One glance at the news and you know that you want to stay as far away from hospitals as possible. Emergency rooms are inundated with sick people. Individuals seeking care for urgent health needs are being turned away or diverted to other hospitals. Many medical organizations around the country are short-staffed and unable to provide high-quality care.
Moreover, everywhere you look, new viruses are emerging. People are sicker than ever, fighting off colds, the flu, stomach bugs, and other infections. Added to an already unhealthy community riddled with chronic illness, we have the perfect storm. The healthcare system is crumbling right before our very eyes.
Now, more than ever is the time to take control of your health. Despite what you might have been told about what protects you from getting sick, a robust immune system is your best defense. Our lifestyle choices are the greatest predictor of how well our bodies fight off illness. Thankfully, there are many ways to boost your immune system today, right from the comfort of your home.
The immune system is our natural defense system within the body. Like soldiers protecting their homeland, the immune system is responsible for destroying foreign substances it believes to be a threat. When faced with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi, the immune system springs into action.
The immune system has two armies of cells. Innate immune cells are those we are born with and our first line of defense. However, as we grow, we also acquire immunity when exposed to different foreign invaders. These adaptive immune cells have memory and take care of invaders that our innate cells cannot fight.
When the immune system detects an invader, white blood cells are called upon. Also called leukocytes, these white blood cells created in the bone marrow are the main drivers of an immune response.
The three main types of leukocytes are basophils, lymphocytes, and phagocytes. In addition, two different types of lymphocytes are involved in the immune process: T-cells and B-cells.
During an immune response, T-cells multiply and release chemicals called cytokines. These cytokines then trigger the stimulation of B-cells. Once prompted, B-cells produce infection-fighting antibodies which attach themselves to the infected cells. Finally, T-cells destroy the invaders, and phagocytes eat them up.
Once the battle is over, these T and B cells remember the invader, creating immunological memory. If detected again, they return, quickly producing antibodies to stop the germ from taking hold.
Where is my immune system?
The immune system is not one organ or group of organs. Instead, the immune system comprises multiple cells and organs throughout the body. Essential players in immunity include:
- Bone marrow: The spongy tissue inside bones; bone marrow is where most immune cells are produced.
- Thymus: Located behind the breastbone, this gland-like organ is where T-cells mature.
- Lymph nodes: Small areas of tissue that act as filters, trapping germs and activating antibodies in the blood.
- Spleen: Located in the left upper abdomen, the spleen stores various immune system cells until needed.
- Tonsils: Although often considered nonessential, the tonsils help trap bacteria and viruses. They also contain immune cells that produce antibodies to kill pathogens before they spread through the body.
The gastrointestinal tract is the most pivotal organ for immunity. In fact, 70- 80 percent of our immune system lives in the gut. Deep within the intestinal wall are areas called gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT. These specialized areas produce and store immune cells that help regulate what passes through the gut. If harmful substances enter the body, they are identified and stopped here.
Immune cells within the gut interact with the gut microbiome, the collection of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that naturally live inside our bodies. One’s lifestyle directly influences the microbiome. As such, gut health is imperative to a robust immune system. Conversely, without a healthy gut, immunity is significantly compromised.
Why am I more likely to get sick in the winter?
As surely as the first leaves drop off the trees, runny noses begin to flow. No, the immune system doesn’t hibernate in the winter months. So, why are we more likely to get sick during the colder seasons?
There are several reasons why illnesses skyrocket during the winter months, including:
- Many viruses thrive in damp, cold, darker environments
- Lack of sun exposure depletes vitamin D stores
- More time spent indoors with others in the winter months increases germ exposure
- Dry indoor air increases exposure to germs
- Blood vessels narrow in cold weather, possibly inhibiting white blood cell circulation
- Poor diets associated with increased sugar consumption during the fall and winter holidays
Thankfully there are decisive steps you can take to boost your immune system throughout the winter months and beyond.
Can I boost my immune system immediately?
If you’re like most people, you reach for orange juice or a shot of lemon-ginger juice when you feel a tickle in your throat. And while vitamin C certainly helps strengthen immunity over time, it will not protect you from a virus already taking hold. Once symptoms have developed, the immune system is already in overdrive.
