How does the immune system work? Your body is constantly exposed to invaders like toxins, allergens, certain foods, bacteria, viruses etc. The role of the immune system is to identify the invaders and to launch an attack on the invader. When your immune system identifies an invader in your body, the immune system triggers inflammation in response to the threat. The purpose of inflammation is to eliminate the threat and then to return back to normal when the threat is gone.
So, for optimal health, your goals should be to limit your exposure to invaders and to support your immune system.
LIMIT EXPOSURE TO INVADERS
Let’s first look at limiting your exposure to invaders. You want to do this for two reasons:
If you’re never exposed to and invader like a virus, you won’t get sick and your immune system won’t be activated.
If you are exposed to a virus (like Covid-19) and you need your immune system to fight the virus you want a well-rested immune system. You don’t want to be in a position where your immune system is already working hard, fighting all sorts of other invaders every single day, when you need it to focus on fighting the a virus like Covid-19.
- The first step is pretty obvious. It’s easy to limit your exposure to Covid-19 if you practice social distancing, wash your hands and wear masks.
- Step 2 is perhaps not so obvious. Remember, you don’t want your immune system to be overworked when it needs to eliminate the Covid-19 virus. For this reason, you want to avoid anything else that may trigger an immune response and cause inflammation. So, the next question is, what can possibly trigger an immune response?
A simple fact of modern life is that we are surrounded by toxins on a daily basis. It’s in the air we breath, in the water we drink and in the food we eat. It’s in our homes, our workplaces, in our dry-cleaned clothes and our expensive perfumes. Whether you live on a farm, in a small town, in a city or an industrial area, we are all exposed to toxins on a daily basis. It’s virtually impossible to eliminate all toxins from our life, but you are in control of what you do allow.
- Check your house and workplace for toxic black mould.
- Limit your exposure to heavy metals like mercury.
- Avoid cooking with plastic and toxic cookware.
- Avoid using plastic water bottles.
- Avoid using harsh cleaning materials.
- Consider buying organic produce.
Various studies showed that certain foods cause inflammation in your body. These foods are:
- Sugar (natural and artificial sweeteners).
- Artificial trans fat. Artificial trans fate is created by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats, which are liquid, to give them the stability of a more solid fat. On ingredient labels, trans fats are often listed as partially hydrogenated oils. Most fried fast food, some varieties of microwave popcorn, margarines, packaged cakes and cookies, some pastries, and a lot of processed foods contain trans fat.
- Vegetable and seed oil due to its high Omega-6 content and includes soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil and sesame oil.
- Refined carbohydrates include candy, bread, pasta, pastries, cereals, cookies, cakes, sugary soft drinks and most processed food that contains added sugar or flour.
- Processed meat includes processed sausages, deli meats, some brands of bacon, ham, smoked meat, salami and canned meat and meat-based sauces.
- Excessive alcohol.
In a 1991 study they first assessed participants stress levels based on a questionnaire and then exposed them to 5 different strains of viruses that causes the common cold. The rate of infection in participants that were stressed was 5.81 X higher compared to the participants that weren’t stressed. And then to add to that, the rate of actually developing a clinical cold was 2.16X higher.
Any and everything that cause an allergic reaction in your body should be avoided as the allergic reaction is your body’s immune response to an invader. This might differ from person to person but when you do have an allergic reaction to food or things in your environment, it means that your immune system is activated and in the process of eliminating an invader.
BACTERIA AND VIRUSES
By now you will know that bad bacteria and viruses are seen by your body as invaders. Your body will attack the invader by triggering an immune response and inflammation.
SUPPORT YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
The building blocks for a strong immune system are the same things that support your overall health and wellbeing.
- Get enough sleep.
- Manage stress.
- Move your body.
- Eat healthy food.
It is now estimated that up to 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. That is why gut health is critical. So how do we support out gut and our immune system.
- Eat a whole foods, nutrient-dense diet. Our immune system relies on nutrient-dense whole foods to function well.
- Cut out sugar and refined starches. Now has never been a better time for a sugar and junk food detox. Studies have shown that refined sugars can suppress your immune system for hours after ingesting. Limiting starch and sugar will help your immune system function better and your overall health will improve.
