How to support your immune system
If there has ever been a time to focus on keeping your immune system healthy, this long pandemic is the time!
Things feel scary and uncertain right now, I know—but I fully believe the more levelheaded and openhearted we are, the better we will be able to survive and thrive. We have to protect ourselves, our families, and communities. Above all, we have to stay healthy.
These are some of my top tips for supporting your immunity:
1. A whole-foods, nutrient-dense diet
Our immune system relies on nutrient-dense whole foods to function well. Death from infections in the developing world is often due not to the infection itself but the body's inability to fight it because of nutrient deficiencies. Fruit and vegetables are the foundation of a nourishing diet, and they provide so many immune-supporting nutrients like vitamin C (citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, and spinach) and caroteniods (carrots, kumera, and kale). Aim for 8-10 servings of fruits and eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Berries, pasture-raised meats, and nuts and seeds are also nutritional powerhouses.
2. Cutting out refined sugars and refined carbohydrates
Studies have shown that refined sugars can suppress your immune system for hours after ingesting. Limiting sugar will help your immune system function better, and your overall health improves.
3. Adequate protein intake
Protein is critical for immune function, and protein malnutrition is a big risk factor for death from infections.
Eat approximately 1 gram/kg, or about half your body weight in grams of protein a day, of organic, clean animal protein (like grass-fed beef, pasture-raised eggs, or wild-caught salmon). Plant-based proteins (legumes, nuts/seeds) are adequate if consumed in enough quantity. Try gluten-free tofu and tempeh from non-GMO soy for the highest protein concentrations.
4. Loads of garlic, onion, ginger, and spices
Garlic, onions and savory spices like turmeric go great with soups and vegetable dishes, as well as bean dips and sauces. Use fresh ginger in your smoothies or tea, along with lemon juice or lemon zest. These offer wide-spectrum antimicrobial properties.
5. Fermented foods to support the microbiome
The gut plays an essential role in our immunity and acts as a barrier against many types of pathogens. Eat sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, miso, tempeh, unsweetened grass-fed yoghurt, and kefir to support diverse and abundant bacterial populations that will keep your microbiome healthy.
6. Fluids, especially warmer fluids
Consuming adequate fluids supports all your body's functions including the immune system. Bone broths and soups are a great way to up your fluid intake. Drink herbal teas like ginger and turmeric tea. Keep a bottle of filtered water with you at all times. Avoid concentrated fruit juices and sweetened beverages, as the sugar content is harmful to the immune system.
7. Sufficient sleep
We all know sleep restores and heals the body. Without adequate sleep, optimal immune function is next to impossible! Get in a better rhythm and head to bed earlier, aiming for seven to eight hours a night. Incorporating various relaxation and breathing techniques throughout the day to help with stress and allowing the mind to rest is also very helpful!
8. Regular exercise
Mild to moderate exercise (for approximately 30 to 45 minutes) helps support the immune system. Avoid overexertion such as training for endurance events when you are feeling run-down. This will lower your immune defenses. If you are able to exercise outside in less populated areas, great. If not, find workouts and yoga classes online; I've been making sure I do something active every day even while I'm staying home.
9. Meditation and yoga
The data is clear: Increased levels of stress increase susceptibility to viral infections. In one study, volunteers had cold viruses injected into their nasal passages. Only the ones who scored high on the stress questionnaire succumbed. Learn some meditation, double down on your practice, do yoga, take hot baths, do deep breathing, practice home massage with your loved ones, and more.
10. Supplementing correctly
And lastly, many people want to know what kinds of supplements they could take right now to optimise immune health. Here are some that can help balance your immune system:
- Vitamin D3: Adequate vitamin D status is critical for optimal immune function, and this often cannot be achieved without supplementation during the winter months. Studies have shown that people with Vitamin D deficiency are 11 times more likely to get a cold or flu, while supplementing with vitamin D can reduce colds and flu by 42%. It is best to get your levels of 25-OH vitamin D checked in a blood test for accurate dosing. Many need 5,000 IU or more of vitamin D3 a day in the winter. Start with 2,000 IU for adults, 1,000 IU for children.
- Vitamin C: The role of vitamin C in supporting the immune system has long been known. Take 500 to 1,000 mg throughout the day with meals and snacks. I like to use a liquid or powder that I can mix in water or smoothies.
- Zinc: You can take an additional zinc supplement or consume more foods high in this powerful immune-supporting nutrient. Seafood—especially oysters—red meat, and pumpkin seeds are the best food sources of zinc. Take 20-30 mg per day.
- Probiotics: A healthy gut flora supports a healthy gut, a major barrier against pathogens and integral to the immune system. Look for brands that offer several species of good bacteria and contain at least 5 to 10 billion organisms per capsule. Alternatively use a sporebiotic.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A is effective at killing bacteria and viruses. I like to use Vitamin A drops that you hold and swish all around your mouth. Then swallow. 50,000IU a day