Building a robust immune system doesn’t happen overnight. The best strategy for boosting immunity involves adopting consistent lifestyle habits that slowly build resilience. However, there are a few things that, if done early enough in the process, can help decrease symptoms and speed healing.
- Eliminate sugar, refined carbs, and processed food
- Ensure adequate rest
- Hydrate with plenty of quality water
- Spend time resting in the sunshine
- Consider sipping on bone broth
Avoid these inflammation-promoting culprits
Inflammation is a natural immune response that occurs when the body perceives something as harmful or threatening. One of the biggest triggers of inflammation comes from our food.
You will want to immediately eliminate all sugar at the first sign of a cold or infection. In addition to being a driving force behind heart disease, sugar consumption impacts the body’s ability to fight off viruses or other conditions.
According to research, white blood cells cannot destroy pathogens with too much sugar on board. Moreover, a 2015 study demonstrates that high blood sugar unleashes dangerous molecules called dicarbonyls that interfere with the body’s natural ability to fight infection.
Sugar is also highly inflammatory, which lowers the immune system. A small study found that consuming just 40 grams of added sugar by way of soda increased inflammatory markers. By eliminating sugar, the pathogen trying to make you sick dies, and you heal more quickly.
In addition to avoiding sugar, you will also want to eliminate refined carbohydrates, which are essentially sugar to the body. Studies have found that eating white bread resulted in elevated blood glucose levels and increased inflammatory markers. Steer clear of pasta, crackers, chips, and other unhealthy carbohydrates.
Other foods that lower immunity include:
- Vegetable oils, such as canola, soybean, palm, and corn oil
- Highly processed meats, such as hot dogs, lunch meat, and bacon
- Non-organic foods that contain pesticides or chemicals
- Conventional meat
- Farmed fish
- Sugary beverages such as smoothies, juices, teas, or sports drinks
What can I eat to boost my immune system?
Cells require adequate and appropriate nutrition to function optimally, including the cells of the immune system. The nutrients obtained from food act as the shield, protecting our bodies from damage caused by pathogens.
Simplified, the best foods to boost your immune system are organic, whole foods that provide all the nutrients your body needs to thrive. Foods high in antioxidants help to prevent cell damage, thus reducing inflammation and improving immunity.
When considering the best foods for immunity, keep the following tips in mind:
1. Focus on gut-healthy foods
The foods we eat directly affect the composition of our gut microbiome, which in turn impacts immunity. Since the gut is home to most of the immune system, you’ll want to nourish it with high-fiber prebiotic and probiotic-containing foods. Think vegetables, fruits, and fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir. Healthy high-fiber foods include avocados, broccoli, and apples.
2. Eat the rainbow
From dark green kale to bright orange carrots, each colorful plant contains different phytonutrients that our bodies crave when sick. Phytonutrients have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help eliminate toxins and boost the immune system. Incorporate as many colors as possible into your diet when fighting illness.
Trying to decide what to top your colorful salad or veggies with? Don’t worry. We’ve got the answer!
Super Immunity Salad Dressing
This easy and healthy salad dressing, which can double as a dip, is a powerhouse for immunity. With just the right combination of protein and healthy fat, this dressing will surely give your body the boost it needs this season.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
- 2 Tbsp organic olive oil (or another organic oil of your choice)
- 1 tsp organic MCT oil (optional)
- 2 Tbsp organic apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- 1-2 wild-caught anchovies, adjusted for taste
- 1 tsp organic capers
- 2-3 cloves fresh, organic garlic
- 1 organic, pasture-raised egg yolk
- Organic spices of choice – some favorites include black cumin, cumin, turmeric, ginger, rosemary, oregano, or thyme
- ½ – 1 organic avocado for creamy taste (optional)
- Place all ingredients in a blender, adjusting each for taste
- Blend until smooth
- Store remaining dressing in a glass car in the refrigerator for up to 7 days
3. Don’t skimp on protein
Adequate protein intake is essential to support a healthy immune response. When you consume protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids. These amino acids help to stimulate T cells, B cells, and antibodies, which help to fight infections. For example, the amino acids glutamine, arginine, and cysteine are crucial in combating viral and bacterial infections.
Moreover, many protein-rich foods contain high levels of immune-boosting zinc. Healthy proteins that help boost the immune system include organic grass-finished beef, organ meat, and organic pasture-raised eggs and poultry.
