the The resilience of the immune system depends on the consistent integration of healthy dietary and lifestyle choices. Consuming a healthy diet while also engaging regularly in healthy daily habits is especially crucial for boosting our immune defenses as we approach these harsh winter months where viruses tend to thrive in dryer, colder conditions. In addition to arming our systems against Covid-19, we should be fully prepared to fight off cold and flu season by enriching our diets with immune system-enhancing nutrients and practicing healthy lifestyle habits.
The simplest strategies for strengthening your immune resilience include maintaining a healthy diet, moderating your stress levels, getting enough sleep, routinely exercising, and striving to live in a toxin-free environment.
A healthy gut creates the foundation for a healthy immune system. In fact, over 70% of the body’s immune system is located inside the gut, so the nutrients (or lack thereof) that are processed inside the gut greatly contribute to overall immune resilience, particularly when the immune system is confronted with external threats of infection (see the last blog for further reading on leaky gut). A balanced and diverse diet comprised of plant food, fiber, antioxidants, and unprocessed or unrefined carbohydrates can support a healthy gut and boost the immune system. It’s wise to limit the intake of highly processed foods like white bread and white rice and to avoid too much consumption of sugary, artificially manufactured foods.
Incorporate these key nutrients into your diet to support a healthy immune system:
- Vitamin A: Found in foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, and liver, this vitamin plays an integral role in producing protective antibodies that strengthen the body’s defense against viruses.
- B vitamins (B6, B12, and folate): Found in fish, meats, eggs, liver, potatoes, leafy green vegetables (kale, broccoli, and spinach), cabbage, bananas, avocados, and dairy products, these vitamins aid in regulating the body’s immune response and energy metabolism.
- Vitamin C: Found in fruits and veggies, notably in peppers and citrus fruits, this powerful antioxidant increases the production of white blood cells and antibodies to help the body to fight off infection.
- Vitamin D: Safe exposure to sunlight can supply the body with an adequate amount of Vitamin D, but most people that live in colder, darker climates with reduced sunlight exposure are encouraged to take supplements in order to avoid Vitamin D deficiency. This vitamin reduces inflammation and supports a healthy gut environment.
- Vitamin K: Found in eggs, meat, and dark green vegetables, this vitamin also reduces inflammation.
- Vitamin E: This antibody-increasing vitamin can be found in foods with higher fat content such as olive oil, avocado, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds as well as in vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, and also tomatoes.
- Zinc: High concentrations of this antioxidant can be found in oysters as well as in seeds, nuts, meats, and mushrooms. Zinc helps to prevent leaky gut and support the existence of T regulatory white blood cells that fight off infection.
- Selenium: Highly concentrated in Brazil nuts and additionally in sunflower seeds, fish, eggs, and meat, this antioxidant also increases the production of T cells to support immune resilience.
- Probiotics/prebiotics: Probiotics like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces are healthy bacteria found naturally in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and lacto-fermented vegetables which inhibit the growth of harmful pathogens and reduce inflammation. Prebiotic foods such as leeks, garlic, onions, and chicory root supply the gut with beneficial bacteria and strengthen the gut lining.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in cold-water fish, flax seed, chia seeds, and dark leafy greens, these increase the production of healthy gut bacteria.
- Quercetin: Found in capers, onions, teas, and other vibrant fruits and veggies, this antioxidant reduces inflammation.
- Curcumin: A powerfully strategic way to increase the body’s absorption of this naturally anti-inflammatory and anti-viral compound is to mix turmeric with black pepper and a little fat (such as Golden Turmeric Milk).
In addition to a healthy diet, employ these healthy lifestyle habits to further support a healthy immune system:
- Stress reduction: High stress levels increase the body’s production of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, which suppress the immune system by causing a decrease in T-cell and antibody production. Implementing stress-reducing methods and practices into your daily routine such as mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, engaging with supportive peers, and spending time in nature help to positively reinforce your body’s immune resilience.
- Adequate sleep: Consistency is key to regulating the duration and quality of sleep, as the benefits align with decreased stress and higher immune function.
- Moderate exercise: Regular physical activity can also reduce stress and promote white blood cell production. There are many activities to choose from and opportunities to find what works best for you.
- Clean living: It’s imperative to decrease your exposure to harmful chemicals such as pesticides, heavy metals, BPAs, and PCBs that disrupt the normal function of the immune system. You can steer clear of toxic exposure by eating organic foods, avoiding highly-processed foods, and filtering your water and indoor air.
By following these guidelines your immune system will be well-equipped to battle viruses and infections that the body may encounter this winter and beyond.