Well it certainly is starting to feel like fall and with that comes colds, flu and other immune system challenges headed our way.
The good news is, there are many things you can do to keep your immune system in good shape. Here are six simple things I am doing to help keep things in check!
1. I get outside everyday for a 20-30 minute walk or run.
I do my best to get this in everyday, along with some other form of exercise...if time allows for both. Research has proven that spending time outdoors, including contact with nature, is just as important to health and well-being as sleep, exercise and a healthy diet. I do find I feel less stressed after being outside and getting fresh air always makes me feel better. I walk at various times of day, depending on work and my kids schedules, but I always make a point to make it happen, and I never regret it!
Beyond the benefits of being outside and in nature, walking has also proven to boost immune function. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. If they did get sick, their symptoms were milder, and they were sick for a shorter duration.
2. Prioritize my sleep.
I get it, life is crazy busy and can also be unpredictable. And, making time to get 8 hours of sleep every night isn’t easy. And, even when you make a point to get your head on the pillow, it can sometimes be impossible to get your brain to give things a rest. But, the reality is sleep is essential to our health and well being and your immune system is more robust when you get your rest.
Lack of sleep compromises our immune function, leaving us more vulnerable to the common cold and other viruses and bacteria. We heal when we sleep, and lack of sleep can be a trigger that activates our body’s overall stress burden. Sleep and sticking to our circadian rhythm with dark and light cycles helps to prime and modulate our immune system, and when there is a lack of sleep, this puts the body in a pro-inflammatory state. This not only causes inflammation, but reduces the body’s ability to repair and fight off infection.
So do your best to get good quality sleep more often than not.
3. Supplementing with Vitamin D
Why am I supplementing with Vitamin D? Although bone health is what most people associate Vitamin D with, it also has many other roles in the body which are associated with our overall health and specifically I point out here, immune health:
Modulates both adaptive and innate immune response via receptor sites on the surface of B- and T-cells, two classes of immune cells. Studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to infection, and can impair the maturation of healthy white blood cells, which help the body to fight illness
Enhances the pathogen-fighting effects of monocytes and macrophages — white blood cells that are important parts of your immune defense
Decreases inflammation, which helps promote immune response
Modulates cell growth
When we are Vitamin D sufficient, we have an easier ability to maintain healthy immune function. Studies have found that as many as 50% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D regardless of age and 70% of elderly Americans are vitamin D deficient. Deficiency of vitamin D has been linked to a wide range of problems, including increased risk of heart attack, increased risk of cancer, higher severity and frequency of asthma symptoms, greater susceptibility to autoimmune diseases, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and increased risk of death from all causes.
It would be great if I got enough vitamin D through the winter months via food, but the reality is, most of us don’t. We just don’t eat enough of the foods that are high in vitamin D to keep our levels sufficient. Foods that are high in Vitamin D include:
cod liver oil
fatty bluefin tuna
grass fed butter
pastured chickens eggs and duck eggs
Since each person’s vitamin D is affected differently by sunlight, nutrient absorption from food and supplements, there is a “no one size fits all” guideline. Ideally when supplementing, one should get a baseline via blood work and then supplement with D3 and Vitamin K together, with a fatty meal. Since Vitamin D and K are fat soluble vitamins they work better when taken with fat, and the two combined help vitamin D get absorbed better. To make things easy I have included the Vitamin D supplement my family and I take from late fall into early spring.
4. Keeping the indulgences down, especially alcohol, and sugar.
I focus on a nutrient dense diet that is full of vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids and amino acids! We know that there are many immune boosting vitamins and minerals like zinc, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, copper, B vitamins, selenium, and iron which are all key micronutrients that help immune function run at full strength. But, did you know that a key nutrient for immune function is protein! Yes, that’s right, Protein! Without getting into the nitty gritty, the basics are that all of our proteins get broken down into amino acids, and those amino acids are used to make our immune cells.