4. Increase omega-3 consumption
Salmon is not the first thing that comes to mind when considering immune-promoting foods, but it should be. Sufficient intake of omega-3s, such as DHA and EPA, is imperative for lowering inflammation.
In addition to lowering inflammation, several recent studies have found that omega-3s boost the immune system. For example, a 2013 study concluded that fish oil helps enhance B cells’ function.
The best source of omega-3s is wild-caught seafood such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. However, omega-3s can also be found in lesser quantities in nuts and seeds.
5. Add in foods that help with detoxification
If you are sick, one of your primary goals should be to eliminate toxins from your body. Toxins come from the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the products we use at home and in the workplace. High toxin loads significantly compromise the immune system.
Adding foods to the diet that support the body’s natural detoxification process helps remove unwanted toxins, leaving more capacity for the body to fight illness. Excellent additions include herbs and spices like cilantro, parsley, garlic, and turmeric. Also, many teas, such as dandelion tea, help to support detoxification.
Other ways to give your immune system a boost
While consuming a healthy diet is the best way to ensure a healthy immune system, there are many other actions you can take to keep the immune system going strong.
● Get some rays
Since the beginning of time, humans have harnessed the power of the sun to heal from illness. For example, during the 1918 flu, health providers found that exposure to sunlight deactivated the flu virus.
Sunlight is the predominant source of natural vitamin D, which has been proven to boost immune health. Moreover, sunlight also stimulates the production of nitric oxide, which plays a complex, but vital role in immunity.
- To ward off illness, spend as much time as safely possible in direct sunlight. The more skin you expose to the light, the better!
● Minimize stress
Stress may seem like a psychological problem, but it’s also a physiological one. Stress triggers the release of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol wakes the immune system in the short term, preparing the body for an attack or injury. Over time, however, high cortisol levels in the blood decrease the body’s ability to fight off infection.
A 2022 study reiterates stress’s negative impact on the immune system. After examining over 6,000 adults, researchers concluded that stress significantly ages the immune system.
- To keep the immune system strong, find ways to reduce stress. If you can’t change a situation, focus on mindfulness, yoga, meditation, or other modes of relaxation.
● Regulate your sleep schedule
Sleep is the first thing to go when we are feeling well. Unfortunately, our bodies make up for the lack of sleep when we fall ill. Sleep may just be the biggest weapon in keeping sickness at bay.
For example, a 2015 study found that individuals who got less than six hours of sleep were four times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept more than seven hours.
➔ Aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted shut-eye each night to keep the immune system strong.
● Move your body
Everyone knows that exercise is helpful for the body but did you know that enough movement helps you fight off colds and infections year-round?
Exercise prompts a temporary rise in immune cells, especially in the first couple of hours after working out. According to a 2019 review, moderate-intensity exercise increases the circulation of immune cells, with each workout building a more robust immune system. For example, a study of 1,000 people found that working out nearly halved the odds of catching a cold.
- To keep bugs at bay, move your body daily, aiming for 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise.
● Supplement wisely
Using food as medicine by eating a whole-food-based diet is the best way to prime the immune system. But unfortunately, food has lost much of its nutritional value in the past few decades.
When fighting an illness or during cold and flu season, it’s best to consider utilizing supplements to give the immune system the added boost it needs.
One walk through a local pharmacy during cold and flu season will reveal how most people deal with getting sick. Sadly, most people find themselves trying to quell symptoms. Unfortunately, by the time you’re already ill, it’s often too late to make much difference.
If you knew that you could avoid illness altogether, wouldn’t you give it a try? Building immunity doesn’t happen overnight, but with dedication and commitment, it can be done.
There are so many supplements on the market that it can be hard to know exactly which ones benefit the immune system. But don’t worry! We’ve taken the work out of it for you with our Super Immunity Complete Support Protocol.
This comprehensive bundle of nutrients supports optimal immune function. Each supplement in this protocol addresses the complex nutritional needs right down to the cellular level, all while keeping the heart and blood vessels strong.
When it comes to health and immune function, it’s truly an inside job. Rest assured, however, that a strong and resilient immune system is within your reach!
Medical Review: Dr. Lauren Lattanza 11/17/22