Your immune system plays a starring role in the way you feel and how susceptible you are to a wide variety of illnesses. The following habits are sure to boost your overall health while targeting your immune system. Incorporate the following tips into your way of life to promote optimal health.
TIPS ON HOW TO EAT FOR HEALTH
Eat a variety of foods to give your body the best possible odds of obtaining all the necessary nutrients for good health. You’ve heard it before and no doubt you’ll hear it again: a diet rich in fruits, veggies and whole grains offers the best supply of nutrients to keep your immune system strong and healthy. For starters, try adding broccoli and sweet potatoes to your diet; both are great sources of vitamin A which works to supercharge your immunity and prevent infections by maintaining the body’s barriers (skin, lungs and the epithelial linings of the throat and mouth).
We need to consume adequate amounts of essential fatty acids to aid in the absorption and transportation for fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K and the carotenoids including beta-carotene). Focus on consuming foods that contain healthy types of fat to supply most of the fat your body needs.
Monounsaturated fats are the best source of dietary fat health-wise. Studies show they reduce blood levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) – “bad” cholesterol – without affecting the blood level of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) – “good” cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats are found in abundance in vegetable and nut oils such as olive, peanut and canola oil.
Polyunsaturated fats can lower your total blood cholesterol level, but they lower the HDLs along with the LDLs, so you want to avoid going overboard when eating this type of fat. At the same time, you need enough because linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid, is the only essential fatty acid meaning your body cannot produce it and must obtain it from the diet. Soybean, safflower and sunflower oils are good sources of polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are also important polyunsaturated fatty acid that helps the immune system’s cells to function more efficiently to detect and prevent the attack of germs. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water fish and flaxseed oil. To get adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids aim to eat three 3oz. servings of cold-water fish per week or supplement your diet with 1 to 2 tablespoons of flaxseed oil daily. A tasty way to ensure sufficient consumption is to add flaxseed oil to homemade smoothies or make salad dressings with the good-for-you oil. Food products that contain flaxseed oil as an ingredient (some cereals, for example) are also available in stores.
SPICE UP YOUR DIET
Add garlic to your favorite dishes to enhance flavor and your immune system. Garlic is a potent immune system stimulant, a natural antibiotic and is effective when used to fight fungal infections including athlete’s foot, systemic candidiasis and yeast vaginitis. Garlic magnifies the body’s own resistance to infection by increasing the number of white cells called lymphocytes. The purpose of lymphocytes is to ward off foreign/infectious invaders and the more you have working for you, the more efficiently and effectively your body is protecting itself. It can be consumed fresh (try sautéing it and adding it to your favorite dish) or taken in supplement form.
Take time to enjoy a cup of green tea. The benefits are threefold: green tea offers relaxation and stress relief, enhances the body’s intrinsic defenses against infectious substances, and directly interacts with many microorganisms in a way that lowers their disease-causing potential. In addition, green tea has many beneficial compounds, including the flavonoid catechin, which have anti-oxidant and health enhancing effects.
Drink up! We all know water is important for hydration, but did you know that moist membranes fend off germs? Block out germs by drinking at least eight 8 ounce glasses a day.
Now for the news no one likes to hear. Sugar is an immune system depressant. Say no to sugar and say yes to health. Do a self-test: limit your sugar intake for a week and at the end of the week evaluate how you feel. Do you feel better? Worse? The same? Listen to your body and act accordingly. You may feel so great that you decide to cut out sugar entirely or you may decide to take less drastic measures and simply cut down on your sugar intake. In any event, regardless of the changes you do or don’t make, you will at least be aware of how the sugar you put in your body instantly affects the way you feel and impedes immunity.
Exercise invigorates your body and strengthens your immunity. Walk your way to a strong immune system; walking deepens breathing, lowers blood pressure and energizes your body. If you engage in prolonged, vigorous exercise, rest up and take care of yourself afterward since intense strenuous physical activity can temporarily impair immunity.
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Newsletter (it's free!)
Stress is one of your immune system’s greatest enemies; luckily, there are ways to keep it in check. For starters, learn to say “no.” It’s okay to say no when you are too busy or not up to the task or you just plain don’t feel like doing whatever it is that’s asked of you. Stop trying to be perfect, allow yourself to be satisfied with doing the best you can; nobody is perfect. It’s a waste of time to beat yourself up for being human. Give yourself a break; you are doing a great job (even if you don’t think so)! For an extra lift, research has shown that supplementing with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) can help people (and their bodies) cope with stress.
Laughter is not only a great stress reliever, but it also boosts the body’s ability to fight viruses. Serval online resources offer a laugh; maybe a “joke of the day” e-mail will lighten up your workday. For a more tangible option, pick up a joke book the next time you’re in a bookstore. Or better yet, spend time with friends who make you happy and enjoy a good laugh as often as possible. People who are involved in social activities are less likely to catch colds. For a fun way to boost immunity this weekend why not grab a few friends and rent a comedy? Enjoy.
Mind/body exercises are inexpensive (often free!) and effective stress relievers. Practice deep breathing to oxygenate your blood and relax your mind and body. Meditate; find a quiet spot to concentrate on breathing deeply and focus on your immune system for twenty minutes. Utilize visualization techniques to strengthen your immunity; spend a few minutes each day to visualize a strong, vital immune system.
It’s virtually impossible to obtain all the necessary nutrients from your diet so it’s a good idea to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement that supplies at least 100% of the daily recommended intake. Be sure to double check that the supplement you select has 100% of key immune building minerals including copper, selenium (stimulates increased antibody response to infection) and zinc (ensures proper functioning of the immune system).
The Maitake mushroom is considered an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body adjust to stress and normalizes bodily functions. It has a high polysaccharide content which is believed to be the source of its healing properties. Maitake revives immunity by stimulating the activity of key immune cells. Take 6 mg two to three times daily (liquid or capsules). Take 3 to 6 500-mg capsules as a tonic or adaptogen daily.
The popular herb Echinacea is a great immune system builder; it stimulates specific white blood cells and has anti-inflammatory and antiviral qualities. Goldenseal is another potent immune system strengthener that acts as an antibiotic, detoxifies the body and has antibacterial properties. Suma or Brazilian ginseng combats stress and boosts immunity. Adaptogenic herbs like ginseng, astragalus, schizandra and ashwagandha have a balancing effect on the body and boost resistance to infection. It is recommended that adaptogenic herbs be taken in small amounts over a long period of time to build up the body’s resistance.
GOOD LUCK and GOOD HEALTH!
Dolby Toews, Victoria M.P.H. “29 Days to Optimal Immunity.” Let’s Live. February 2000, 40-43.
Castleman, Michael. “Natural Stress Relief.” Herbs for Health. March/April 2000, 56-61.
Balch, James F M.D. and Balch, Phyllis A. C.N.C. “Prescription for Nutritional Healing.” Avery Publishing Group.
Garrison, Robert Jr. M.A., R.Ph and Somer, Elizabeth M.A., R.D. “The Nutrition Desk Reference.” Keats Publishing.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on March 17, 2000 and was updated on April 24, 2021.