- Ensure adequate protein intake. Protein is critical for immune function and protein malnutrition is a big risk factor for death from infections.
- Add garlic, onions, ginger, and lots of spices (oregano, turmeric, rosemary) to your meals! Add these to your soups and vegetable dishes, as well as bean dips and sauces. Garlic and onions offer wide-spectrum antimicrobial properties.
- Eat multiple servings of colourful fruits and vegetables high in vitamins C, A, and phytonutrients that support the immune system. Choose more leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower), peppers, sweet potatoes, and squashes. Aim for 2 servings of fruits and 8 or more servings of vegetables! A serving is half a cup. Try to fill half your plate with veggies every meal.
- Eat fermented probiotic foods to support your gut and immunity. Eat sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, miso, tempeh, unsweetened yogurt, kefir. They also keep well. Also include prebiotic foods such as asparagus, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onions, garlic, bananas, apples, flax seeds and seaweed.
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially warmer fluids. Consuming adequate fluids supports all your bodies’ functions including the immune system. Make soups and broths (from scratch with fresh vegetables is always best) and have them throughout the week. Drink herbal teas like ginger and turmeric tea. Keep a bottle of filtered water with you at all times. Avoid concentrated fruit juices and sweetened beverages, as the sugar content is harmful for the immune system.
- Get sufficient sleep! We all know sleep restores and heals the body. Without adequate sleep, optimal immune function is next to impossible! A 4-year study was done in 2012 where they observed female nurses with no pre-existing medical condition. Those who slept less than 5 hours per night had a 70% higher risk of getting sick compared to those who slept 8 hours a night. Aim for at least seven to eight hours a night.
- Get regular exercise. Mild to moderate exercise (for approximately 30-45 minutes) helps boost the immune system. Avoid overtraining as it causes inflammation and will strain your immune system
- Find ways to manage stress. Experiment with meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, prayer, art, being creative, listening to music. The data are clear. Increased levels of stress increase susceptibility to viral infections. In one study, volunteers had cold viruses injected into their nasal passages. Only ones who scored high on the stress questionnaire succumbed.
- Stay connected. Being in close touch with those you love is essential for your mental and emotional health. Thank goodness for FaceTime and Zoom—have virtual dinner parties.
- Go outside, sit in the sun and get some fresh air.
HOW TO SUPPLEMENT FOR IMMUNE FUNCTION
There are an increasing number of health claims and promotions for supplements happening in the coronavirus frenzy. There is a lot we don’t know and a lot we do. It’s important not to go overboard and be sensible.
Let’s start with an overview of the vitamins, minerals, and herbs you need and why they are important.
- Multivitamin/Mineral: It is always a good idea to take a multivitamin, irrespective of the season. If you aren’t on a good multivitamin you should get one and stay on one. Quality is important. Price is a good indication for quality but not always. So be careful.
- Vitamin D3: Adequate vitamin D is critical for optimal immune function and this cannot be achieved without supplementation during the winter months. Studies have shown that people with vitamin D deficiency are 11 times more likely to get a cold or flu, while supplementing with vitamin D can reduce colds and flu by 42%. The body makes vitamin D from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to sunlight. So, get outside and sit in the sun. (Yes, you know you shouldn’t overdo this.)
- Buffered Vitamin C: The role of vitamin C in supporting the immune system has long been known. In fact, certain countries are using high doses of IV Vitamin C to treat Covid-19. What’s interesting is that your body does not produce or store vitamin C so make sure you get your daily dose.
- Zinc: You can take an additional supplement or consume more foods high in this powerful immune-supporting nutrient. Seafood—especially oysters— red meat, and pumpkin seeds are the best food sources.
- Probiotics: As mentioned, it is now estimated that 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. Probiotics are the good bacteria that support a healthy gut. It is also a major barrier against pathogens and integral to the immune system. Look for brands that offer several species of good bacteria and contain at least 5-10 billion organisms per capsule. Lactobacillus plantarum is best for immunity.
- Omega 3: Omega 3 has so many health benefits for your body and brain but it also fights inflammation and supports the immune system.
It is not necessary to take all of these. Start with a few and proceed from there.