One of the most thorough inquiries into the link between amino acids and immune function, published by the British Journal of Nutrition, noted that recent studies show amino acids play several important roles in immune responses. They:
Regulate the activation of T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, natural killer cells, and macrophages
Manage cellular redox state
Modulate gene expression and lymphocyte proliferation
Orchestrate the production of antibodies, cytokines, and other cytotoxic substances
Here are eight amino acids shown to have powerful benefits for immune function.
Arginine - necessary for white blood cell proliferation, wound repair and the production of nitric oxide (NO), which plays an important role in allowing immune cells extra oxygen and nutrients to rapidly reach infected areas of the body.
Alanine - contributes to immune cell functioning by serving as a fuel source, preventing cell death, enhancing growth and increasing antibody production.
Glutamine - helps with the creation and mobilization of white blood cells as well as the elimination of pathogens.
Glutathione - Made up of three amino acids, this important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound prevents free radical damage and neutralizes toxins.
Isoleucine - found in many immune cells; an adequate supply of this branched chain amino acid is a requirement for healthy immune system function.
Taurine - this conditionally essential amino acid can be found in abundance in the leukocytes of the immune system and offers particular benefits when it comes to healing wounds and decreasing inflammation
Threonine - the thymus gland uses this essential amino acid to produce infection fighting T lymphocytes
Valine - this amino acid enhances protective immune responses and reduces inappropriate ones such as chronic inflammation and autoimmune conditions.
A simple way to cover your bases with your amino acids is to make sure you are getting a few servings of protein a day. This will also help to balance your blood sugar throughout the day (which is also key to immune health). I pick my protein source, then some colorful veggies, cooked with a healthy fat, add in some herbs and starches (depending on my level of activity that day) and I’ve got a balanced, nutrient dense meal! I should also note, add some collagen to my coffee every morning, which increases the amount of protein I get in everyday as well!
5. Along with eating a nutrient dense diet, I Intermittent Fast most days of the week.
The old wives tale goes, “Starve a cold, feed a fever,” but a more scientifically validated approach would be to “Starve a cold, and all other illnesses.” So if you feel the slightest bit run down...scratchy throat, stuffy nose or head, elevated temperature, fasting is the best way to enhance your immune response to infection.
6. Staying hydrated!
Making sure I stay hydrated has always been a focus for me. And, staying hydrated indirectly supports our immune system by empowering our body’s natural healing processes, like removing waste and toxins via our kidneys and bowel movements. As well as transporting nutrients to our cells so they can be used for chemical processes.
Therefore, the last thing you want to be is dehydrated. But, you also should be aware that healthy hydration is not just about drinking water. It’s about drinking water plus electrolytes. This makes sense because when you sweat you are losing not only water, but electrolytes too, like sodium, potassium, and magnesium! Both need to be replaced if you are working out and sweating and/or ingesting diuretics like coffee, caffeinated tea, and alcohol. But, most only replace the water. I used to do this too, until I understood the balance between our body’s needs for electrolytes, water and staying hydrated. That is why I am a huge fan of LMNT, and have been drinking a pack daily for the last two-and-a-half years. LMNT has been a game changer for me living an active lifestyle, sweating out my electrolytes as well as drinking my coffee…oh and the occasional beverage;), I have noticed a big difference in how I feel daily and have seen great improvements in my family and their sports performance as well as many clients.
On a side note, you may not need to use LMNT everyday like I do, but if you are working out and sweating, or using diuretics, you may just want to give them a try and see how they work for you. A bonus with LMNT is that it also contains magnesium, which is also needed by the immune system.
Magnesium improves the white blood cells’ ability to seek out and destroy germs. Low magnesium can lead to a cytokine storm, during which the body attacks its own cells and tissues instead of fighting off infection. This creates inflammation, cell and tissue damage, narrowed blood vessels, and blood clots. It has been stated that approximately half of adults in the United States do not consume enough magnesium. So this is another great way to get your magnesium in too!
A strong immune system is the key to staying healthy, and the key to a strong immune system is giving it the tools we need to respond properly to invaders. The more we can aid in the process and remove unwanted stressors the better the immune response.