Immune System Support
It’s that time of year again when many of us tend to get the sniffles, fevers, coughs, sore throats and feel down-and-out for a few weeks. The best way to protect yourself against the common bugs of the fall and winter seasons is to strengthen your defenses. Here are some lifestyle factors and nutrients that will help keep your immune system strong all season long!
Immune Supporting Factors
- Diet: Avoid dietary factors that depress the immune system, like refined sugar and simple carbohydrates, food allergens, and alcohol. Emphasize a whole food, plant-based diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.
- Sleep: Get adequate, restful sleep every night. For adults, this means 8-9 hours of sleep every night. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool; create a relaxing bedtime routine; and avoid bright light, particularly LED or blue light, for an hour or more before bedtime to encourage melatonin production and restful sleep.
- Stress management: Chronic stress dampens your immune response. Engage in daily activities to calm your nervous system and lower stress – diaphragmatic breathing, warm Epsom salts baths, soothing music, aromatherapy, yoga, meditation, prayer, time in nature, and other activities that bring you joy.
- Healthy microbiome: About 70% of your immune system resides in your gut. It even has a special name – the Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT). The health of your gut directly impacts the health of your other mucosal tissues (i.e. your respiratory tract). By feeding and supporting the good bacteria in your gut, you are directly benefitting your immune system and protecting your respiratory tract! Include fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh, natto, kefir, and yogurt in your daily meal plans. Also include adequate amounts of dietary fiber, which will feed your gut bacteria and promote a diverse microbiome. Supplementation with probiotics, specifically Bifidobacterium and Bacillus strains, can also be very beneficial when your microbiome and immune system need an extra boost.
Immune Boosting Nutrients
- Zinc: Zinc is crucial for the function of your natural killer cells that are responsible for killing virally infected cells. Oysters have the highest zinc content of any food, but meat, dairy products, beans, whole grains, and nuts are also good sources. Additional supplementation with 25-40 mg of zinc daily may be beneficial for some people.
- Selenium: Selenium is another nutrient that your immune system relies on for proper function. Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium. Aim for 200 mcg of selenium daily, which is about 3 Brazil nuts per day.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that contributes to your immune defenses and aids in microbial killing. Infection is a major cause of inflammation in the body that in turn leads to free-radical damage and oxidative stress. Vitamin C helps mitigate much of this inflammation. Foundational dosages for adults are between 1,000-3,000 mg per day in divided doses, but can be increased during times of acute illness.
- Vitamin D3: Vitamin D3 is an immune system regulator. Deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to infections and even autoimmunity. Supplementing with Vitamin D3 daily in the darker months of the year can be beneficial. Make sure you have your levels tested to determine the dose that’s most appropriate for you.
- Antioxidants: Other antioxidants like glutathione, N-acetyl cysteine, and alpha lipoic acid are also beneficial nutrients that help your immune system stay strong in the face of inflammation and oxidative stress caused by infections.
- Mushrooms: Medicinal mushrooms like reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail, chaga, shiitake, maitake, and agaricus are powerful immune system modulators that can help your body be resilient in the face of viral infections. Using these mushrooms in culinary or supplemental form will offer you a broad spectrum of immune support.
Supplementation should always be done under the supervision of a doctor. Give us a call to find out ways we can help you create a personalized plan to support your immune system and overall health!
Written by Dr. Alyssa Christoforou