A robust immune system is more critical now than ever. Stress, bad eating habits, and lack of sleep can run you down and leave you susceptible to illness. Here are five steps you can take to boost your immune system this winter:
1. Eat Better
A healthy diet is the foundation for wellness. Diets high in fried foods, sugar, and refined carbohydrates promote inflammation and suppress the immune system. Studies have found that one sugary drink, like soda, can inhibit the action of white blood cells for several hours. Many Americans don’t realize how much sugar they are eating because it is often hidden in foods we think of as savory. Look for it in foods like ketchup, salad dressings, crackers, and even soups.
Replacing high sugar, high-fat foods with fruits and vegetables will help provide the nutrients and antioxidants your immune system needs to thrive. Fish, nuts and seeds, and whole-grain products are also a part of a healthy diet. Nuts and seeds contain minerals like zinc, whole grains provide B vitamins, and fish contains healthy fats called Omega 3’s that fight inflammation.
Your immune system also needs plenty of protein to function at its best. You can get protein from various sources, including dairy products, poultry, red meat, fish, and legumes. Red meat can promote inflammation, so aim for no more than 3 servings per week. Many people aren’t sure how much protein they need. Studies suggest that about .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is enough to prevent deficiency in a sedentary adult. If you are more active, you will need more protein than this to help build muscle and keep your body strong.
2. Get Your ZZZs
Lack of sleep has an immediate impact on your immune system and your overall health and well-being. People who don’t get enough sleep (7-9 hours for an adult) or who have poor sleep quality are more likely to catch viruses like the common cold and take longer to recover. People who consistently sleep poorly are also at higher risk for other health problems down the road, like diabetes and heart disease.
If you struggle to get enough sleep, practicing good sleep hygiene is the first thing you should try. “Sleep hygiene” is the technical term for what most of us refer to as a “bedtime routine.” Having a relaxing routine that you practice every night can help you fall asleep faster and sleep better. This routine should include a break from screens for about an hour before you wish to be asleep. It should also include hygiene activities like washing your face and brushing your teeth. A cup of herbal tea, reading a book, or quietly meditating are other things you might want to try.
It’s important to aim for the same “lights out” time every night. If you have been in the habit of hitting the hay at all different times, it might take your body a while to adjust and fall asleep at the same time. With some patience, your body will get used to your new bedtime, and you may find that you begin waking up at the same time every day as well. This type of regular sleep and wake schedule will positively affect your mood, functioning, and immunity.
3. Consider Supplements
No amount of supplementation can make up for a bad diet or irregular sleep patterns, but as part of a healthy lifestyle, supplements can give your immune system the extra boost it needs. Many Americans are deficient in iron, calcium, magnesium, B12 and vitamin D. People who suffer from chronic conditions that affect digestion like IBD or Crohn’s disease are more prone to nutrient deficiencies.
The easiest way to know if you are deficient in a vitamin is to ask your healthcare provider to perform a blood test to check your vitamin levels. If this isn’t an option for you, but you suspect you may be suffering from nutrient deficiencies, you should start by taking a good multivitamin. Pay attention to the form of vitamins in the supplements you choose. The body more readily absorbs some forms than others. Supplements that include whole foods are usually easier for your body to use than supplements that contain synthetically created vitamins.
Vitamin D supplements are necessary for many people who live in northern climates. Vitamin D is very difficult to get in foods. Most of it is made by your body as a reaction to sunlight. Low vitamin D levels are common in places with long, dark winters, and this deficiency can lower your immune function and even cause symptoms of depression. Vitamin D supplements have been proven to effectively raise Vitamin D levels and treat symptoms of deficiency.
Herbal supplements like elderberry, echinacea, and goldenseal have also been shown to improve immunity and help the body fight off illness.
4. Get a Massage
Stress can be a significant drain on the immune system. Massage helps to relieve stress and anxiety and boost circulation, all of which positively affect immunity. In addition to increasing blood circulation, massage also increases lymph circulation. Lymph fluid carries white blood cells throughout the body to fight infection and carry toxins out. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to sluggish lymph movement. Regular massage can help your body more efficiently detox and perform immune-related functions. The most effective types of massage for this purpose are deep tissue massage and lymphatic drainage massage.
5. Try Chiropractic Care
Studies exploring the relationship between chiropractic care and immunity have been conducted for over 30 years. One of the first took place in 1989 at New York University. The study compared the immune systems of people under chiropractic care with healthy people who were not under chiropractic care and with people with terminal illnesses. Throughout the three-year study, the researchers found that the people who had been under chiropractic care for five years demonstrated a 200% greater immune response than healthy members of the general public who were not. Their immunity was 400% greater than the immunity of the individuals in the group who had cancer or another disease.
If you haven’t seen your chiropractor for five years, don’t worry. The 200% increase seen in the New York study takes time to achieve, but immune benefits can be seen after just a few adjustments. Many chiropractic patients notice that they are less susceptible to colds after seeing their chiropractor regularly for a few months.