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Diet and Lifestyle Strategies to Boost Your Immune System

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Try to incorporate as many of these healthy habits and diet tips to boost your immune system.

Diet Tips:

Get enough protein in your day to support your immune system. No one food will magically fend off the flu, but certain nutrients take the lead to help protect your body from billions of bacteria, viruses, and other germs—and protein is one of them. One of the reasons is that the antibodies that help fight disease are actually made of protein. Another reason is that many foods high in protein also contain other immune-boosting nutrients, such as zinc, copper, iron, Vitamins A, D, and E.

Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. They are full of antioxidants which will destroy the free radicals that weaken our immune system. Each color provides different antioxidant power – so be sure to eat a rainbow everyday. If you’re kids aren’t the hugest vegetable eaters yet, give them their antioxidant dose with a smoothie packed with fruits AND veggies, use that smoothie to make jello with grass-fed gelatin or popsicles, sneak pureed vegetables into your spaghetti sauce, soups, chilis, or whatever other way you can think of – be creative!

Cook with good fats, like extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, butter, and/or ghee. These healthy fats act as a lubricant for cells. This lubricant improves flexibility and communication between the cells, which promotes immune function. Also make sure you are not consuming too many omega 6 fats, as they increase inflammation in the body which will upregulate the immune system.

Avoid simple sugars and processed/junk food. Eating simple sugars (like glucose, refined sugar, and fructose) lowers your immune system within 30 minutes of eating it and causes a 50% reduction in your white blood cells, which is your army needed to kill germs!

Stay hydrated. Stick to water, herbal teas, and bone broth. It is always best to stay away from soda and sugary drinks! A good estimate for how much water you need can be determined by dividing your body weight (in pounds) by 2 and drink that number in ounces!

Make sure to drink your bone broth! Bone broth has immune-supporting properties. See my Bone Broth Recipe to get started on making your own.

Make sure to include foods and spices with antiviral/antibacterial properties. These include coconut oil, raw garlic, oregano, ginger, kimchi and other fermented foods, walnut, pomegranate, green tea, apple cider vinegar, and medicinal mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, reishi, cordyceps, and turkeytail).

Eat fermented foods. The probiotics contained in fermented foods have tremendous immune boosting powers. Examples include, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha.

Lifestyle Tips:

Maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D. In general optimal levels of Vitamin D should be around 50 nmol/L to maintain overall health. Research suggests vitamin D boosts the immune response, and having a level too-low has been associated with increased colds and flu. Many of us are deficient in vitamin D, due to the way we absorb it by our skin's exposure to sunlight and found in some foods we eat. A simple blood test can determine your Vitamin D status. Supplementation should be individualized and based on blood findings.

Wash hands frequently! Especially before eating or touching your face. Washing your hands with warm soap and water for at least 30 seconds is the best option. This study found that washing hands even with plain running water without soap was more effective than ethanol-based hand disinfectants at killing the Influenza A virus!

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth! Keep your fingers away!

Stay home when you’re sick, unless you need medical attention. You may be increasing your exposure to other viruses/bacteria, or exposing others unnecessarily if you do.

Cover your cough with your elbow or tissues. Teach your kids proper cough etiquette too!

Keep your distance. Try to stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who is obviously sick with fever and/or respiratory symptoms.

Irrigate your nose when necessary. While it is not known if nasal irrigation makes a difference for prevention, it can not hurt to have the tools on hand if we do think we have been exposed to a virus or bacteria. Options for nasal irrigation are a regular saline spray, Xlear, Neti pot, and other sinus rinses like Neilmed. This is because after exposure to a virus/bacteria, the invader tries to spread into the nasal passages for 1-2 days before you develop any symptoms and multiply. Nasal irrigation can wash away viral/bacterial particles before they have the opportunity to take hold, and thereby prevent many infections from happening in the first place!

Get moderate exercise daily. Moderate exercise can boost the production of macrophages, the kind of white blood cells that “eat” bacteria and viruses. However, intense exercise can actually temporarily decrease immune function – so make sure you don’t overdo it! You can go to the gym or even better, find ways to get outside and get some fresh air and Vitamin D. Or do both!

Get adequate sleep, preferably 7.5-9 hours every night. Getting enough sleep actually increases the number of white blood cells. The opposite is also true, loss of sleep, increases inflammation which makes us more susceptible to catching the flu and having more severe symptoms. Therefore, make sure your whole family is getting enough zzzz’s. For tips on getting a good night’s sleep, click here.

Minimize stress. Emotional stress creates physiological stress in our bodies that lowers our immune defenses and makes us more vulnerable to illness. Stress has been shown to lower our white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs, and actually creates more inflammation. Look for a blog post to come out soon on tips to manage stress.

Maintain a healthy gut. Everything listed here is what helps to maintain a healthy gut. By maintaining a healthy microbiome we indirectly support brain health, hormone health, adrenal health, blood sugar regulation and optimize energy levels, all which reduce inflammation and our bodies need to call on the immune system.

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