8 Tips To Strengthen Your Immune System Pt. 1

8 Tips To Strengthen Your Immune System

(Part 1)

Do you catch colds easily? Are you constantly battling a cold that just won’t go away? Maybe you get sick less often, but do these episodes last over 2 weeks? If your answer is yes to these questions, your immune system may be COMPROMISED!  A compromised immune system can result from an unbalanced diet, lack of sleep, high stress, lack of activity, autoimmune diseases and excessive exposure to mold and other chemicals. 
Your immune system is your primary defense against the outside world. The major function of the immune system is to protect the body from environmental agents such as microbes, allergens or chemicals that we are exposed to on a daily basis. Thus, it is always on and always working to protect the body from attacks. The immune system consists of two very important defense mechanisms: external and internal defenses.
External Defenses - This is the FIRST line of defense within the immune system. It works to BLOCK entry of various pathogens from entering the body or TRAP them. External defenses consist of skin, mucous membranes (which is what lines the respiratory tract and the digestive tract), saliva, tears, stomach acid and “beneficial” gut bacteria.
Internal Defenses - The Internal defenses kick in when the external defenses fail. This includes the white blood cells and antibodies that are circulating around the immune system!
As you can see, the immune system has many lines of defense, so if any pathogens succeed in penetrating the first line of defense, the subsequent lines of defense are ready to act. It is when all lines of defense are breached that sickness can prevail! 
The secret to strengthening the immune system lies in strengthening both external and internal defenses. An effective and well balanced immune system prevents you from getting sick often and also works to shorten the time of an illness because it is quick to fight back! 
Prevention measures for the cold and flu season should start early fall. Prevention is rooted at making sure the immune system is strong enough to defend itself when encountering a pathogen. This blog post is Part I of a II part series on immunity because sometimes even with an immune system is strong, there is still a chance of getting sick. So today’s post will focus on prevention and Part II of this series will include ways to overcome the cold/flu with natural recommendations. 
Here are 8 tips for keeping the immune system healthy and functioning at its best so you are resilient during this cold/flu season: 

8 Tips For A Strong Immune System

1. Eat for the Season - Poor food choices that hinder good nutrition can deplete the immune system because it is not receiving the energy that it needs to function optimally. The best is a whole foods diet that consists of healthy fats, grains, high quality protein and lots of fruits and veggies!  Eating foods that keep you warm in the fall and winter are crucial. Consume less raw foods and more cooked foods during this time, while including certain spices like garlic, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric. Not only are these foods warming but they also help to strengthen the immune system.
2. Immune Support Nutrients -  In order to function optimally the body needs the right amount of vitamins and minerals. There are a few vitamins/minerals that help to support the immune cells allowing them to function optimally. These are best to start 1 month before fall begins. 
  • Vitamin C: has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of colds while also reducing inflammation in the body. It is a natural antioxidant that helps white blood cells fight off the infection!  Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, peppers and broccoli. Dosage: 2000 mg/day
  • Zinc: is a required nutrient when manufacturing immune cells. Studies show that zinc can shorten the duration and decrease the incidence of respiratory infections, like pneumonia. Zinc can be found in meat, legumes and seeds.  Dosage: 20 mg/day
  • Probiotics: 70% of your immune system lies in the gut! Thus, an imbalance in intestinal microflora can also contribute to an immune deficiency. Supplementation with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics has been shown useful to control respiratory infections and shorten the duration of colds and flus. Dosage: 50 billion/day
  • Vitamin D: Is important for optimal functioning of the immune system. It is required to enhance the antimicrobial effects of immune cells. Living in Canada, many of us are deficient in Vitamin D, especially in the fall/winter months. Low levels of vitamin D can be a sign of a low functioning immune system. So be sure to test for 25-OH Vitamin D and supplement accordingly! 
3. Immune Boosting Botanicals -  Immune herbs allow for deep immune activation and provide flexibility in the body’s natural response to disease. This means that botanical herbs are able to modulate and balance the activity of the immune system, up or down as needed. 
  • Astragalus - This herb protects and supports the immune system, especially in times of high stress. It allows for deep immune activation and increases immune cells. It is also antibacterial and antiviral in nature. It is best to take when you have a depressed immune system and during change of seasons.
  • Ginseng (Panax Ginseng) - This is a great herb to take at the beginning of fall as it helps to build up the immune cells and decreases the chances of catching a cold or flu! This herb also helps to treat stress-related fatigue. 
4. Immune Boosting Medicinal Mushrooms - Medicinal mushrooms contain high amounts of immune balancing polysaccharides. Medicinal mushrooms can support a healthy immune system by stimulating both 1st and 2nd lines of defense. 
  • Ganoderma (Reishi) - This herb allows for deep immune activation. It also acts as an antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant. It is best used for allergies, sinus congestion, long term infections and bronchial asthma.
  • Cordyceps - This mushroom is made up of polysaccharides. It is best indicated for a low immune system that is affecting the lungs and is great for chronic infections (COPD and asthma). *Note  Cordyceps is great at strengthening the heart muscle! 
5. Use A Humidifier - Viruses that cause the common cold survive better in winter due to the lower humidity. Using a humidifier can decrease the dryness in your home or work environments, which can decrease the chances of catching a cold/flu. 
6. Manage Stress - Stress has been proven to have a huge negative impact on the immune system. Stress hormones like cortisol are immune suppressing. Cortisol spikes occur during periods of high stress mentally and physically. Intense physical exertion can increase the susceptibility to an upper respiratory infection. As easy as it is to keep “pushing through” this makes you constantly exhausted. So, remember to listen to your body when it tells you it is time to rest. 
7. Maintain A Regular Sleeping Schedule -  Good sleep is so important for a healthy immune system.  8 hours of sleep is generally recommended for proper rest. During times of illness, more sleep is required. It was found that immune cells are reduced during periods of reduced sleep. So individuals who get less than <6 hours of sleep a night will have a decreased immune response. Create a regular sleep schedule so that you are sure to attain at least 7-8 hours of restful sleep a night. 
8. Hand washing - Wash your hands regularly! When washing hands aim to lather with soap and water for 20 seconds and then rinse in warm water.  Germs can find their way on many surfaces that we touch on a regular basis, like door knobs and poles on public transport. 
The immune system plays a crucial role in protecting us from pathogens in the outside world. There are two main lines of defense within the immune system: External and Internal. Only when the external mechanisms fail does the internal defense begin. When both lines of defense fail, pathogens can prevail and this is when we can get sick! So, it is important to strengthen both lines of defense within the immune system. Now is the perfect time to start preparing the body for the cold and flu season which is just around the corner with the 8 tips provided in this blog post. 
The advice in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.