blog/2019/10/01/holistic-health-support-for-a-healthier-you/
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